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n the history of secret codes, nothing beats the Voynich manuscript for sheer mind-boggling complexity. Penned by a shadowy figure in the early 15th century, its 240 pages of strange symbols and perplexing pictures have defied the efforts of history's greatest code breakers, human and computer alike, to decipher its hidden meanings. But the Voynich manuscript is child's play compared to the puzzle ForeScout Technologies Inc. had to decipher. The Cupertino, CA-based maker of software that controls computer-network access needed to increase brand awareness at the 2011 RSA Conference in San Francisco, the annual forum for cryptographers and information-technology (IT) mavens. For years, ForeScout's approach to RSA was a let-them-come-to-us strategy that relied solely on word of mouth. "As a result, our brand was almost as secret as the information our products protect," says Jack Marsal, ForeScout's director of marketing. "It was time to change that with something that would catch everyone off guard and attract some serious attention to our exhibit."

Exhibitor: ForeScout Technologies Inc.
Creative/Production: Cyclonix Inc., Morgan Hill, CA, 800-470-0062, http://cyclonix.com
Show: RSA Conference, 2011
Budget: $14,400
  Attract 500 attendees to a 10-minute in-booth presentation.
 Surpass its 2010 lead count of 350 by 50 percent.
 Double attendee dwell time in the booth from five minutes to 10 minutes.
 Drew 1,200 people to the in-booth presentation, an increase of 140 percent.
 Generated 1,000 leads, nearly doubling its pre-show goal.
 Increased dwell time from five minutes in 2010 to 20 minutes in 2011.
To bring its brand out from the marketing shadows, ForeScout drew from a deep well of security and secret symbols, including secret messages written in invisible ink and police sirens sounding across the exhibit. The result was a mix of ingenuity and levity that prompted one Sizzle Awards judge to deem the company's approach "the perfect strategy for a security-solutions company."

Cracking the Code

Despite a recession that, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going and going, by the end of 2010, ForeScout's software was guarding the computers of more than 500 Fortune 1000 companies, government agencies, and military establishments worldwide. Yet that success was also ForeScout's Achilles' heel: Its marketing strategy eschewed advertising as clearly superfluous and unprofitable when its products were so obviously popular. For example, while ForeScout had exhibited at four RSA conferences from 2007 through 2010 with a 20-by-20-foot booth in each of those years, its marketing at the shows was more bare bones than Skeletor. It put on limp presentations, offered no giveaways, and tried no real traffic-building tactics. Such commercial forays just weren't seen as necessary, what with the belief that its products' popularity spread among customers as fast as the viruses it kept away from those same clients' networks. As a result of under-investing in marketing, the company's brand was a secret as well kept as Clark Kent's true identity. "Our exhibiting strategy had to undergo a radical change," Marsal says.

ForeScout wished to boost its brand through a more impactful presence at RSA, where security professionals and IT bigwigs learn about the latest technological threats, from online bank fraud to zombie computers. From its subatomic-sized start in 1991, when the conference drew 50 attendees, zero exhibitors, and not a single media mention, the 2011 rendition of RSA would attract approximately 19,000 attendees and 350 exhibitors, while also generating nearly 900 articles in the media. For IT professionals, RSA is the Super Bowl of computer security.

But if RSA is indeed the IT equivalent of the Super Bowl, ForeScout's anorexic $14,400 budget for its traffic builder put the company in a league with the Tiny-Mite division of Pop Warner youth football. "Whatever traffic-building strategy we chose, it had to make our booth size and budget irrelevant," Marsal says. That's because its approach would have to neutralize competitors like Cisco Systems Inc., who swaggered into RSA with a booth occupying more than twice the square footage of ForeScout's, boasting an in-booth theater, eight demonstration areas, and a crew of 100 staffers.

Assisted by Morgan Hill, CA-based exhibit house Cyclonix Inc., ForeScout began batting around ideas. Most of the concepts in this thought tsunami centered on a single security- or spy-related image that would then be plastered throughout the booth's surfaces and on collateral material. Some people argued for images of binoculars or telescopes, while others advocated for graphical representations of microscopes or X-rays. One faction pushed for constructing a physical security checkpoint, while others suggested posters or T-shirts using black-light-reactive ink that would glow with marketing messages under ultraviolet illumination. Each idea by itself wasn't exactly a tectonic-plate-smashing concept. Then ForeScout and Cyclonix realized if they welded many of these concepts together, the company could generate enough booth traffic to rival Los Angeles during rush hour.

ForeScout's goals for RSA were as ambitious as its challenges were daunting: engage 500 people in the in-booth presentation, while exceeding its 2010 lead count of 350 by a whopping 50 percent. To have even a sliver of hope of accomplishing that, ForeScout felt dwell time in the booth would have to double from an average of five minutes in 2010 to 10 minutes this time around.

Fit to a T

When attendees came upon Fore-Scout's 20-by-20-foot booth in San Francisco's Moscone Center, they were probably as surprised as the Japanese in World War II when they first encountered the Navaho language code the allies had begun using. Instead of the yawn-snore exhibits of years past, ForeScout had created an intriguing visual and aural lure in its booth on a budget thinner than a Ramen noodle.

An overhead 4-by-16-foot sign with the tagline "See What You've Been Missing" piqued attendees' interest to come and check out the booth. A duo of crowd gatherers working the aisles drew visitors into the exhibit with promises of snappy presentations, cool T-shirts, and other prizes. But their
come-one, come-all blandishments were probably unnecessary for anyone who caught a glimpse of the booth. Images of a magnifying glass - synonymous with security and detection ever since Sherlock Holmes wielded one in "A Study in Scarlet" back in 1887 - were placed on six separate areas of the booth's interior and exterior, accompanied by the tantalizing "See What You've Been Missing" tagline. Even more arresting was the sight of the exhibit's visual centerpiece, a 4-by-7-foot security checkpoint (think of those TSA portals you trudge through in your stocking feet at the airport) whose alarm and light were activated at random, sonically alerting attendees to the booth's presence.

Once visitors had ambled into the exhibit, ForeScout cannily avoided a tactical mistake most exhibitors are guilty of at some point: handing out goodies without asking for something in exchange. To receive any swag or be eligible for prizes, attendees first sat through a 10-minute presentation on how ForeScout's Counteract software can help IT security managers find and control what's on their companies' PCs, iPhones, Android phones, and other devices. Given twice every hour by professional presenter Richard Laible, an 18-year veteran of corporate entertainment who started with Chicago's Second City comedy troupe, the 10-minute presentation was a potent antidote to the previous years' death-by-PowerPoint pitches. While two of the booth's nine staffers distributed buttons emblazoned with the "See What You've Been Missing" tagline to attendees, Laible explained that if one of the designated ForeScout staffers spotted them wearing the buttons or a T-shirt (which they would be handed in a few minutes) on the show floor, the staffer would give them a crisp new $50 bill.

Primed by the presentation - and the potential for some quick cash - visitors next received lemon-colored T-shirts with the words "I'm Exposed" on the front and, ominously, "See What You've Been Missing" on the back. Staffers then asked them to stand in line and wait their turn to walk through the security portal holding their T-shirt. Now rooted in our mental landscape (it's even part of a new Star Wars ride at Disney World), the TSA-like gauntlet was more than just a familiar, if provocative, icon. As an ever-lengthening line of guests queued up with their T-shirts, the scene created a visual tableau attendees passing by would find hard to resist investigating further.

When each attendee entered the portal holding the T-shirt, an ultraviolet light attached to the portal revealed 36 terms written in previously invisible ink on the front and back of the shirt. Appearing like dozens of rabbits from a magician's hat all at once, the terms included scourges like the "Stuxnet" and "Conflicker" viruses that keep more IT people up at night than too many Red Bulls, as well as other techno-nightmares such as "dataleak" and "hacker." While the attendees enjoyed a graphic illustration of the "See What You've Been Missing" tagline, the portal's police cherry light - the same thing you see in your rear-view mirror when you're being pulled over for that moving violation - and siren were activated at random intervals after every presentation. Whoever was standing under the portal's ultraviolet light when the siren went off won one of 14 Flip video cameras awarded daily. Additionally, one attendee per day won an iPad going through the portal. Meanwhile, the spotters mentioned earlier in the presentation handed out $50 bills to 18 T-shirt or button-adorned attendees over the course of the show's four days.

Cure for the Common Code

It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to say your products can stop the depredations of data thieves and hackers, so perhaps it shouldn't be a total surprise that ForeScout kicked the, well, shirt out of its pre-show goals: The promotion lured 1,200 people to the in-booth presentation, annihilating the company's goal by 140 percent. By requiring visitors to take in a presentation before they could take home swag or become eligible for prizes, ForeScout juiced the average dwell time from five minutes in 2010 to nearly 20 minutes in 2011, with many staying as long as a half-hour or more.

Like a ripple in a pond, those metrics inevitably led to what may be ForeScout's most impressive result. Aiming at surpassing its 2010 lead count of 350 by 50 percent, the company compiled 1,000 leads, nearly doubling its pre-show goal. By the end of the show, ForeScout had brilliantly cracked a cipher that had defeated so many larger and richer competitors: how to succeed at RSA. E

Charles Pappas, senior writer; cpappas@exhibitormagazine.com

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