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Exhibitor: Inquisite Inc.
Creative/Production: Hoopla Marketing, Austin, TX, 512-804-0257, www.hooplahq.com
Show: NY HR Week, 2008
Budget: $6,100
 Develop a list of highly qualified attendees, and focus on them, rather than the masses.
 Create a mailer clever enough to bypass executives' gatekeepers and lure recipients to open it, visit the company's Web site, and supply their contact information.
 Entice 50 percent of recipients to experience the product before the show.

Established a list of 75 human-resources executives from Fortune 100 companies and focused all efforts on this group.
Developed a 3-D mailer that convinced 54 of 75 recipients to open it, visit the Web site, and supply their contact information.
Enabled nearly three-fourths of recipients to experience the product two weeks before the show.

uriosity is one bad mamma jamma. It not only killed the cat, it got the better of 54 human-resources executives heading to the 2008 NY HR Week, a trade show and educational conference for human-resources personnel in New York last April.

Targeted by Austin, TX-based Inquisite Inc., these 54 executives (72 percent of Inquisite's target audience) fell victim to the lure of a mysterious 3-D mailer, which not only enticed them to open it, it persuaded them to visit the company's Web site, experience its product, and provide valuable contact information a full two weeks before the show even opened.

Founded in 1997, Inquisite began as an electronic-survey company offering businesses the ability to collect feedback and information from customers, employees, and business partners for a multitude of purposes. A short time ago, however, the company responded to a growing need within the human-resources industry by developing its Employee Performance Management System (EPMS), geared specifically to handle employee-appraisal challenges.

"There's a lot of information about each employee floating around within an organization, and come appraisal time, it's difficult for HR professionals to connect the data and harness it so it makes sense," says Ivy Oliver, vice president of Hoopla Marketing, the Austin-based company that created Inquisite's promotional campaign. "Inquisite's EPMS allows it to gather and manage this data and combine it into comprehensive reports and records."

Going in to the NY HR Week show, Inquisite wanted to introduce its tool to the HR market, focusing on how it captures and manages these "floating" bits of data. Thus, it settled on a "connect-the-dots" theme, suggesting that with the EPMS system, HR professionals can connect the data and see what it represents, i.e. the performance, opinions, and feedback of the collective organization regarding an individual employee.

Inquisite's theme, then, would be visually represented via a field of white dots on a black background, and within the field, the outline of a human form would be created by connecting some of the dots. This image, along with the tagline "Stop Guessing. Start Connecting." would be printed on simple 6-by-3-foot retractable banners and positioned on the aisles of Inquisite's 10-by-10-foot booth.

With a theme in place, however, Inquisite faced an even larger challenge - getting high-level HR professionals to the booth to experience the product, no small feat on a show floor filled with 120 other exhibitors, most with similar 10-by-10 booths. And what's more, Inquisite hadn't had much success with this scenario in the past. "Inquisite had traditionally taken a scattershot approach to its trade show marketing, trying to reach everyone on the show floor," says Bryan Hoodie, sales manager at Inquisite. "While booth traffic had traditionally been high, too much time was spent speaking to the wrong prospects."

So rather than targeting the show's roughly 1,800 attendees and hoping to net a freezer full of little fish, Inquisite focused on hooking 75 grey-whale-size prospects - C-level HR execs, HR directors, and HR managers from Fortune 100 companies. And rather than relying on at-show promotions to secure its success, Inquisite focused much of its momentum on a pre-show mailer, hoping that by getting at least 50 percent of recipients to experience its product before the show, it could generate awareness far beyond what its 10-by-10 footprint might normally produce. Inquisite also hoped its mailer would gather e-mail addresses from these top 75 prospects for post-show follow-up.

Mystery in a Box

This multifaceted challenge fell to Hoopla Marketing, which immediately divided the mailer portion of the campaign into two parts: 1) creating the target list, and 2) developing the mailer.

Hoopla Marketing then teamed up with Inquisite's sales and marketing departments and began culling the pre-show attendee list looking for those few big fish. The team soon agreed on 75 top prospects to target and then divided up this list among the salespeople so that each prospect was assigned to a specific salesperson for pre-, at-, and post-show follow-up.

While the list was being developed, the folks at Hoopla Marketing set about the task of creating a memorable mailer. But almost immediately, they discovered a few more potholes in the promotional road: The mailer would have to make it past recipients' internal gatekeepers - the administrative-assistant types that cull through executives' mail and decide which pieces deserve executive attention and which get the ol' heave ho into the trash bin. And even when the mailer made it to executives' desks, it needed some kind of ploy to make busy executives open it, visit Inquisite's Web site, and witness a product demo. After more than a bit of consternation, they came up with a solution - a curiosity-inducing black box recipients simply couldn't overlook.

The mailer featured a combination lock box housed within a black mailing box, which featured the "connect the dots" image and tagline. A plastic card attached to the 4.25-by-10-inch lock box read, "What's the secret to building a performance-driven company? (And more importantly - what's in the box?)" Underneath, text urged recipients to "Unlock the hint: www.inquisite.com/connect."

The size and weight of the mailing box, not to mention the perceived value of the locked box inside, practically ensured that the mailer immediately transferred from the gatekeepers to the intended recipients. Once recipients received the box roughly two weeks before the show, the attached card drove them to Inquisite's Web site, where they no doubt hoped to find the combination to open the box. However, recipients first had to take a five-minute survey, which began with a request for contact information, before they could retrieve the combination. And while the survey asked qualifying questions, the entire process was conducted using Inquisite's survey tool. Thus, before recipients could open their box, they had already provided their contact information and experienced a product demo.

Finally, at the end of the survey, participants received the combination to the locked box - 219 - which was also Inquisite's booth number at the upcoming show. Inside the box, recipients found a combination USB memory stick/pen and a foam insert with text extolling the survey system's ability to help HR managers connect the dots and directing people to the company's booth at NY HR Week.

Since Inquisite sent the mailer via UPS, it could track which person signed for the box and when it was received. Inquisite salespeople then followed up with each of their assigned recipients within five days after the mailers were received. If the recipients hadn't completed the survey, the salesperson verified that the box had been delivered via UPS. The salesperson then phoned the intended recipient and urged him or her to visit the Web site.

Salespeople also phoned those recipients who already completed the survey and opened the box, starting their conversations by saying simply, "I'm the one that sent the box" - a mysterious one-liner that garnered immediate recognition among recipients.

Case Closed

By the time the show opened, 54 of 75 prospects had opened the mailer, visited the site, experienced the demo, and supplied their contact information - a monumental accomplishment that wasn't lost on Sizzle Awards judges. "Any activity that gets past the C-level gatekeeper and that lures C-level attendees to do something prior to the show has to be a winner," one judge said.

And what's more, the pre-show follow-up meant that each staffer remained on the lookout for recipients from his or her assigned list. "When recipients visited the booth, we didn't have to explain the product, as they'd already used it before the show," Hoodie says. "Conversations were more in depth and far beyond those we'd typically have in our booth."

With a mere $6,100 and a great idea, Hoopla Marketing and Inquisite created an ingenious mailer out of little more than a combination lock box and a high-quality pen, and then, well, the rest was mystery.e

Linda Armstrong, senior writer; larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com

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