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A Thirst for Knowledge
Gatorade brand's Rachel Nimmons serves up a high-tech, interactive attendee journey that attracts more than half of all show attendees and engages them for an average of almost 26 minutes. By Linda Armstrong
Rachel Nimmons, marketing analyst for the Partner Services Team at The Gatorade Co., a division of PepsiCo Inc., specializes in best in class activation, showcasing the brand's evolution to a sports-fuel company across numerous conferences for sports-health and sports-performance professionals. During her time at Gatorade, she has worked in a variety of marketing roles and has a proven track record for strategic thinking.
Developing product evangelists might just be the Holy Grail of exhibit-marketing objectives. If you can get each booth visitor to tell just one person about your product or service, you've then doubled your show-related awareness. And if those people tell two people, and they tell two people, and so on, you've expanded the value of your exhibit-marketing program exponentially.

What's more, evangelists' referrals and recommendations carry much more clout than most advertising and marketing mediums. Erik Qualman, author of "Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business," asserts that personal recommendations are the gold standard of consumer trust. According to Qualman, 90 percent of online consumers trust recommendations from people they know, and 70 percent trust unknown users. Meanwhile, a mere 14 percent trust advertising, and just 8 percent have faith in celebrity endorsements.

So to ensure that booth visitors spread the word on your behalf, you must create an engaging exhibit experience around it. But what if your attendees are business owners or "recommenders"? And what if you're asking them to tout your products to their own clients and end users (as opposed to merely their family and friends), effectively putting their necks, not to mention their reputations, on the line for your brand?

This was the challenge Rachel Nimmons faced going into the National Athletic Trainers' Association 67th Clinical Symposia and AT Expo (NATA). The marketing analyst for the Partner Services Team at The Gatorade Co., a division of PepsiCo Inc., Nimmons understood the value of word-of-mouth evangelism. And she figured if she could turn the show's trainers into evangelists, she could generate awareness and ultimately sales among the wide range of athletes and sports enthusiasts who hire them. As she planned for NATA, she set out to find a compelling way to attract trainers to her exhibit and convince them to recommend Gatorade products to their clients.

Facts, Not Fuzzies
Nimmons felt that just getting attendees to sample the products and absorb various graphic-based product messages – tactics Gatorade had employed in the past – wasn't going to produce the evangelists she craved. Plus, to give trainers the knowledge to tout Gatorade products (including everything from organic beverages and protein bars to thirst-quenching powders and energy chews) and still respect themselves in the morning, Nimmons wanted to present the cold, hard science behind the products, thereby arming trainers with facts and figures, as opposed to just warm fuzzies, to back up their claims.

Luckily for Nimmons, Gatorade already had some skin in the game when it came to scientific research and product excellence. "Gatorade was developed in 1965 by scientists at the University of Florida to help the Gators football team stay hydrated in swampy Florida heat," Nimmons says. "It was truly developed to solve an athletic problem. That's why today when we say 'invented in the lab, proven on the field,' it's not just a tagline; it's simply our origin story." What's more, the firm launched the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) in 1985, which has provided valuable sports-science research, testing, and education to help athletes fine tune their bodies for success, whether they play on the basketball court or the football field.

To prompt athletic trainers to evangelize for the brand, The Gatorade Co.'s exhibit offered a five-part attendee journey that provided both general knowledge about the company's products and the scientific research behind them.
Nevertheless, Nimmons' marketing tactics couldn't rest on Gatorade's half-century of history. "Athletes evolve; therefore, our approach to the influencers who work with athletes every day also needs to continually evolve," Nimmons says. And unlike evolution itself, the changes in the sports industry are moving at a comparatively breakneck pace. Bottom line: Nimmons' success hinged on her ability to prove to trainers that Gatorade products have set the pace in the sports-fuel industry.

Nimmons – with help from exhibit house Mirror Show Management, creative-marketing firm The Promotion Network Inc. (TPN), and Gatorade's public-relations agency, FleishmanHillard Inc. – set out to craft an educational in-booth experience to relay the science behind the product, ultimately demonstrating Gatorade's evolution from a sports-drink firm to a sports-fuel company. After extensive brainstorming and discussion, the team settled on what would become an award-winning solution: an interactive attendee journey combining science-based product information and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.

Science with a Side of Samples
Nimmons' solution actually launched several weeks before the show, when she and her team placed advertisements in the conference program and the association's magazine, NATA News. They also sent push notifications to attendees via the conference app. All pre-show communications included visuals of Gatorade's current product portfolio and a glimpse of future products, along with copy that invited attendees to visit the Gatorade booth to learn more.

While Nimmons admits that the pre-show promotional tactics were minimal, she had an at-show ace up her sleeve: a new 40-by-60-foot booth in a prime location on the show floor. But a new booth alone doesn't create brand evangelists. For that, Nimmons' and Gatorade's hopes fell to the digital journey that awaited NATA attendees.

Stepping through the show's main entrance, visitors were immediately drawn to the dominant Gatorade-branded structure in front of them. Topped by a header that featured the company's logo and tagline – Gatorade, the Sports Fuel Company – the exhibit was a commanding matte-black structure that sat atop a gleaming, glossy-black floor.

As attendees reached the exhibit, staffers invited them to participate in an educational five-part journey through the booth. Their first stop was a kiosk check-in station. After attendees input their contact information into a kiosk-embedded tablet, staffers handed them a branded RFID tag linked to their check-in information. Thus, as attendees wandered the booth, the tags recorded where they'd been and how much time they'd spent participating in each activity. As such, at the end of their stay, the tags provided proof that attendees had in fact visited all of the activity stations. What's more, Gatorade scored valuable product-interest information in the process.

Step 1: Check In
When attendees arrived at Gatorade's booth, staffers directed them to a kiosk check-in station with an embedded tablet. After they input their contact information, staffers handed visitors a branded Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag that was linked to their check-in info and would track them as they went through the exhibit.

Step 2: Fuel Bar
While the Gatorade Fuel Bar functioned as the primary product-sampling station in the exhibit, it also provided product and brand information via interactive monitors that played testimonial and documentary-style videos about the brand's other Fuel Bars at elite colleges and professional athletic-team facilities.

Step 3: Expert Chats
At various intervals throughout the show, sports and nutrition experts offered 30- to 45-minute talks on topics ranging from hydration and sleep to protein. Attendees could view the presentation schedule at tablet-equipped kiosks located next to the theater and email themselves a PDF of the chat lineup.

Step 4: Innovation Pipeline
The Innovation Pipeline, which showcased Gatorade's cutting-edge upcoming products and its new Gx sports-fuel customization platform, was housed within two structures at the far end of the exhibit. Attendees could use an interactive screen to design a customized bottle that will be mailed to them in 2017.

Step 5: Check Out
At the end of their journey, attendees swiped their tags in front of an RFID reader, which then verified whether they'd visited all three activity stations. After completing a survey that gathered feedback on their perceptions of Gatorade's products, staffers presented attendees with a branded shaker bottle as a parting gift.

"The RFID tags also doubled as branded bag tags," Nimmons says. "So after going through the journey, attendees could attach them to their luggage, bag, or backpack via the included carabineer. In fact, we not only saw the tags all over NATA, but also spotted them at various other shows throughout the rest of the year." With their tags in hand, then, attendees were free to saunter through the space as they wished, ultimately visiting the three main activity stations along the way: the Gatorade Fuel Bar, Expert Chats, and the Innovation Pipeline.

Positioned front and center on one end of the space, the Gatorade Fuel Bar comprised a curved structure covered in a gleaming silver substrate. While the bar functioned as the main product-sampling station, it also provided a host of product information via four interactive monitors embedded in its waist-high display table. An illuminated shelf above the table displayed a range of Gatorade products, each of which had been equipped with a unique pattern of felt dots on the bottom. "The screens used tangible-marker detection or fiducial-marker detection technology to recognize the dot pattern on each product," Nimmons says. So when attendees selected a product and set it atop one of the screens, the monitor sprang to life with scientific product information specific to the selection. And when two beverages rested atop the screen, information popped up that compared calories, carbohydrates, protein, and best usage options for each of the items.

Meanwhile, interactive monitors and headphones suspended under the countertop allowed attendees to tune in to a documentary-style video about Gatorade's other Fuel Bars at elite colleges and various professional athletic-team facilities. Through video testimonials from top-level coaches and players, NATA attendees discovered how some of the world's best athletes use Gatorade products to fuel their performance.

Experts and Innovation
Behind the Gatorade Fuel Bar, a roughly 14-by-20-foot structure formed a branded backdrop. The opposite side of this structure, however, acted as a stage for another RFID-enabled activity: the Expert Chats.

At various intervals throughout the show, experts such as GSSI's principal scientist Kim Stein and NFL Sports registered dietician and assistant strength coach Kevin Luhrs presented 30- to 45-minute lectures on topics ranging from hydration to sleep. Nearby benches provided ample seating, and attendees could view the chat lineup at tablet-equipped kiosks and email themselves a PDF of the presentation schedule.

The third RFID-tracked activity station was the Innovation Pipeline, which was housed within two roughly 5-by-10-foot structures at the far end of the booth space. An interactive touchscreen embedded within each structure allowed attendees to peruse the products and services Gatorade had yet to launch. Attendees could watch videos, view images, and open text boxes that previewed the company's latest developments and the science behind them before they reached the marketplace.

In addition, attendees learned about Gx, a new sports-fuel customization platform that offers a science-based product and real-time biometric and tracking technology to provide fueling recommendations specific to individual athletes. The platform includes a customizable bottle, so NATA attendees could use the interactive screen to design their own bottle, a special gift that Gatorade will mail them in 2017 as a reminder of their experience. Meanwhile, the opposite, aisle-facing side of each Innovation Pipeline structure featured dynamic sports-action videos displayed via an embedded 84-inch 4K-resolution monitor.

Once attendees completed their digital journey, their final stop was a checkout station. Here, visitors swiped their tags in front of an RFID reader, which then verified whether they'd visited all three activity stations. Assuming they'd made all the stops, a survey popped up that gathered feedback on visitors' perceptions of Gatorade products. After the final query, staffers gave them a branded shaker bottle as a parting gift.

While booth visitors left with product samples and shaker bottles, the Gatorade brand walked away with some impressive metrics.
Home-Run Results
With that, the digital customer journey was complete. However, attendees walked away from the experience with far more than a handy shaker bottle. Rather, they were all armed to the teeth with the necessary science-based information, product comparisons, and expert testimonials and advice to help them evangelize for the brand.

But Gatorade's five-part digital journey wasn't a bland-as-bananas information dump, nor was it a dull passport-style program that attendees ran through faster than Usain Bolt. Out of the show's 7,000 attendees, just shy of 4,500 people registered at the booth, and a whopping 90 percent of them (approximately 4,050) completed the entire digital experience. "We hoped that about 50 percent of visitors would complete the whole journey," Nimmons says. "So we were absolutely thrilled at the 90-percent completion rate." But perhaps the most impressive stat was the journey's average engagement time. The 4,050 participants spent an average of almost 26 minutes actively engaging with Gatorade's product information, messages, and brand.

"Gatorade's technology-centric and interactive strategy certainly engaged and educated visitors, and it absolutely generated impressive results," one All-Stars Awards judge said. "Showing the science behind the products was a beautiful way to win over supporters. Even as a judge, I will never look at Gatorade the same way again, and I might just recommend it to a few of my friends." Turning judges into product evangelists? That's definitely a new one. Brava, Rachel Nimmons. Brava.E

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