Trade shows are an important marketing vehicle, but their brevity can be a double-edged sword. Captivate attendees, and you can practically own the event. Fail to connect, and you've squandered your investment, because just days after arriving on site, attendees are boarding return flights, and the window of opportunity has slammed shut. As such, every minute and engagement is worth its weight in gold. But when your most important show occurs as often as the Winter Olympics, you've got to get it right or wait four long years for another opportunity.
Caterpillar Inc.'s mining division faced just that scenario. The mining industry's main event, Minexpo, only takes place once every four years, meaning a misfire could have a long-term impact on the company's bottom line. So as Tony Johnson began planning for the 2016 show, the marketing manager for Caterpillar's mining division could feel the weight of the world – and a 52,000-square-foot booth – on his shoulders.
"One of our main goals for Minexpo was to bring the message of our partnerships and relationships to the show floor in Las Vegas," Johnson says. "We needed to figure out how to tell the Caterpillar story beyond just promoting our products." The company's mining division has dealers and clients all over the world, and Caterpillar wanted to convey that its global network of dealers can help mining professionals solve problems whether they're working in Kentucky or Kazakhstan. Plus, as technology continues to impact and reinvent the mining industry, Caterpillar felt that it needed to position itself as a high-tech company that uses cutting-edge solutions to help its clients improve their mining operations.
Staking a Claim
To help communicate that multipart message, Johnson teamed up with Converse Marketing Inc., a Peoria, IL-based marketing firm that has worked with Caterpillar for more than 20 years. Together, Converse and Johnson settled on the theme "Our Partnership Goes Beyond the Iron," which they felt spoke to the fact that Caterpillar is about more than just mining equipment. It's also about helping miners do their jobs more safely and efficiently. But a compelling message can't benefit the bottom line if attendees aren't around to hear it. So Johnson's next challenge became driving clients and prospects to the booth, then capitalizing on their presence once they got there.
Johnson and his team may have had their theme, but the mining industry was in a rough patch. "We were dealing with a downturn in the industry at that time," Johnson says, "so there was this initial concern of whether people would even come to the show." The prospect of a drop in attendance only added urgency to the company's at-show objectives, making it important to take advantage of every opportunity to engage with clients and prospects.
"We wanted to own as much of attendees' time and minds as possible," says Amy Converse, president of Converse Marketing. "We wanted to give them as much exposure to Caterpillar
and the company's messaging as we could." After all, while Minexpo 2016 only lasted four days, it would be 1,460 days before the industry reconvened at the 2020 show and Caterpillar could give it another go.
So with a goal of owning every second and being top of mind during the entire attendee journey in Las Vegas, Caterpillar began its marketing blitz at the same spot where attendees would begin their Minexpo experience: McCarran International Airport. Showgoers were first introduced to the Caterpillar story as soon as they arrived via an aggressive campaign comprising digital signage and banners that effectively branded the baggage claim area as Caterpillar territory. But the blitz didn't end there.
Those staying at Caesars Palace, Caterpillar's headquarter hotel and a popular home away from home for Minexpo attendees, were exposed to additional touchpoints including Caterpillar-branded hotel key cards, floor graphics, and extensive signage throughout. The company also created a dedicated business center for its guests called Cat Central, complete with Caterpillar branding nestled into every nook and cranny.
Additionally, Caterpillar placed a full-page ad in the show directory and strategically positioned signage near taxi stands to capture the attention of those waiting in line. And to attract the eyeballs of prospects who spend more time looking at their smartphones than scanning the show directory, the company unleashed a barrage of social-media missives, including sponsored posts and links to online content.
To deliver Caterpillar's message on the Minexpo show floor, the company used several elements. A major focal point was, naturally, the company's equipment. Caterpillar brought 16 major pieces of its mining machinery onto the show floor. But that was no easy feat. "The logistics of taking some of the world's largest mining equipment to the Las Vegas Convention Center, which wasn't made to have this kind of equipment on its trade show floor, is a gigantic undertaking," Johnson says. It took 72 truckloads, two outdoor lots, several cranes, a team of mechanics, an on-site manager, police assistance, and months of help from Las Vegas, NV-based exhibit services company Global Experience Specialists Inc. (GES) to get the gargantuan pieces of machinery ready to wow Minexpo's thousands of attendees.
While having the equipment in the exhibit was crucial so showgoers could kick the tires, it was only one element of Caterpillar's multipronged at-show experience. When visitors approached the booth, they were greeted at a welcome desk with the "Beyond the Iron" tagline printed on the graphic behind smiling staffers, who distributed expandable pocket guides directing guests to Caterpillar's in-booth presentations and activities.
As they stepped further into the space, attendees couldn't miss the exhibit's centerpiece: a gigantic stage with a 50-foot video wall. While Caterpillar reps occasionally took the stage, the massive multimedia installation ran looping stories of dealers and miners from all over the world, illustrating how the company has worked with those clients to solve a variety of industry challenges.
Meanwhile, guests could climb atop and sit inside any of the massive pieces of equipment at their leisure, or take the machinery for a virtual test drive via interactive simulators. Those more interested in product specs gravitated toward any of 25 interactive stations dedicated to showcasing the technology suites that Caterpillar offers. There, staffers encouraged them to select any number of promotional cards, each bearing the name of a different piece of Caterpillar machinery, and place it atop a touch-sensitive surface. Doing so triggered a variety of product-specific content to populate the screen, allowing attendees to dive as deep as they wanted into the equipment's details. "All of the touchscreens and video walls were obviously used to attract attention," Converse says. "But they also helped facilitate the experience, immerse attendees in the Caterpillar brand, and position the company as a high-tech industry leader and solutions provider."
In another section of the exhibit, dubbed the Technology Area, booth visitors were invited to test their own industry knowledge. There, congregated around high-top tables equipped with iPads, Minexpo attendees competed against one another in a mining trivia game with questions appearing on a large screen while a live presenter added a little game-show flair, revealed correct answers, and incorporated Caterpillar's key messages.
Regardless of where attendees were in the booth, staffers were at the ready to discuss the products in depth, answer casual and complicated questions, meet with existing clients and interested prospects, and inch buyers along what, for multimillion-dollar mining equipment, can be an excruciatingly long sales cycle.
By the time guests left Caterpillar's booth, they had potentially interfaced with the now ubiquitous brand in the airport, hotel, and taxi line, as well as on the trade show floor. But what happens after the exhibit hall closes for the day and attendees file out of the convention center looking for something to occupy their evenings? Well, Caterpillar had that covered, too. From a VIP concert at the Caesars Palace Forum Ballroom to an exclusive customer event at Brooklyn Bowl, the company occupied nearly every possible moment of attendees' time while simultaneously courting influential members from mining-industry magazines and publications via various press events held throughout the show. And just in case top prospects didn't make it to Minexpo at all, Caterpillar filmed more than 50 videos in the booth and posted them on YouTube and other sites, extending the experience to infinity and beyond.
Hitting Pay Dirt
Initial feedback from attendees, staffers, and internal stakeholders seemed to indicate that Caterpillar's message was clear, memorable, and positively received. But kudos and compliments don't amount to much if the results don't echo that enthusiasm. Thankfully for Johnson and his team, several metrics proved that the company's Minexpo campaign had delivered on all fronts – and held showgoers' attention at every turn.
More than 30,000 attendees were exposed to the exhibit's main show and its multinational video presentation, exceeding pre-show expectations by 50 percent. To put that into context, Minexpo 2016 management reported a total attendance of roughly 44,000, meaning Caterpillar managed to attract nearly seven out of 10 mining professionals at the event. Meanwhile, 3,500 participated in the mining-industry trivia game, or roughly 1,200 more than Caterpillar had hoped for. When it came to capturing and holding visitors' attention, the exhibit delivered again, with show-floor engagement times double that of previous years' booths. And while Caterpillar doesn't consider lead generation its main objective at the show, Johnson reports the company had incredible success, garnering nearly 1,000 leads, several hundred of which represented legitimate, high-value business opportunities.
But perhaps the biggest return on Caterpillar's Minexpo investment is the fact that it helped accelerate the company's sales cycle, which can stretch up to five years or longer for major mining-equipment purchases. According to Johnson, the relationships built and cultivated at the 2016 show truncated that timeline on roughly $1 billion worth of potential business, meaning the exhibit and related campaign paid for itself more than 10 times over. That's a pretty good indication that Caterpillar accomplished its goal of being top of mind among Minexpo attendees – at least until 2020 when Johnson and his team can attempt to outdo themselves. E