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case study

ou don't need to be a pop-culture connoisseur to see that America has an obsession with superheroes. The X-Men, Thor, and Captain America dominated last year's box office, and retail stores boast shelves stocked with superhero-themed T-shirts, lunchboxes, and everything in between. Attendance at Comic-Con International, the annual convention of all things comic book and superhero, has exploded in the past five years, reaching capacity crowds of 130,000.

And it appears our country's fascination with comic-book crusaders won't let up any time soon. This year's most anticipated movies range from another Batman installment to the second franchise reboot for Spiderman in the past 10 years. While theories to explain this attraction range from the need to escape difficult economic and political times to the simple desire for some old-fashioned, butt-kicking fun, there's no denying that superheroes are marketing magic, bringing in crowds and big bucks for businesses worldwide.

It's no surprise then that companies outside the retail and entertainment industries are hopping aboard the superhero bandwagon to boost their bottom lines, too, including Bluebeam Software Inc. The Pasadena, CA-based firm makes a portable document format (PDF) software called PDF Revu, used by architects and engineers to create, mark up, and edit PDF renderings of design concepts and plans. While Bluebeam brings in respectable profits, it has sat in the shadow of Adobe Systems Inc., which originated the PDF in 1993.

"Our company tends to have low awareness levels in the industry," says Stephanie Haynes, director of worldwide marketing for Bluebeam. "We find that when people discover our software, they absolutely love it, but being a smaller company has made it a challenge to get the word out to consumers about our offerings."

Holding Out for a Hero

So in 2009, as Bluebeam began planning for the launch of a software feature at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) convention in June 2010, it looked to capitalize on a culture clamoring for superheroes.

"We needed to go big and go bold to raise our profile at AIA 2010, which is one of our bigger shows," Haynes says. "By doing so, we hoped to increase leads and brand awareness, and successfully launch Bluebeam Studio, a new collaboration feature for our flagship PDF Revu software that allows users to work together on PDFs from remote locations."

With the company hoping to make a big splash and draw in crowds, marketing discussions quickly turned to a superhero-themed exhibit. "So many people love comic books and superheroes," says Jill Fehrman, marketing manager for Bluebeam. "Our target demographic is middle-aged men, people who grew up reading comic books and following superheroes. As such, we felt a superhero concept would bring in booth traffic while also fitting with our company's unique and creative image."

But Bluebeam didn't want to simply fill up booth space with imagery of well-known superheroes that had no relation to the company's products. "We needed a unique superhero that could also be our company's mascot, helping us to communicate product information and key messages," Haynes says.

"Our marketing team went through numerous concepts and revisions before finally coming up with our very own superhero, which we dubbed the Mighty Bluebeam," Fehrman says. Decked out in a skin-tight suit in the company's signature blue color, Mighty Bluebeam was a wall of muscle in need of the one thing no superhero can live without - an arch-nemesis. There was one clear choice for that formidable foe: paper.

"The design and engineering industries have always been extremely paper intensive," Haynes says. "There is a common misconception among professionals in these industries that paper is unavoidable, and working completely electronically is a far-off dream or will never happen at all. Through the Mighty Bluebeam, we wanted to communicate that our new software would allow a paperless work process now."

Thus, the company deemed Mighty Bluebeam "the world's greatest paper eliminator," a blue-suited savior on a serious mission to stamp out paper using the company's new PDF Revu software.

Mighty Bluebeam Materializes
While Bluebeam felt it had a compelling concept on paper (or, PDF, rather), the company decided to take Mighty Bluebeam on a small-scale trade show test drive before creating a large and costly exhibit. So in November of 2009, Bluebeam brought a bare-bones 10-by-12-foot display featuring Mighty Bluebeam imagery to the annual Greenbuild conference and expo in Phoenix.

Greenbuild is the world's largest show on Green building practices, a natural fit for gauging reactions to Mighty Bluebeam's paper-fighting message. "Our goal was to see how potential customers reacted to the Mighty Bluebeam concept before we spent the time and money to roll it out large scale," Haynes says.

The results left little doubt. "We saw an extremely high level of visitor interest in the display," Haynes says. "The setup included a life-size cardboard cutout of Mighty Bluebeam, and people were stopping by all day to take their picture next to him. It was definitely the enthusiastic response we were hoping for."

Given such a positive response to the Mighty Bluebeam concept, the company began looking for ways to expand the comic-inspired campaign to become much more than a one-off marketing tactic. Instead of a few cardboard cutouts for the upcoming AIA show, Bluebeam would develop an entire integrated program around the character, building him a lair worthy of a superhero, and inviting him to star in his own custom comic book.

Base of Operations

With a successful test drive under its belt, Bluebeam turned to Expo-3 International Inc. to build the company's biggest booth to date. But it wouldn't be a traditional structure. Instead, the booth would become Mighty Bluebeam's home base, a Bat Cave-style command center called "Station 32." The booth design would feature a distinctively industrial look, with a faux-concrete fašade accompanied by exposed metal beams and painted sheet metal.

"The exhibit was meant to look futuristic, almost post-apocalyptic," Haynes says. "In addition to serving as Mighty Bluebeam's operation base, we wanted to use the design to communicate that the future had arrived; there was no need to wait for paperless work solutions with our products." To make that point crystal clear, designers painted various walls throughout the display with graffiti-style orange writing that said "The Future is Now!," the company's slogan for the Mighty Bluebeam campaign. "We wanted to demonstrate to AIA attendees that you can work paper-free today, and we'll show you how," Fehrman says.

The booth also featured product-demonstration stations on a variety of technology platforms. "Here, visitors could see the new version of PDF Revu containing Studio in action across a range of technology like tablet PCs, touchscreen monitors, and desktop PCs," Haynes says. "This drove home the point that our new software was flexible and versatile enough to accommodate different work styles and locations, as well as various stages of a design project."

The 20-by-30-foot booth accounted for a significant part of the $100,000 allocated for the Mighty Bluebeam program. But while a tricked-out, super-powered display would help drive traffic during the trade show, Bluebeam went the extra mile to develop a unique, integrated pre-show marketing strategy to pique interest before AIA 2010.

Character Development

To bring Mighty Bluebeam to life, the company developed a series of six motion comic videos, which mix print comic layouts with animation and audio. Each of the two-minute clips told the story of Mighty Bluebeam's adventures in Paperopolis, a fictional city besieged by paper-intensive projects masterminded by the evil villain, Paper Pusher. Throughout the storylines, Mighty Bluebeam used the company's software to foil Paper Pusher's plans and rescue the citizens of Paperopolis, pushing out Bluebeam product messaging in an engaging and unique format. The clips also mentioned the upcoming AIA booth overhaul and hinted at the rollout of the new Studio software feature at the show.

To host the video clips, Bluebeam developed a Station 32-themed microsite that mirrored the booth design. The company began posting one clip a month to the site beginning in January 2010 to build excitement for the June AIA show. The virtual command center included additional links to Bluebeam product information and free trial-software downloads.

Keeping marketing in synch with messaging, Bluebeam emphasized electronic mediums to promote the microsite and get the Mighty Bluebeam videos in front of potential attendees. Monthly postings on its blog, The PDF Insider, provided information about the microsite and video clips, in addition to original content including sneak peeks at the new booth design. It even showed how the company used its own software to create the display. "Our promotions also included posting links to the Station 32 site on our Facebook page, Twitter feed, and monthly e-newsletter, which we send to customers and industry insiders," Fehrman says.

Not writing off paper altogether, Bluebeam created a comic-book-style print advertisement for the AIA show guide that depicted the company's Mighty Bluebeam booth. Teasing the new software feature and exhibit redesign, the ad promised that "this June at AIA Miami, architects and building pros will discover the newest PDFin' weapon of Mighty Bluebeam, the superhero of our paperless future." The accompanying comic strip showed visitors rushing to Bluebeam's exhibit to be greeted by the superhero himself, who stood ready to reveal Bluebeam's latest PDF innovation.

"Overall, the creativity of our pre-show outreach, combined with our strategy to not reveal the details of the new software until the show, helped create a lot of buzz and anticipation for AIA," Fehrman says.

The Showdown

When the doors opened on AIA 2010, held in Miami June 10 - 12, visitors flocked to Bluebeam's supersized booth to catch a glimpse of Mighty Bluebeam and check out the company's new software upgrade. To draw in passing traffic that may not have seen pre-show promos, the company strategically placed the life-sized Mighty Bluebeam cutout that proved so popular during the Greenbuild test run at the center of the booth's entrance off the show's main aisle.

Bluebeam positioned the cardboard standup next to a wall of eight flatscreen monitors playing looping video to attract additional attention. Several screens showcased the motion comic videos Bluebeam created for the pre-show campaign, while one, sound-enabled monitor played a video that included information about the company's new software feature, Bluebeam Studio. "This was really the centerpiece video," Fehrman says. "It included an interesting account of the evolution of collaboration, and how Bluebeam software can help users collaborate quickly and electronically."

As visitors wandered into the booth, a team of eight Bluebeam staffers, dressed in bright-yellow T-shirts bearing the company's logo, greeted them and started conversations on how Bluebeam software could help them go paperless. After learning the types of technology that guests used in the workplace, Bluebeam staff directed them to the appropriate product-demo station, such as tablet PCs for working on the road or at job sites, or touchscreen, digital whiteboards for meetings and presentations. Built-in badge scanners at each station captured lead information.

As internal studies showed high conversion rates for potential clients once they actually used Bluebeam's software, the company made handing out CDs with free trials of its enhanced PDF Revu software a central in-booth strategy. "Our staff made sure to provide all interested visitors with one of the free trial CDs," Haynes says. "Over the three-day event, we handed out more than 3,000 CDs."

But the trial software wasn't the only takeaway flying out of the booth faster than a speeding bullet. A number of Mighty Bluebeam-branded giveaways proved to be a huge hit among visitors. These items included bright-yellow Mighty Bluebeam T-shirts, USB flash drives bearing a picture of the superhero that were preloaded with product information, and a 20-page, custom-made comic book illustrating the Mighty Bluebeam story developed for comic motion clips. "The Mighty Bluebeam giveaways were extremely popular with attendees," Haynes says.

Feats of Strength

After three days of large crowds, Bluebeam packed up Station 32 and headed back to its own base to tally the results of its marketing makeover.
Over the course of AIA 2010, Bluebeam's leads increased by a sky-high 500 percent over the previous year's show. In addition to distributing thousands of its free trial CDs to attendees, Bluebeam landed editorial coverage of its Studio software enhancement in top industry publications. In fact, Studio proved so popular that Bluebeam has since released a related product called Studio Server, which facilitates PDF collaboration on local, more secure, internally hosted servers.

With such a positive response to the campaign, Bluebeam used it in a number of shows, including Greenbuild 2010, ConExpo/Con-Agg 2011, and AIA 2011, where the company entered its super-powered booth for the conference's first Best in Show award. Judged by a panel that includes top architects and designers, the award recognizes the most creative and well-made AIA exhibitáthat demonstrates sustainability, unique product presentation, and great guest interaction. With the power of Mighty Bluebeam on its side, the company muscled its way to victory, claiming the award over 800 competitors.

Mighty Bluebeam Videos

Click here to watch on YouTube

For a company with Mighty Mouse-sized revenues up against Hulk-sized competitors, Bluebeam's success proves you can never count out the underdog. Sometimes he just needs a helping hand from a superhero.áE

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