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case study
Deceptive Marketing
Attivo Networks Inc. takes a bold new approach to exhibiting by deceiving attendees, ultimately netting seven times as many leads as it had the previous year. By Ben Barclay
Exhibitor: Attivo Networks Inc.
Design/Production: Czarnowski Display Service Inc., Chicago, 800-247-4302, www.czarnowski.com
Show: Black Hat USA, 2017
Promotional Budget: $75,000 – $125,000
➤ Gather quadruple the number of leads compared to the previous year's show.
➤ Increase brand awareness and garner attention from the media.
➤ Demonstrate the efficacy of the company's cybersecurity software.
➤ Increased sales leads by seven times compared to Black Hat USA 2016.
➤ Scored media coverage on a local TV affiliate and the British Broadcasting Corp.
➤ Increased face time with attendees.
Outright deception doesn't usually make for great marketing campaigns. Attivo Networks Inc., however, begs to differ, as deception was at the heart of the young cybersecurity company's exhibit-marketing campaign at Black Hat USA 2017, an information and digital security conference in Las Vegas. And as it turns out, attendees not only appreciated the firm's tricky tactics, but also enjoyed being duped.

The exhibit's inception started when Attivo's marketing team took an honest look in the proverbial company mirror. What they saw staring back at them was an organization that had outgrown its past exhibiting practices. Prior to Black Hat USA 2017, Attivo, founded in 2011, had maintained a small trade show footprint, utilizing basic booths on a meager budget. In an attempt to compete for attention among a field of colossal cybersecurity firms – many of which operate with seemingly bottomless exhibit-marketing war chests – Attivo chose to invest in a larger 20-by-20-foot exhibit. But that increased investment needed to drive an equally enlarged return, which is why the company set a goal of generating four times more leads than in 2016, when the organization exhibited in a 10-by-10-foot booth.

Carolyn Crandall, chief marketing officer at Attivo, decided the company should consider offering up a memorable experience that might lodge key messages in attendees' brains long enough for them to take root and outlast the event's duration. "As a new, emerging vendor, it was really hard to figure out how to cut through the noise and convince people to visit our booth and give us a few minutes to understand who we are and why we're different than other cybersecurity firms," Crandall says. So to overcome that challenge, she and her team determined that an engaging exhibit offering a unique activity could draw enough traffic to meet the company's ambitious lead-gathering goal, generate public-relations buzz, build brand awareness, and demonstrate the efficacy of its products.

But even with a rough idea in place, Crandall still had to face an all-too-prevalent dilemma among software companies: How do you educate and excite attendees about an intangible and abstract product in a trade show exhibit?

Looks Can be Deceiving
Attivo's software uses decoys and deception tactics to engage and ensnare cyberattackers who manage to infiltrate its clients' networks. Latching onto that characteristic, Crandall and her team chose to make deception the central element of their exhibit-marketing campaign by actively deceiving attendees – albeit in a playful manner. They would place booth visitors in the role of an attacker trying to hack a network protected by Attivo's products by using a hall of mirrors in a whimsical role-play scenario that would enable the company to explain how it detects, disorients, and deceives cyberthreats.

A contemporary spin-off of classic funhouses, which pop up at carnivals and fairs and usually rely on warped mirrors to get some giggles from children, halls of mirrors are more elegant in comparison. By using a hall of mirrors' characteristic angled, reflective surfaces and dead ends to disorient and befuddle attendees, Crandall felt she could create a singular and undeniably memorable experience that parallels the company's approach to cybersecurity.

There were several reasons Attivo signed on to this rather nontraditional marketing campaign. First, there's a game-like quality to mirror mazes that make them almost irresistible, so a high-quality maze would likely increase traffic. Second, the activation would serve as a funnel, as once attendees entered, they'd eventually have to come out the exit and into the waiting arms of sales reps who could then guide them to display stations and demo the cybersecurity platform. Third, the maze would educate potential clients by conceptually exposing them to what an attacker's encounter with Attivo's software looks like. And fourth, the novelty of a hall of mirrors on the trade show floor might result in scoring some media attention.

Whimsical touches added a sense of levity to Attivo Networks Inc.'s hall of mirrors. One vinyl decal suggested that attendees "Go left" above an arrow that pointed right. There was even a disco ball suspended over the message "Do you like to dance?"
Through the Looking Glass
While Attivo was confident Crandall and her team had a worthwhile concept, the firm was confronted with a couple of challenges. The company's purchase of a 20-by-20-foot exhibit meant the marketers had only 400 square feet to work with, an exceedingly limited space compared to commercial mirror mazes, which are frequently four times that size.

The good news was that Crandall didn't need (or want) attendees to stay in the maze for an extended period of time, since sales reps were waiting at the other end to hook qualified leads. She figured a 90-second experience in the hall of mirrors would serve the exhibit's purpose. Still, to make sure 400 square feet wasn't too limiting, Crandall and her team found a roll of blue painter's tape and some open space in their office, where they spent multiple days mocking up a viable floor plan for an exhibit they dubbed the Deception Hall of Mirrors.

Crandall felt the exhibit had the potential to be a brilliant success or a spectacular failure, depending on whether attendees were dazzled by the experience or found it a corny and overwrought attempt to convey Attivo's message. Since the marketing team had never seen a mirror maze on a show floor, it couldn't be certain which way the scale of public perception would tilt. So in order to shift the scales in her favor, Crandall contacted Czarnowski Display Service Inc., an exhibit house she'd worked with in the past. "I decided that if we were going to put ourselves so far out on a limb, I needed to make sure we had a strong partner with us," Crandall says.

The hall of mirrors exhibit was a new puzzle for the Czarnowski design team as well. "My immediate reaction was, 'I've never done that before,' and I've done a lot of things in my 25 years in the industry," says Kim Merkin, director of West Coast sales for Czarnowski. But she and her team were convinced they could deliver. So with a theme established and partners selected, Attivo and Czarnowski stepped through the looking glass.

Mirror, Mirror
Amid the electronic glitz and glamour of Black Hat, Attivo's exhibit stood on orange carpet vividly delineating the company's space in its signature corporate hue. Eight-foot-tall walls covered in eye-grabbing messages and graphics enclosed most of the exhibit, concealing the hall of mirrors and saving only a corner of visible space for two kiosks adjacent to the exit where sales reps could demonstrate the software. Supported above the maze was a prominent matte-black header featuring the Attivo logo and Deception Hall of Mirrors title alongside the sweat-inducing query, "What's lurking in your network?"

Sales reps prowled the aisle near the exhibit's entrance, enticing people with a provocative question: "Do you want to know what it's like to be an attacker?" Staffers then scanned badges and filtered visitors into the maze, where a sign cautioned "You are now entering a state of altered reality" – a warning that real-life hackers do not have the benefit of receiving. Reps facilitated an uncongested experience by spacing out participants as they entered the maze. While attendees waited, Attivo filled the dead time by playing a looping video about the company's products on a large monitor near the entrance.

The exhibit's interior, brightly lit by tiny LEDs mounted to clear acrylic strips and sandwiched between the panes of mirrors, was a dazzling and disorienting maze with several possible routes and multiple places to get turned around. More than a few attendees, thinking they had finished the challenge, found themselves back at the entrance and had to be sent back in to complete the task.

Attivo Networks Inc.'s mirrored maze functioned as an experiential way for attendees to learn about the company's cybersecurity software.

Upon exiting the maze, attendees were greeted by staffers who engaged them with in-depth product demos that used the labyrinth experience as a reference.
High-grade mirrored Plexiglas sheets produced a quality reflection and offered more safety than glass, which could prove dangerous if confused attendees happened to walk into it. The maze also boasted some funhouse-style mirrors constructed from Formica-brand mirrored laminate, while an infinity mirror near the exit cast countless reflections of attendees. In addition to the mirrors, Attivo installed a laser tripwire in the middle of the maze that sounded an alarm when triggered by passing participants, who were shocked by the resulting noise. The message: Attackers don't know what to expect should they stumble upon Attivo's software.

Although the primary intent of the mirrored maze was to disorient visitors, Attivo certainly wanted attendees to enjoy the experience. To that end, the company added some whimsical messaging in the form of vinyl decals. One mirror suggested that attendees "Go left" above an arrow that pointed right. There was even a suspended disco ball hung over the message "Do you like to dance?"

As perplexing and entertaining as the mirrored maze was, Crandall needed to ensure that attendees tied the labyrinth to Attivo's security software. A series of four daisy-chained speakers inside the maze crooned a looping 90-second voiceover message that explained how the attendees' experience was similar to that of a hacker inside a system protected by the company: "Like the mirrors you see around you, deception confuses attackers as they try to move laterally through your network looking for assets to compromise," the voiceover said. "Deception is also notably the only recognized security solution for slowing down the attacker as they, much as you are now, become engaged in a deception environment."

Out of the Looking Glass
Perhaps the exhibit's best feature, at least from a sales point of view, was the controlled exit where disoriented "attackers" were funneled to staffers. There, Attivo reps steered potential leads to kiosks where product experts used each lead's experience in the hall as a reference for explaining how the company's software defends against network hackers.

"The maze worked phenomenally well," Crandall says. "It got attendees to spend five to 10 minutes with us, whereas they might have spent 30 seconds in our previous exhibits. Needless to say, we got some really high-quality engagements." What's more, visitors spent those five to 10 minutes immersed in an unexpected activation that mirrored cybersecurity attackers' experiences and underscored Attivo's key messages and primary differentiators.

Reflecting on the Results
By the show's end, Crandall and her team knew the exhibit was a smashing success, and they had the metrics to prove it. Lead counts increased by seven times compared to the previous year, shattering the firm's goal of quadrupling sales leads. On top of that, the conversion rate for leads sourced at Black Hat were among the highest the company has ever seen – a result Crandall credits to the controlled exit that led booth visitors directly to waiting sales reps who were able to have longer-than-normal interactions with primed and curiosity-piqued prospects. The cherry on top was the fact that Attivo's unique exhibit also garnered valuable media coverage via a feature on Fox 5 Vegas and even a nod on BBC World News.

Besides turning heads, Attivo's exhibit demonstrated that it's entirely possible to turn the abstract into reality. Doing so required a pivot away from traditional exhibiting toward experiential marketing, as well as a clear and concise correlation between the mirrored maze and the company's cybersecurity services. In other words, it was Attivo's ability to ensure attendees connected the dots between the tangible and the intangible, i.e., the experience and the product, that made the Deception Hall of Mirrors much more than just a funhouse. E

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