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Playing to attendees' wanderlust, Derse Inc. incorporates travel-themed imagery and a Moroccan-style spice bazaar into its promotional campaign and returns home with 130 new qualified leads. By Charles Pappas
Exhibitor: Derse Inc.
Creative/Production: Derse Inc., Milwaukee, 414-257-2000, www.derse.com
Promotional Budget: $75,000 – $99,000
➤ Gain 80 new qualified leads.
➤ Win 10 RFPs within three months of EXHIBITORLIVE.
➤ Nurture 10 percent more existing customer relationships than the year before.
➤ Develop relationships with 50 percent more prospects than in 2018.
➤ Generated 130 new qualified leads.
➤ Scored 13 RFPs within three months of the show.
➤ Cultivated 12 percent more existing customer relationships than the previous year.
➤ Developed relationships with 100 percent more prospects than at EXHIBITORLIVE 2018.
Travel is only glamorous in retrospect," wrote Paul Theroux, author of the vagabonding classic "The Great Railway Bazaar." No one knows that grim truth better than exhibit- and event-marketing professionals. For these troupers of the road and sky, the romance of traveling to London or Las Vegas is easily diminished by Disney-World-like lines through TSA checkpoints, tornado-siren-loud wails of children on airplanes, and kimono-thin walls in hotels. It's a reality that binds them, whether they labor for a mom-and-pop operation or a multinational conglomerate, in an unbreakable bond forged from years of enduring room-service meals and red-eye flights.

It was that very itinerant nature that would prove essential to how Derse Inc. solved its biggest challenge for EXHIBITORLIVE 2019, the trade show and education conference for exhibit and event marketers. The Milwaukee-based face-to-face marketing company wanted to target industry professionals who oversee more than 10 trade shows and/or events a year with budgets running the gamut from humble to humongous. That fine-grain portrait included a psychographic silhouette as well: These professionals are highly motivated to advance their trade show programs, both tactically and strategically, and equally driven to improve their knowledge and value within their companies.

Travel Agency
Even with that meticulously drawn sketch of its target audience, Derse's next step would prove difficult for any company. How could it craft an effective promotional campaign for the show that would somehow universally appeal to these attendees who hailed from different regions, industries, and age brackets? Once the company began brainstorming a variety of marketing strategies, it noticed one facet kept recurring with a conspicuous frequency – that of travel. "For all the diversity of our current clients and prospects," says Susan Riese, Derse's senior marketing specialist, events and sales support, "we realized travel is a powerful shared experience connecting them. That seemed to offer an approach we felt might resonate with them."
Trip Tease
Derse Inc.'s pre-show campaign for EXHIBITORLIVE alluded to the travel theme that would take center stage in the face-to-face marketing agency's booth.

• Short videos posted to Instagram before the show introduced the question "Where to?"
• Pre-show emails piqued interest in a travel-voucher giveaway and encouraged recipients to schedule in-booth appointments.

Joint Venture
The exhibit featured a series of four travel posters that reps used as visual aids to accentuate Derse's ability to help attendees reach their professional destinations.

Such a common experience, Derse reasoned, could make a superb overarching theme with the pull of gravity. Exactly how the travel motif could be translated into a cohesive exhibit-marketing strategy, though, would require no small amount of preparation. Just like planning a trip of any scope, developing a trade show strategy can be problematic, with a significant distance between where you want to go and how you'll actually get there. For Derse, achieving an effective plan for the show meant a purposeful and targeted blanketing of attendees with manifold consistent, memorable, and even evocative messages from before the event began to after it ended, because the sheer ubiquity of such an effort would inescapably steep attendees in the company's brand.

To attain that level of promotional immersion, Derse would need a plan whose tactics included more marketing components than a baggage carousel has Samsonite suitcases. And so the company compiled an extensive list of the ways it could touch attendees throughout the show, each piece reinforcing and building on the other. This would ultimately include a whirlwind of email blasts and social-media posts, a mobile-app sponsorship, a client-appreciation event, and a post-show mailer, as well as a booth whose very design allowed attendees to sail away from the safe harbor of the ordinary and seek out the distant shores of their imaginations. Derse would splice two travel-related angles, the personal and the professional, into all of its marketing efforts in a variety of ways. The first, professional, would delve into where attendees wanted to take their programs, so to speak. The second, personal, would be whatever point on the map piqued their wanderlust. "People love to talk about where they've been and where they dream of going," Riese says, "so we would ask attendees to imagine their personal dream destinations, which we believed would make it easier to uncover their professional ones."

Leaving the Station
Derse began prepping for the annual conference with a thematic landing page on its website that opened with imagery of a soaring mountain view atop text offering a travel-related gift in exchange for scheduling an in-booth meeting. At roughly the same time the landing page appeared, Derse also initiated a social-media campaign on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram to highlight the upcoming exhibit. On Instagram, it posted a brief video teaser. The clip opened with the words "Where to?" written in a breezy script over a black-and-white scene, which included a sun hat, walking shoes, camera lens, and other holiday accoutrements. Additional snippets of text morphed effortlessly from "Get more leads" to "Eat pizza in Naples, Italy" and "Connect with my customers" to "Climb Machu Picchu," neatly weaving professional goals with personal travel aspirations.

Derse also sent out a pair of pre-show emails that continued to juxtapose the personal with the professional. Issued one and two weeks prior to EXHIBITORLIVE, respectively, each email went to more than 900 attendees. Besides reiterating the "Where to?" travelogue theme, the emails' text included coaxing statements such as "If you have the desire to take your program to new places this year, Derse can help," and "Whether it's personal or professional, we want to hear where you dream of going." The second of the emails added the lure of a $1,000 travel-voucher giveaway that attendees could enter by coming to the booth and revealing the one place on Earth that calls to them the most.

What's more, Derse was a sponsor of the official show app. When attendees downloaded it to their mobile devices, they encountered additional mentions of the voucher on in-app banner ads. Thus, by the time EXHIBITORLIVE opened late last February in Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Derse had stoked hundreds of attendees' interest with four major touchpoints: emails, a landing page, social-media postings, and the show app, all woven together as tightly as an Oriental rug.

There's a Map for That
Just as a travel brochure can't capture the full majesty of, say, the Eiffel Tower or the Giza Pyramids, attendees were in for a vibrant experience once they actually stepped into Derse's exhibit. First summoning the attention of passersby were the stand's exterior graphics.

Conjuring what the Germans call "fernweh," a soul-deep ache to travel to faraway lands, the imagery included shots of mountains and panoramic sweeps of primeval deserts, all printed in the velvet blacks, moon-like whites, and smoky grays of Ansel Adams. Curious attendees stepped inside the 600-square-foot booth and found a world that teemed with more travel content than TripAdvisor.

The exhibit's Adventure Fund Wall featured 200 orange acrylic pins that acted as real-world counterparts to Google Maps' digital location markers. At an adjacent activation, staffers invited attendees to place pins in a map to mark their ultimate personal travel destinations.
Hung horizontally over a central table was a 6-by-16-foot LED panel featuring images one might encounter while strolling through cities, parks, forests, and other landscapes. Resting on this table was a Dymaxion map. Built of cork, this type of map preserves the actual shapes and relative sizes of the continents and oceans.

Covering the interior walls were four travel-themed posters Derse would later use as visual aids in conversations with attendees. Rounding out the adventurous scenery was what Derse called the Adventure Fund Wall, from whose foam surface protruded 200 10-inch-long orange acrylic pins meant to be a real-life analog to the virtual pins in Google Maps. While certainly a visually arresting piece and design element all on its own, the wall would later come into play in a more interactive way.

Once guests were inside the booth, staffers approached and inquired, "Where to?" This open-ended question was likely familiar to many attendees by then, since Derse had used it in emails and social-media posts. Making the opener even more effective was its departure from the standard, all-business lead-qualifying questions staffers usually smack attendees with right away. To help break the ice even more than an offbeat and disarming query, Derse staffers' lanyards featured the reps' own fantasy excursions, such as the culinary Shangri-La of a "Cooking Class in Provence" and "Africa during the Great Migration."

Prompted by these geographical disclosures, guests offered their own dream destinations, with locales ranging from Italy to Iceland. It was at this point that Derse reps then paired them with a designated booth "storyteller," a staffer trained to take a deeper dive into various case studies from the company's portfolio in a way that riffed on how visitors described their ideal journeys' end.

Visually fortifying the staffers' explanations were the four aforementioned posters plastered on the booth's inside walls. Created by Derse's in-house multimedia designers, each poster comprised an illustrated travel-related image and phrase. The staffers used them as visual aids and metaphors to accentuate the particular case study or story they spun. For instance, one placard was emblazoned with the picture of a camera and the question "Is the Experience Memorable?," which staffers used to segue into a case study about clients who wanted to make their exhibit more experiential and how Derse helped them realize that wish. When the staffer began telling the story, he or she could point to the poster and work in the metaphor about how, just as a traveler uses a camera to record something arresting and worth remembering, Derse made that client's exhibit eminently unforgettable. Another poster asked, "Is Your Guide Leading the Way?" next to an image of a backpack. For this one, staffers relayed accounts about clients who needed the right resources to push their programs to the next level. To underscore the story, reps referenced the poster and suggested that Derse could be that canny pathfinder for clients, providing all the necessities for a successful journey.

Derse's "A Taste of Morocco" customer-appreciation event at Mandalay Bay's beach club offered North African fare and music, a spice-mixing station, and a green-screen photo op that placed attendees in front of bucket-list destinations such as Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China.
Just as tourists in Rome might look around and see nothing but places and objects, from the Colosseum to a Vespa, that remind them they're in the Eternal City, attendees in the booth were cognizant of Derse's personal/professional travel theme at every touchpoint. Besides the abundance of posters, maps, videos, etc., there were "Objects of Wanderlust," as Derse dubbed them. Placed on Plexiglas shelves cut into the booth's interior walls and lit like museum pieces, the items – sextants, cameras, backpacks, and binoculars – had been sourced from Milwaukee antique stores to match the visuals on the posters.

When the conversations began winding down and it was time to disengage, staffers encouraged attendees to put a pin in the world map marking the site of their ideal personal destination. Once they'd stuck the pins in Fiji, perhaps, or Spain, staff handed them postcard-size versions of the travel posters referencing the case studies they discussed. Next, staffers gave visitors the chance to enter the $1,000 travel-voucher giveaway by "funding" their dream destination on the Adventure Fund Wall, the construction with the hard-to-miss orange pins sticking out of it. Accordingly, guests stuffed a fake dollar bill supplied by staffers into an Adventure Fund jar, thereby officially entering the travel giveaway. Finally, those visitors who had scheduled a meeting before the show received the promised travel gift, which turned out to be a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-shielding wallet. The wallets – which block scammers who use RFID-enabled devices to heist information from the microchips in tourists' credit cards and passports – are a favorite among wary travelers.

Spice Island
Like a vacation that seems to ignore the calendar and stretch indefinitely, Derse's strategy for EXHIBITORLIVE extended to a VIP client-appreciation event held on the second night of the show. A few weeks before the event, several existing customers, in addition to a few key prospects, were invited by email to "A Taste of Morocco," which was held at Mandalay Bay's beach club. Running for three hours, the outdoor event was furnished with a variety of atmospheric touches suggestive of the North African nation, long a destination for adventurers. Moroccan-style carpets, pillows, and blankets decked the lounge while the background music thrummed with exotic melodies that swung hypnotically between driving and lulling.

Inside a tent, guests discovered a stylized spice bazaar lit by nearby fire pits. Here, amid a circus of alluring scents, they could blend their own spice mixes from an assortment of seasonings hailing from around the globe, including Sichuan pepper, ground ginger, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, rosemary, thyme, paprika, and more, all evoking the explorers who once sailed treacherous waters to hoard them. Afterward, attendees could step into a green-screen photo booth where they posed against backdrops of iconic global destinations. More than 50 took the opportunity to appear in front of the Great Wall of China, a Venetian canal, Machu Picchu, or even the azure ambiance of Chefchaouen, Morocco's fabled "Blue City." To end the night, after filling up on tagines, kebabs, and mint teas, guests penned messages on illuminated lanterns and sent them adrift in the beach club's pool.

Journey's End
Post-show follow-ups included a brief email thanking all guests for their visits and a more elaborate physical mailer sent to highly qualified booth visitors.

The VIP mailer contained an Adventure Fund jar with a $1 bill to symbolically finance recipients' future travels.

Joint Venture
Also included in the mailer were travel-planning guides and scratch-off maps.

The voyage that Derse took its audience on left a mark on Sizzle Awards judges as indelible as a stamp in a passport. "Derse impressed deeply with its attention-grabbing presence at EXHIBITORLIVE," said one judge. "It meticulously thought through each touchpoint and detail, and the results proved it."

Final Destination
For the approximately 360 total visitors to the booth and the beach-club event, the experience didn't end with their time in the exhibit or the makeshift Moroccan bazaar. Derse extended its interaction with them via a thank-you email. Highly qualified guests also received a physical post-show mailer that included their very own Adventure Fund jar (that is, a branded Mason jar) with a dollar bill inside to spur them to start saving for their own future quests. The mailer also included travel-planning guides and scratch-off maps that enabled recipients to track their voyages around the world.

When Derse took stock of its travel-centric strategy for EXHIBITORLIVE, the company found it had compiled more than a few souvenirs of a rewarding voyage, including 130 new qualified leads, exceeding its goal by more than 60 percent. Hoping to acquire 10 new RFPs within three months after the show, the company racked up 13, bettering its target by 30 percent. Even the softer goals – bolster 10 percent more existing customer relationships and cultivate relationships with 50 percent more prospects than it had during the previous year's conference – met success with results of 12 percent and 100 percent, correspondingly. "The gladdest moment in human life is a departure into unknown lands," wrote famed explorer Sir Richard Burton. Derse ventured into terra incognita with a marketing strategy whose outcome proved travel not only broadens the mind, but also expands the bottom line. E

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