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case study

hat do briefcases, Burt's Bees lip balm, and a soul patch have in common? They're all part of an ingenious exhibit-marketing program created by and for Impact Unlimited Inc., a Dayton, NJ-based event and exhibit agency.

Going into the 2008 Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association's Annual Meeting, Impact Unlimited knew it would need a sweet strategy to overcome a literal infestation of exhibiting challenges. First, Impact Unlimited was confined to a booth space no larger than 10-by-20 feet. That's because show management restricted all space sizes to 200 square feet or less, creating a show floor filled with aisles of same-old 10-by-10 and 10-by-20-foot exhibits - and an ongoing sense of déjà vu for attendees. So Impact Unlimited's exhibit strategy had to somehow elevate the company above the mediocrity.

Second, Impact Unlimited needed not only to sell its products to a been-there-tried-that audience of roughly 200 exhibit managers in the health-care industry, but also to prove to them that they needed its products and services in the first place.
"Among our offerings, we sell in-booth promotional activities," says Kevin Padden, executive director of meeting and communication strategies for Impact Unlimited. "Since exhibitors don't always see the value of in-booth promotions, our exhibit had to demonstrate our capabilities while proving to exhibitors that promotions have a valuable place in their own programs."

To that end, Impact Unlimited has been rolling out one-off promotions, which also double as product/service demonstrations, year after year at HCEA (see "A History of Buzz" on page 39). Including everything from a beach-themed exhibit offering free flip flops to a custom-tea-themed program, the company's HCEA exhibits have developed an annual following among repeat attendees.

But therein lies the rub for the company. "Given our history of successful in-booth activities, part of our challenge every year is to outdo our past year's performance," Padden says. "Whatever we came up with for HCEA 2008 had to be as good as what we'd done in years past."

What's more, Impact Unlimited wanted to make sure that its in-booth activity wasn't another race-car game or putt-putt activity that had no educational value, nor any connection to its offerings. Plus, since HCEA attendees - savvy marketers who had been there and done that a thousand times - had a longstanding aversion to a hard-core sales pitch, not to mention the fact that many exhibitors were offering similar services. "Whatever we did had to be fun enough to make people stop and get involved, and it had to demo our capabilities," Padden says. "But the strategy also had to incorporate at least one opportunity for Impact Unlimited to educate attendees about its specific offerings with a seamless, soft-sales approach."

Birth of the Buzz

Impact Unlimited's answer to its hornets' nest of challenges was actually born of attendees' needs and a casual conversation.

"When we sat down to brainstorm our 2008 theme, we asked ourselves what attendees wanted for their own programs and what our products and
services could offer them," Padden says. "The answer we eventually agreed upon was 'buzz.' All exhibitors want their booths to build buzz for their products and services, and that's exactly what our in-booth activities can offer. When we also considered the show's location in the beehive state (and the fact that Utah's state insect is the honey bee), we knew that our buzz concept would have even more legs if we added a bee theme."

Next, Padden and his team brainstormed for an activity that would engage attendees and somehow carry off this buzz-related theme. That's when the company's marketing specialist, Bonnie Getz, suddenly recalled a conversation she'd had with an industry-affiliated actor.

Buzz-Worthy Elements
Designed entirely in-house by Impact Unlimited Inc., the Buzz or No Buzz campaign featured a themed booth, mailers, giveaways, and of course, a Howie Mandel lookalike, aptly known as Hank Mandel, Howie's brother.



Previously used for some of Impact Unlimited's clients,
the actor was a dead ringer for the "Deal or No Deal"
host, Howie Mandel - soul patch and all.



Staffers handed out 3-by-3-inch branded organza bags, which contained Burt's Bees products and featured an attached tag with the phrase "Catch the Buzz" on it.

Game contestants walked away wearing an "I Got Buzz" button, helping Impact Unlimited to spread the buzz far and wide.



A 5-by-7-inch mailer featured the company's logo over a honeycomb-like image on one side and an image of a silver briefcases bearing the word "buzz" on the other.





Contestants took home a calculator/world clock to help them calculate their own swarm of leads.





Between each game, booth staffers gave the audience pieces of honey-flavored candy.
 

The company had recently used the actor, who was known for doing impressions, on a handful of client projects. Several months before HCEA, the actor called Getz to report he'd worked up a great impression of Howie Mandel, and suggested that Impact Unlimited consider doing a "Deal or No Deal" skit in the future. "Since we didn't have a need for it at the time, we slipped this information into our mental Rolodex," Padden says. "But when we started brainstorming for our HCEA campaign, we realized this game-show concept could demonstrate the power of promotions and allow us to work educational content into the script and buzz-related theme."

What's more, Padden adds, popular game shows can be easily adapted to an exhibit environment. "Everybody knows the rules to a well-known game show," he says. "As soon as a presenter says, 'This is our spin on 'Deal or No Deal,' attendees immediately know how the game is played, and you don't have to waste time explaining the rules."

Cross-pollinating a buzz-related concept with a "Deal or No Deal" activity, Impact Unlimited created its "Buzz or No Buzz" campaign, which featured everything from a honeycomb-themed mailer to theme-appropriate giveaways. While the parody was developed to pollinate the show floor with laughter and friendly competition among attendees, Impact Unlimited also hoped it would generate show-wide buzz, drawing swarms of attendees like bees to honey - or in this case, health-care exhibit managers to a killer exhibit promotion.

The Sweet Deal

Attendees first heard of the Buzz or No Buzz campaign via a clever mailer, which arrived roughly two weeks before the show. The exterior of the 5-by-7-inch card featured the company's logo over a honeycomb-like image. Accompanying text read: "A wise exhibit marketing company once said, 'You can catch more leads with honey than with vinegar.'" Featuring an image of a silver briefcase bearing the word "buzz," the reverse side of the card read, "Check out the buzz at Impact Unlimited, booth #418 at HCEA in Salt Lake City, June 22-24."

When attendees arrived on the show floor, however, the well-crafted mailer proved almost unnecessary, as the buzz-building ruckus emitted by the game-show contestants meant that everyone within earshot headed for Impact Unlimited's booth.

A History of Buzz
Impact Unlimited Inc. has been churning out its in-booth promotions year after year at HCEA. More than variations on a theme, each traffic builder/promotion educates and entertains attendees in one fell swoop. Here are three of the company's most recent iterations.

2005
Communicating Impact Unlimited's blend of services, its 2005 booth featured a custom tea bar, allowing attendees to create their own blend of tea. Graphics featured clever phrases such as "Oolong time on the road?" and "Stress causing Earl Grey hair?" Premiums included "tea-shirts," tea tins, tea infusers, and teapot cookies.

2006
Leveraging the show's Ft. Lauderdale location, Impact Unlimited created a beach-themed program. Booth graphics featured beach-related images and looping video displayed postcards featuring real clients' photos, such as a client's head superimposed onto the body of a jet skier. Attendees played shuffleboard on illustrated flooring and received travel journals, flip flops, and postcard-esque picture frames.

2007
The 2007 booth played off the host city - Philadelphia - and its role in the American Revolution. Based around a "Leading the Healthcare Revolution" theme, an in-booth podium featured what appeared to be a long scroll of parchment. An electronic tablet allowed attendees to write in an answer to the question: "Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of _____". Attendees' answers appeared on the booth's back wall and were printed on a card slipped into their show badges.

Once there, the Howie lookalike - complete with a stylish suit, bald head, and soul patch - introduced himself to newcomers saying, "Hi! I'm Hank Mandel, Howie's brother. You've probably seen my brother's 'Deal or No Deal' show, so you know how it works. But mine's just a bit different. Would you like to give it a try?"

According to Padden, attendees readily volunteered for the game. "This wasn't a boring old booth staffer inviting you to play a racing game. It's a bald guy with a soul patch inviting you to play a TV game show," Padden says. "By simply opening a conversation, Hank hooked attendees, who were eager to see what would happen next."

Hank selected a volunteer and directed his or her attention to the back wall of the booth. While the exhibit's core comprised little more than a back wall and two podiums - one on each front corner of the space - the exhibit rivaled a game-show backdrop in its technological glitz and glam.

Brilliantly lit with back-wall lighting, the booth featured glossy finishes, a black and white color palette, and a stunning back wall comprising multiple Plexiglas panels. Designers positioned a vertical row of three silver briefcases between two back-wall panels, with each case bearing one of three words - events, exhibits, or meetings - which were also Impact Unlimited's main areas of expertise.

The focal point of the booth space, however, was a roughly 3-by-8-foot plasma screen upon which the game was played. A monitor near the front right corner of the space allowed Hank and the contestants to interact with the back-wall screen and the banker, Mr. Buzzkill.

As soon as Hank swiped the volunteer's badge, he asked the contestant to look at the screen and select the area of event management that most interested him or her.

Along with the Buzz or No Buzz logo across the top of the screen, attendees found a honeycomb-like image over an orange and black background. Each of the seven hexagon shapes that made up the honeycomb featured one word to describe Impact Unlimited's offerings, including meetings, events, exhibits, measurement, housing and registration, integrated programs, and new cool things for your booth. By allowing attendees to select an offering, Impact Unlimited not only educated attendees about its services, but it also qualified attendees' personal areas of interest, information staffers used during conversations following the game.

After the contestant selected an area of expertise, Hank touched that honeycomb on the monitor, causing the large-screen honeycomb image to feature a product-related message that he read aloud. For example, after touching "new cool things for your booth," the number on the honeycomb was replaced with the text "Impact Unlimited has produced single-use immersive 'pods' that communicate messaging through video, wind, sound, and even smell!"

With attendees' interest piqued by the information on Impact Unlimited's offerings, it was time to select a case. Hank quickly tapped the monitor, and seven numbered honeycombs appeared on the screen, along with five lead-amount figures - ranging from "crickets," symbolizing none, to 2,500 - running vertically down the right side of the screen. While the goal of the real "Deal or No Deal" game is to obtain the highest dollar figure in the contestant's case or to accept a high-dollar deal from the banker, the goal of the Buzz or No Buzz activity was to pick the honeycomb with the highest lead-count figure concealed "inside," or to accept a high-lead-count deal from Mr. Buzzkill.

Next, the contestant selected one of the seven honeycombs, which was thereafter represented by the image of a briefcase in the bottom right corner of the screen. The contestant then picked two more honeycombs - trying not to select high lead-count values - and their values were revealed on the screen. After the second honeycomb was "opened," the banker appeared via the screen to make the contestant an offer.

After Mr. Buzzkill made an offer, Hank asked, "Do you want to take the offer, which is really 'no buzz' compared to what's up there, or do you want to go for more buzz?" And with almost as much enthusiasm as real game-show contestants, most booth visitors shouted, "I want more buzz!"

The game continued until the contestant accepted the offer, or as was almost always the case, the attendee had opened all of the cases. As a parting gift, Hank offered the contestant a blinking "I Got Buzz" pin; a miniature, metal, suitcase-shaped calculator/world clock; and a 3-by-3-inch branded organza bag, which contained two tubes of Burt's Bees lip balm and featured an attached paper tag reading "Catch the Buzz." Before the next game started, staffers swooped in to offer participants and onlookers some honey-flavored candy, and to pounce on any potential leads.

"Since our goal was to educate attendees about our products, it wasn't really about winning or losing," Padden says. "Nevertheless, the fun of the game meant people whooped and hollered like they'd actually won big money, not a little tube of beeswax."

Dripping With Success


After the show, Impact Unlimited's management whooped it up as well. "Since HCEA has such a small but highly qualified group of attendees, our goals aren't about gathering tons of leads; they're about educating attendees on our products and spending fun, quality time with them," Padden says. "This booth accomplished both of those tasks, and the incredible buzz we developed proved to attendees that in-booth promotional activities really work."

Padden also estimates that more than half of all attendees participated in the game, results that far exceeded the company's expectations and its lead counts from the previous year's show. Plus, since the 2008 show, Impact Unlimited has done work for at least two new clients as a direct result of the buzz-worthy campaign.

With results like that, it seems that briefcases, lip balm, and a soul patch aren't just integrated-program components. They're also key ingredients in a delicious nectar that had Impact Unlimited abuzz with success. E
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