Avast there, me hearties, and listen to a saga of pirates, a treasure hunt, and riches split with 14 landlubbers taking part in a successful search for booty. The tale begins as Nigel Ravenhill, our protagonist and program director for ScanAlert Inc., steers the company's exhibit in a new direction at the 2007 Internet Retailer Conference and Exposition (IRC) in San Jose, CA.
Founded in 2002, ScanAlert provides Web-site security certification for retailers. Prior to its acquisition by McAfee Inc. in January of this year, the company's Hacker Safe trust mark (now known as McAfee Secure) appears on more than 80,000 Web sites, including a large number of companies on Internet Retailer's Top 500 Retail Web Sites list.
But ScanAlert's success had sparked a number of copycat competitors, several of which were exhibiting at the 2007 IRC show. That's why then-CEO Ken Leonard issued a mandate to Ravenhill: Flood the show floor with the Hacker Safe brand, but do so on a miniscule budget.
Using trade shows to accomplish corporate objectives was nothing new for ScanAlert, which began exhibiting at Internet-retail trade shows in 2004. With so much of its business done in virtual reality, trade shows became a critical element of the company's success, Ravenhill says. But the events ScanAlert attended seemed to blur together in Ravenhill's mind into one long trade show filled with pipe-and-drape booths and bored staffers. "That's what's missing at Internet-retailer shows - fun," Ravenhill says. "None of the exhibitors do anything interesting in their booths."
But with inspiration from a popular movie character, Ravenhill devised a way to fulfill Leonard's directive and accomplish his own objective of adding more fun to the trade show mix at the same time, all while keeping costs under control.
Mapping Out the Plan
For e-commerce companies, nefarious hackers are the modern-day pirates of the Internet, stealing passwords and information, and causing untold mischief. That's exactly why Web sites with online shopping or other financial transactions use security services like the one ScanAlert provides. It keeps their customers safe and allows them to meet Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance guidelines for Web-purchase security.
In the months prior to the IRC show, hype of the third installment of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie was rampant. The barrage of buccaneers captivated Ravenhill's imagination, leading him to hatch an at-show promotion with enough swash to buckle even Captain Jack Sparrow.
Combining the serious problem of Internet hackers (aka pirates) with the not-so-serious feature film, Ravenhill crafted a branded treasure hunt designed to send attendees to 14 of the company's partners' booths. The partner companies, such as Microsoft Corp., BazaarVoice Inc., and GoECart.com, sell the Hacker Safe service and PCI compliance to their own merchant base. In addition to driving increased traffic to partner companies' booths, the treasure hunt was intended to increase Hacker Safe's visibility by positioning its logo throughout the show floor. The partnered promotion also demonstrated to attendees that major companies in the industry put their trust in Hacker Safe.
In the ScanAlert booth, Ravenhill let his inner pirate loose, creating a veritable Jolly Rogers bedecked with three treasure chests, two filled with gold foil-covered chocolate coins and other faux treasure, while the third chest held treasure-hunt themed clip-on passports branded with the company's green-and-white logo, the same Hacker Safe logo that lets shoppers know a Web site is protected.
The ScanAlert booth even included an appearance by Johnny Depp. Well, a 6-foot-tall cardboard cutout of the actor dressed in full Captain Jack Sparrow regalia, that is. The Captain Jack cutout reinforced the treasure-hunt theme and capitalized on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" craze that was sweeping the box office.
While a treasure hunt in and of itself might be fun, the thing that makes it worthwhile is the promise of booty at the end. To help foot the bill for that booty, Ravenhill asked the partner companies to contribute $200 to participate in the promotion and offset the cost of prizes (12 of 14 ultimately contributed, but the $200 was not mandatory to participate in the promotion). The 26 prizes he purchased with that loot ranged from gift cards and DVDs of the first two "Pirates" movies to the big prize, a 40-inch LCD television. Ravenhill chose the items exclusively from Hacker Safe customers, sending them business to thank them for their patronage, and cashing in on the company's corporate discount in the process. What's more, by choosing the prizes from well-known, established retail customers, such as Guitar Center Inc., FTD, Foot Locker Inc., and Armani Exchange, ScanAlert demonstrated to attendees the breadth and depth of big-brand companies that trust the Hacker Safe service. (Even the Captain Jack Sparrow cutout was purchased from AllPosters.com, another Hacker Safe client.)
Staffers in the ScanAlert booth handed out the clip-on passports bearing the logo to attendees who filled them out with their contact information to begin the treasure-hunt process. The passports, which had been printed and assembled in-house, also had spaces on the back for five Hacker Safe-partner stickers that attendees had to earn by visiting partner companies' booths. Then, attendees returned the completed passports with the required stickers to the ScanAlert booth to become eligible to win one of the 26 prizes.
To assist them in their quest for booty, staffers gave attendees Hacker Safe-branded maps, also printed in-house, pointing them to the partner booths, which each contained an 8.5-by-11-inch "X Marks the Spot" sign provided by ScanAlert, designating it as part of the treasure hunt. The maps directed attendees to return completed passports to ScanAlert's booth no later than 2 p.m. on the last day of the show to participate in the prize drawing. Along with the maps and badges, staffers offered attendees Hacker Safe-branded T-shirts and encouraged them to don them on the show floor - yet another way to make the Hacker Safe brand as ubiquitous as possible.
The Hunt Pays Off
Hoping for 400 face-to-face interactions on the show floor, Ravenhill arrived at the show with 400 of the branded T-shirts. But all 400 of them were gone by the end of the first day, and ScanAlert employees had to drive extra shirts down from the company's Napa, CA, offices on the second and third days of the show. But those 280 extra shirts ran out quickly as well. Ravenhill said he saw people wearing the black T-shirts with the bright green-and-white Hacker Safe logo everywhere he looked at the show and also in restaurants and shops near the convention center, proof that his pirate-themed promotion delivered the kind of brand ubiquity his CEO had asked for. Plus, by the end of the three-day show, Ravenhill estimates the ScanAlert staffers held in-booth conversations with more than 500 prospects at the show - at least 25 percent more than expected.
In addition to the nearly 700 shirts, attendees also snagged some 250 treasure maps as they stopped in the ScanAlert booth, while nearly 700 booth visitors grabbed passports. Treasure hunters returned a total of 154, or 22 percent, of the sticker-laden passports to the ScanAlert booth to be entered in the drawing for one of the 26 prizes. Those completed passports, with their five partner stickers each, represent a total of 770 visits to ScanAlert's partners' booths during the show.
Although ScanAlert had never teamed up with its partners for at-show promotion before, participants on both sides of the poop deck say it was a positive experience. Manish Chowdhary, CEO of GoECart, one of ScanAlert's partner companies, says a primary benefit of the promotion was that it brought new prospects to his booth who likely wouldn't have stopped otherwise.
"The pirate promotion definitely drove traffic to our booth," Chowdhary says. "It was a real conversation starter." He also notes that the cost to participate was modest, almost a token amount, while the partnership itself strengthened the relationship between his company and ScanAlert.
The total cost of the treasure hunt - from printing the badges, maps, and signs, to the prizes given away at the end of the show - came to a nominal $3,804. Subtract the $2,400 collected from the partner companies, and ScanAlert spent a mere $1,404. It was even less of an investment for the partners who got a traffic-building promotion that involved little effort on their part for the bargain-basement price of $200.
"For our partners, the promotion was a booth-traffic driver. For us, it was brand awareness and visibility on the show floor," Ravenhill says. "For all of us, it certainly exceeded our expectations."
So while Jolly-Roger flying, rum-swilling, seven-seas sailing pirates might have gone the way of passenger pigeons and dodo birds in this day and age, ScanAlert and Ravenhill proved that pirates - and partners - can still lead the way to treasure. e
Keeping the treasure chest full requires watching every doubloon you spend. But ScanAlert's program director Nigel Ravenhill found a way to boost excitement at a trade show, strengthen business relationships, and raise awareness of his company's brand without plundering his company's coffers. Here's how he rationed out his budget while crafting an entertaining and successful promotion.
("Pirates of the Caribbean" DVDs; 1 pound of coffee from JL Hufford Coffee and Tea Co.; gift cards from Petco Animal Supplies Inc., Frederick's of Hollywood, Tackle Direct, Guitar Center Inc., Shop NBC, FTD, See's Candy Shops Inc., Foot Locker Inc., Lillian Vernon Corp., Ritz Camera, The Sports Authority Inc., Armani Exchange; one Teddy Bear Gram from Vermont Teddy Bear Company; and a 40-inch LCD TV from Tiger Direct Inc.)
Treasure Chest Materials........$235
(including Johnny Depp cardboard cutout and printing/mounting large format treasure map)
Badge Inserts and Holders........$669
(including treasure hunt display stands for partners and partner-booth signs)
(including duct tape and easel)
ScanAlert's Total Outlay........$1,404