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Exhibitor: Tripwire Inc.
Creative/Production: Brand B Marketing, a division of DisplayWorks LLC, Irvine, CA, 949-608-5745, www.brandbmarketing.com
Production: Absolute Amusements, a division of Event Mall Inc., Orlando, FL, 800-239-3866,
www.absoluteamusements.com; Adam's Balls LLC, Baltimore, www.adamsballs.com; L.T. Litho & Digital Inc., Irvine, CA, 949-863-1340, www.ltlitho.net
Show: VMWorld, 2009
Budget: $50,000
Generate buzz and build booth traffic.
Introduce Tripwire Inc.'s new product and raise brand awareness.
Increase the number of sales leads
collected at the show.
Attracted constant visitor traffic during the four-day show.
Launched Tripwire's new product and garnered attention in the virtualization market, contributing to a 19-percent revenue increase in 2009.
Collected 2,400 leads, a 300-percent increase over the company's previous trade show high.
f your workday resembles that of the typical office worker, you probably spend eight or more hours chained to your cubicle. But while it might appear otherwise to a passerby, you don't actually spend that time alone. As your humanity slowly disappears into the surrounding gray walls, you've got a constant cube companion: technology. Writing an e-mail, updating a spreadsheet, or playing Angry Birds while the boss is away is just part of the average day in a modern workforce that's utterly dependent on PCs and smart phones. An era without Internet connections or iPads seems as unfathomable as the time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

But while technology allows us to work faster and smarter, it's also opened the floodgates to a constant barrage of security threats and headaches for companies worldwide. While not typically on par with Terminator-style global destruction, the downfalls of a plugged-in workplace pervade the news. Stolen personal information and hacks into confidential data seem to pop up weekly, attacking everything from financial institutions to government agencies.

To protect your employer from security breaches or keep you from going rogue with company data after a tough performance review, a slew of information-technology security products touting the latest in virtual armor are clamoring for the attention of IT professionals. And in a massive software industry valued at more than $300 billion worldwide, standing out among the competition often proves challenging, especially for smaller companies with little name recognition.

Such is the case for Tripwire Inc., an IT security- and compliance-solutions provider based in Portland, OR. While the company brings in annual revenues approaching $100 million and employs 300 people worldwide, its profits and size shrivel in comparison to industry giants like Symantec Corp., which raked in nearly $6 billion in revenue in 2010 with a behemoth workforce approaching 19,000 people.

Smaller revenues mean smaller marketing budgets for the likes of Tripwire, which was especially problematic as the company looked to launch a new product for a new market segment in 2009. Called vWire, the software was designed to help system administrators detect and act upon data-security and configuration issues in virtual IT infrastructures, often simply called virtualizations. Unlike typical server setups, virtualization divides individual physical servers into multiple virtual machines, helping companies improve resource utilization and cut costs.

Not surprisingly, virtualization has become a growing trend in enterprise IT, and Tripwire hoped to grab a piece of the expanding market by launching vWire at VMworld 2009, one of the largest global conferences for the virtualization industry. "While we had exhibited at VMworld in the past to simply raise our brand profile, 2009 was especially significant as we were launching vWire," says Kelley Rayborn, marketing events manager for Tripwire.
"Our objective for VMworld 2009 was to position ourselves as a growing, multiproduct company and significant industry player by launching vWire," Rayborn says. "We also needed to generate enough buzz to drive traffic - and therefore leads - to our booth to help us develop a database of virtualization opportunities." But with a modest budget and a lack of industry presence, cranking out a buzz-worthy booth wasn't going to be easy.

"Tripwire really wanted to maximize its presence at VMworld to draw in visitor traffic," notes Bryan Ventura, co-creative director for Brand B Marketing, the Irvine, CA-based agency called in to help Tripwire build booth traffic. "It had done some basic advertising at the show in past years, but it needed a truly comprehensive campaign to stand out."

A Ballsy Idea

Simply integrating promotional materials with a sleek booth design wasn't going to be enough for Tripwire. "We wanted to create an activity that would draw a lot of attention and excitement and produce a spectacle for people passing by to draw them into the booth," Ventura says of their plans to boost show buzz. When brainstorming what that activity could be, Tripwire kept its audience and product in mind.

"Companies face a sea of IT-related threats," Ventura says. "For security administrators, nothing feels better than capturing and disarming those threats. So we decided to create an entertaining game where they could do that in a more tangible way, actually capturing physical objects that represented the threats VMworld attendees realistically face."

The inspiration for turning that idea into a functioning game came from a source of excitement for lottery addicts around the world: the lotto-ball air mixer. An iconic element of bingo halls and big-prize Powerball drawings, air mixers use fans to circulate numbered lotto balls inside a Plexiglas box, randomly pushing winning numbers out through a tube. While Tripwire's game apparatus, built by Orlando, FL-based Absolute Amusements, would use the same technology and basic construct as a lotto-ball mixer, the similarities stopped there.

Inside the clear plastic box, game players at the Tripwire booth would find nearly 150 ping-pong balls, a small handful of which were printed with the names of common virtual threats like "invisible changes," "configuration drift," and "security breaches." When the game started, a fan built into the base of the box would rapidly circulate the balls as two players raced against each other to be the first to reach inside, fish out five of those threat-bearing balls, and earn an entry in daily grand-prize drawings.

To spread excitement and create a strategic spectacle, each game would include an emcee providing play-by-play commentary broadcast on loudspeakers in the booth. "While calling the game, the emcee would also mix in messaging on Tripwire products and explain how they could protect against the various threats captured in the game," Ventura says.

Masquerade Balls

Despite having an intriguing, oddball activity to create buzz, Tripwire and Brand B were still far away from hitting a home run. "While we really felt the oddity of seeing two people with their hands frantically buried in an oversized Plexiglas case full of ping-pong balls would be enough to draw in visitors at the show, we needed to integrate the activity with pre-show promotions that were just as unique," Ventura says.

To tie together ping-pong balls and IT threats, Tripwire and Brand B kept the creative juices flowing, ultimately putting a fresh and frightening twist on an old favorite: the smiley face. Promotional ads for the exhibit would feature a menacing face on a ping-pong ball, a mascot of sorts to unite the booth activity with the product message. To the passing eye, the face would appear like a hand-inked sketch, and for good reason. "First, it reflected the nature of the security threats IT professionals face; there's nothing neat or clean about them; they're constantly evolving and can pop up out of nowhere," Ventura says. "Also, we felt it helped make it really stand out. So many promotional materials feature picture-perfect graphics. By drawing focus to a rougher-looking image, we felt we'd catch more eyes."

But the world's most evil ping-pong ball couldn't convey Tripwire's brand messaging on its own; it needed a host of delinquent friends. On each advert, it sat dead center in a row of six other ball-shaped images, each labeled with virtual threats plaguing the IT world, such as the dreaded "unauthorized change." Labeled "the Usual Suspects," the lineup of virtual villains was accompanied by information inviting readers to Tripwire's booth to see how its products could help them take control of their own virtual environment.

"For network administrators, these types of virtual threats are the things that go bump in the night," Ventura says of the criminal concept. "Each one is truly an administrator's arch nemesis, and we took advantage of that with the 'Usual Suspects' theme."

"The messaging really communicated the point that there are always threats lurking in your technology infrastructure, and Tripwire products are there to help you take control," Rayborn says.

Ping-Pong Promo

Even with a unique and integrated marketing message, Tripwire and Brand B weren't convinced that creativity alone would capture attendees' attention amid other exhibitors' interesting promotions. So they decided to bring their messaging concept to life with a pre-show promotion.

Through a VMworld sponsorship package, Tripwire's promotional flier was distributed to the hotel rooms of 1,000 show attendees the night before the event kicked off, presenting the perfect opportunity to get collateral in the hands of Tripwire's target audience. The problem was, dozens of other companies were doing the exact same thing. "Attendees at these kinds of shows receive a lot of promotional materials and room drops," Ventura says. "It's hard to stand out when people may have a hundred fliers waiting for them in their room." So to make its promotion pop, Tripwire worked with Baltimore-based Adam's Balls LLC to acquire custom-printed ping-pong balls bearing the face of its menacing mascot. Print specialists L.T. Litho & Digital Inc., based in Irvine, CA, secured one of the custom balls to each of Tripwire's printed room drops, layering another captivating element on the integrated campaign.

The flier invited attendees to defeat the usual suspects and "be rewarded with T-shirt giveaways and daily grand-prize drawings," while teasing the in-booth game by instructing them to bring the ping-pong ball to the booth for an edge on the competition.

"Adding a ping-pong ball to the room drop provided something unique that people could see and feel," Ventura says. "The idea was that the unexpected element would help attract attention and make Tripwire's promotional materials stand out from the other two-dimensional room drops." And according to Sizzle Awards judges, the bizarre little ball did just that. "I love the use of 3-D objects in promotions as opposed to flat and forgettable images and text," one judge said. "A dimensional object somehow makes things more real and tactile. It catches more attention, whereas a 2-D mailer or room drop is more likely to end up in a garbage can."

Strategic Street Team

When VMworld opened on Aug. 31, Tripwire had one final surprise waiting to drive attendees to the booth. A street team comprising two staffers distributed ping-pong balls printed with the message "bring me to booth 114" to passersby near the entrance of the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Even though handing out ping-pong balls as opposed to fliers already helped the team stand out, Tripwire made strategic staffing and wardrobe choices to entice passing attendees. "The VMworld demographic skews heavily male," Ventura says. "It's overwhelming male IT professionals in their late 20s and 30s." So instead of manning the street team with a few IT nerds in bad khakis, Tripwire brought in outsourced female brand ambassadors resembling extras from 90210, and dressed them in form-fitting, umpire-themed attire and mini-skirts, combining two typical male favorites: attractive women and sports. "The street team was intended to get attendees to stop, talk with the team, and pick up a ball, eventually driving them to the booth once inside the convention center," Ventura says. And that's exactly what it did.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

As visitors made their way through the Moscone Center, Tripwire's booth was flooded with curious attendees holding ping-pong balls, all eager to find out what exactly the balls had to do with virtual security. Greeting them was a team of 10 staffers and one game emcee who also appeared dressed in umpire-like apparel. With a queue of attendees quickly growing, Tripwire fired up the fan on the debut round of the aptly-named "vBall Brawl," bringing the ping-pong concept full circle.

As play-by-play started, the crowd of visitors kept growing to get a glimpse of the game. When the emcee blew the starting whistle, contestants on either side of the Plexiglas apparatus reached in through custom-cut arm slots to start fishing for ping-pong balls printed with the names of various kinds of virtual threats, now rapidly moving amongst a plethora of other balls. As players captured a threat and pulled it out to place in an adjacent cup, the game emcee let onlookers know how Tripwire products could help protect them from that threat back at the office.

With only two players per game, the line provided Tripwire sales staff a perfect opportunity to chat up attendees about virtual security and the company's new product. Dressed in navy-blue polo shirts embroidered with the campaign mascot and the slogan "take control," staffers directed interested guests to each of the four product-demo stations set up at the corners of the 20-by-20-foot booth.

"Each demo station had a dedicated lead-retrieval device that allowed us to automatically capture the names and contact information of the attendees from their show-issued badges," Rayborn says. "This allowed us to target lead collection to guests who were truly interested in our products instead of just those people who came by to play the game."

Booth visitors carrying ping-pong balls from the room drop or street team quickly found their reward: a one-ball head start against their competition in vBall Brawl. With games averaging about 30 seconds, and steady lines throughout the four-day show, hundreds of attendees got their chance to win and be entered in the daily grand-prize drawings for a Mac Mini, Kindle, or Asus Netbook, while also getting a steady earful of product messaging from the game's emcee.

"The noise and interaction between the staff and the attendees got everyone excited and wanting to play. There were several folks that even came back a few times to play our game," Rayborn says. "We typically had a line of visitors waiting to play the game all day long." According to Ventura, the booth stood out from neighboring exhibits because it provided something fun for people to do while learning about Tripwire's products.

As attendees left the Tripwire booth, staffers distributed giveaways that included branded T-shirts and buttons featuring the signature, sinister smiley face, small tokens to remember the innovative promotion.
"I think everyone walked away from this show knowing who Tripwire was and what we had to offer, and remembering the fun they had playing the game," Rayborn says.

The Game Ball

While attendees left the show with a memory and a giveaway item, Tripwire came away with a whole lot more. When the show concluded and the ping-pong balls were packed away, Tripwire assessed its results and soon realized it reaped the rewards of a traffic-building bonanza. The company collected 2,400 leads during the show, a jaw-dropping 300-perecent increase over its all-time exhibiting best.

To ensure Tripwire capitalized on each of those leads, the company distributed a follow-up e-mail to all 2,400 prospects. "The e-mail thanked attendees for stopping by the booth and provided them with the opportunity to opt in to follow-up information, attend a webcast on our products, or receive an evaluation of their IT infrastructure," Rayborn says. Continuing to integrate the campaign messaging, it also featured the same lineup of IT outlaws from the pre-show promotions, and thanked attendees for helping "capture the virtual villains at VMworld."

Even though Tripwire can't directly attribute every sale and its financial success to the VMworld promotion, and has since discontinued vWire, there's no denying 2009 was a banner year for the company. Revenues soared to $74 million, up 19 percent over the prior year, despite the economic downturn.

"I would have to say that this was one of our favorite events to date. The excitement in the booth and on the show floor, as well as the results, was outstanding," Rayborn says. In fact, the company continued to use the promotion for two subsequent shows with hardly any tweaks.

"It was a simple little idea based on a simple object - a ping-pong ball. But for an in-booth traffic builder, it worked wonders," said one judge. "Sometimes you don't want some grand theme under which your program lives; you want a simple activity that draws people to your booth, is connected to your product, and relays your key messages." And for a simple little company like Tripwire, this simple little idea produced simply amazing results.E

Christopher Nelson, contributing writer; editorial@exhibitormagazine.com

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