t's four weeks prior to the start of EXHIBITOR2009. Due to budget constraints, you've made the decision to pull out of the show. Your company reallocates the money originally set aside for the exhibit to other projects. You let out a sigh of relief - one less show to deal with. Then the phone rings.
|Exhibitor: Kubik Inc.
Creative/Production: Kubik Inc., Mount Laurel, NJ, 877-252-2818, www.thinkubik.com
Capture between 100 and 200 qualified leads.
Generate buzz among
attendees and lure new visitors to its corporate Web site.
|Cut exhibiting costs by 50 percent compared to 2008.
Captured 490 qualified leads.
Increased the number of
first-time visitors to its Web site
by approximately 20 percent.
Cut total show-related
costs by roughly
What follows is a 45-minute conversation with show management about the financial and social ramifications of dropping out of the show a month before it opens. Those consequences include not only losing your space-reservation deposit, but also losing credibility, as the show directory and related collateral are already printed - with your company name and booth number for all to see. What kind of impression would it make on the show's attendees (not to mention the more than 300 other exhibitors) if your company went AWOL?
Faced with losing that $7,400 nonrefundable booth-space fee and the risk of permanently tarnishing your company's reputation, you are persuaded to attend the Las Vegas trade show. Of course, with a majority of the funds already reallocated, you have about $40,000 less than you originally expected to cover all your costs (which means paying for the shipping and drayage to transport your custom exhibit to the show is no longer possible). Oh, and you have only 30 days to come up with a new campaign and related exhibit. Sound like a nightmare? Welcome to Elliot Kohn's reality.
Given the short lead time, Kohn, principal and COO of exhibit house Kubik Inc., couldn't freak out or stress-eat a package of Milanos. Instead, he hit the drawing board with his creative team and set out to re-imagine Kubik's exhibit-marketing campaign, which had previously centered on the 10-by-20-foot custom booth the company could no longer afford to ship to the show. "Basically, as an exhibit house, we didn't feel right telling our clients we were pulling out of the show," says Adriano Almeida, creative
director at Kubik. "We figured we had to walk the walk and show them if we can do it with less, so could they."
This idea of doing more with less - less money, less time, less resources - struck a chord with Kohn, Almeida, and the rest of the Kubik team. "I thought, 'How do we save money while still doing something cool?,'" Almeida says. "We wanted to answer that question with our campaign for the show." After struggling to come up with a tangible object that would say, "doing more with less," the team had its light-bulb moment during a brainstorming session just days after that stress-inducing phone call. "We figured nothing symbolizes cutting back like a brown-bag lunch," Almeida says.
Kohn and Almeida took that brown-bag idea and ran with it, pairing it with a catchy tagline: "Cutting back shouldn't leave you feeling empty," a sentiment that Kubik knew would resonate with its clients because it resonated with its own employees. "Everyone was carrying a brown-bag lunch," Kohn says. "We wanted to spread the message that we understand people are cutting back, but that shouldn't have to mean a boring, bare-bones exhibit," adds Almeida, who knew sending that message meant Kubik's own campaign would have to be buzz worthy - but on a tight budget. The company had about $25,000 to create an integrated campaign (including mailers, an exhibit, and giveaways) when it was used to working with twice that amount.
With the brown-bag theme in the works and just a few weeks before the first day of EXHIBITOR2009, Kohn and Almeida set about creating an integrated program centered on the idea of doing more with less. "If our clients were feeling empty, we needed to let them know that we had the creative resources to fill them up," Kohn says.
So the team turned that brown-bag concept into a personalized pre-show mailer, which it sent to pre-registered attendees about a week and a half prior to the show. The outside of the plain 4.5-by-8.5-inch brown paper bag, printed by Artik, a Toronto-based promotional products company, had the recipient's name and black text, "Feeling empty?" on it. When recipients opened the bag, they found a 4-by-8-inch postcard with a call to action that read: "Visit us at EXHIBITOR2009 and pick-up your 'Kubik Snack Pack.'" Additional text read: "Cuttingback shouldn't leave you feeling empty. Learn how Kubik's expertise can benefit all your marketing needs, even the ones you thought needed brown bagging! We'll fill you up with our complimentary 'Kubik Snack Pack' - a tasty assortment of twenty-five helpful tips, treats, and insights celebrating Kubik's 25 years of giving clients cost-saving advice." The company's logo, booth number, and Web site were also listed, and a partial floor plan of the exhibit hall was printed on the back of the card, with a route marked that would lead recipients to Kubik's exhibit.
Kohn and Almeida knew they didn't have the budget to cover the shipping and drayage costs associated with sending the company's custom exhibit - or any exhibit, for that matter - to Vegas for the show. Thus, Almeida and the team thought about ways to exhibit without having to ship a booth at all. Their solution: Design a simple structure around the brown-bag theme comprising materials that could be purchased locally when the team got to Vegas. Kubik felt the best way to tie in the "feeling empty" tagline and brown-bag-lunch concept was with an exhibit that resembled a cooking-school classroom - complete with working ovens, bakers' racks, and a freezer.
After the plan for the booth was devised, Heather Milne, Kubik's marketing coordinator, created a master list of all the items needed to construct the exhibit on site. The master list included the stores at which each item could be purchased, along with prices and photos of the products they would need. To make sure the items were in stock, the team called each store in advance, and also requested (and received) a variance from show management to use the in-booth appliances. This list was then e-mailed to a Kubik staffer at the company's Las Vegas warehouse, along with instructions to pick up all of the items, several days before the show.
The staff member's shopping trip included a stop at Ikea for bakers' racks; Target and Wal-Mart for small ovens, a freezer, and various cooking-themed accessories; Cookie Dough Man (a local charity) for the cookie dough that the team planned to bake in the exhibit; and NeoPlex Sign Boards and Markers for a custom 8-by-20-foot chalkboard, which would become the exhibit's back wall. In addition to its Vegas shopping list, Kubik did some shopping in its own warehouse, where the company already had sidewalls and counters it could repurpose. Staffers also purchased bar stools and later added them to the company's inventory.
After gathering the materials required to build the exhibit, Kubik's Vegas-based staffer also went to Costco to purchase the items that would be included in the Kubik Snack Pack - the in-booth giveaway. Each pack comprised a branded, brown paper bag filled with a package of fruit snacks, a can of juice, a Hostess Twinkie, fresh-baked cookies, and the kicker - a 3-by-3-inch square booklet dubbed "Show Sense." Each page of the 25-page booklet, which was held together with a rivet in the top-left corner, featured a cost-saving tip from Kubik's own employees on one side and a photo of one of the company's finished projects on the other.
The idea was that if attendees were "feeling empty," they could visit Kubik's exhibit to get "filled up" - figuratively with the tips, and literally with the food items. With all the makings of an unconventional exhibit and clever giveaway in hand, Kubik still had a lot of work to do and only a few short days before the show's opening day to do it.
Some Assembly Required
With just a couple days prior to show floor opening, the team landed in Vegas and got to work assembling the snack packs - filling them with everything but the yet-to-be-baked cookies - and running a few last-minute errands. Thanks to Milne's thorough instructions and the staffer's legwork, the Kubik team had everything it needed to construct its booth on the first day of setup, so it installed the chalkboard back wall and placed cooking-themed
accessories, such as pots and pans, on the bakers' racks.
Once the back wall was up, staffers wrote the program's tagline ("cutting back shouldn't leave you feeling empty") along with the company's logo and Web site across the surface with colored chalk. By writing the text on the back wall themselves instead of purchasing a comparable back-wall graphic, the company saved $5,000 in graphics production and printing costs - not including the surcharges it would have incurred for the rush job.
Though the chalkboard back wall was an obvious focal point for the exhibit, it was the two miniature ovens in the booth that would create the most buzz on the show floor.
When opening day came, staffers donned branded aprons with the phrase "Feeling empty?" printed on them and started baking cookies in the ovens a few hours before the show floor opened, ensuring enough time for the scent of fresh-baked cookies to waft up and down the aisles. Of course, the Kubik team knew it didn't have to bake the cookies on site, and probably could have saved some time by sticking a couple Oreos in the snack packs and calling it a day. But that wouldn't have been nearly as satisfying. "We wanted to create a welcoming space that invited attendees in," Kohn says. "What better way to do that than to have fresh-baked cookies ready for them when they arrived?" Attendees clearly appreciated the gesture. "Our brown bags became the giveaway at the show," Kohn says. "Everyone wanted to knowwhere they could get the cookies and the snack packs."
In addition to the show-floor buzz about the brown bags and cookies booth, word quickly spread outside the exhibit hall. Kohn says speakers began mentioning the Kubik exhibit during conference sessions as an example of using creative promotions to build show-wide excitement on the cheap. To further extend the interaction beyond the exhibit and keep the brown-bag buzz fresh, Kubik sent thank-you e-mails to attendees the same day they visited the booth and had their badges swiped. The e-mails read: "Thanks for visiting Kubik at EXHIBITOR2009. We hope you filled up on great ideas with our 'Kubik Snack Pack.' Be a 'smart cookie' and visit us at thinkubik.com or call us toll free at 1.877.252.2818 so you can start doing more with less. See the attached file for one of our favorite treats! Sincerely, Kubik, smart cookies." The attached file contained an image of a chalkboard with an employee's recipe for cinnamon cookies, aka "Kubik Smart Cookies," in text that resembled writing on a chalkboard.
The brown-bag theme continued after the show, too, as Kubik sent another direct mailer to booth visitors. This time, a roughly 9-by-15-inch folded brown bag featured the question: "Can you afford not to look your best?" on one side and three irregular-shaped circles - two for the eyes and one for the mouth - on the other. When recipients unfolded and opened the bag, they found a 5-by-7-inch postcard with a personalized message that addressed the recipient by name and read, "We hope that we filled you up with great ideas at EXHIBITOR2009. You saw how 25 years of experience and creative thinking helped us to do much more for less. Let Kubik do the same with your next exhibit or event and leave the brown bag at home. We believe that cutting back shouldn't leave you feeling empty, and not looking your best is simply not an option." The personalized bifold card contained Kubik's logo and contact information, along with more photos of the company's projects, ensuring attendees wouldn't soon forget their visit to what would go down in trade show lore as "the brown-bag booth."
It's in the Bag
The cleverness of the inexpensive, yet comprehensive, campaign earned high marks from Sizzle Awards judges, one of whom said, "This is a wonderful example of carrying the creative concept through from beginning to end. It's a great idea to begin with, and even though they didn't spend much at all, it's really well executed." Not bad for a company that almost didn't show up.
By the end of EXHIBITOR2009, Kubik staffers had baked approximately 72-dozen cookies and captured 490 qualified leads, six of which have since booked meetings with Kubik reps. What's more, the company's cost-savings savvy didn't end with tear down, as Kubik was able to store all of the booth components in its Vegas warehouse, thereby eliminating shipping and drayage costs from its show budget once again. "This program demonstrates the strength of a simple idea," said one judge. "You can throw oodles of money at a project and fail. But with a great idea, you only need pennies to make it successful."
So in a few short weeks, Kubik scrapped its tried-and-true exhibit program and created a successful, award-winning integrated program from scratch. What's more, the company increased brand exposure and drew new visitors to its Web site, all with half the dough.
Apparently for Kubik, that's just the
way the cookie crumbles.†E