Like many marketers, Angela Sanders, Director U.S. Marketing Operations, had an important industry trade show that occupied a prominent place on her marketing calendar -- and took up a large chunk of her annual marketing budget.
The annual Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) conference was a must-attend event, which required her team to have a major booth presence and host events such as client dinners and entertainment blowouts.
But with the economy deteriorating in 2008, questions about the value of that marketing expense became more pressing.
"Every year this discussion comes up regardless of the economy," says Sanders of the big trade show presence. "It’s absolutely essential we do something along those lines, but it’s always a question of, ‘Is this the best thing to do?’"
Their standard approach did not substantially differentiate Aon from its competitors. Nor did they have a thorough tracking strategy in place to get a complete picture of their ROI. So in 2008, the team wanted to try a new approach without diminishing their presence. CAMPAIGN
Sanders and her team developed a strategy for the 2008 RIMS conference in San Diego that she says, "Really flipped the whole thing on its head."
"What if we stopped talking about Aon and started talking about clients instead?"
They created a new concept called "Client World," which turned the Aon booth into a showcase for their clients’ products and services. Marketing messages were delivered through video testimonials and client case studies designed to appeal to prospects. They also developed a new mix of events and services, and adopted a new tracking mechanism to record interaction with customers and prospects.
Here are six steps they took to plan and manage the trade show campaign:Step #1. Select clients to feature in the booth
The heart of the Client World concept was a booth that featured products from Aon clients. The team wanted a mix of B2B and B2C clients that demonstrated the firm’s expertise in several key insurance product lines and risk-consulting services, such as:
o Property and casualty
o Directors and Officers insurance
o E-solutions, such as a claims management system the company sells
o Global risk consulting
Members of the marketing team and account executives worked together to select clients, including:
o Bath and Body Works
Sanders’ team paid for those clients to participate in the trade show, and either purchased products or had clients donate products to display in the booth and to include in a sweepstakes. Step #2. Create marketing materials around client stories
The team created marketing collateral focused on the clients featured in the trade show booth, including:
- Video testimonials from the clients, describing their experience with Aon.
- Case studies for each of their featured product and service lines, describing how the company helped the clients on display in the booth. Step #3. Provide meeting areas, lounges and networking opportunities
The team’s trade show presence included several other locations and events to connect prospects and customers with members of the sales team.
Major elements included:
- Formal meeting spaces
The team booked a floor at a nearby hotel so sales representatives had a place to meet with prospects and customers.
"We have so many Aon account executives and sales people that go to this event that if you don’t set aside meeting space, they’re going to hold meetings all over the place and not tell you everyone they’ve talked to, so you’re not tracking those meetings."
The floor was broken up into several "pods" of comfortable seating areas, such as couches and chairs around a table. Sales representative were required to sign up for times in the space and check in on arrival, so that each meeting could be logged for post-event tracking in the company’s CRM system.
A lounge area for clients and prospects, featuring wireless internet access, mobile device charging stations, and a concierge to provide tips on what to do in San Diego.
As in other locations, they featured clients’ products in the lounge.
- Client dinners and entertainment
The team hosted a client dinner the first night of the show, and sponsored an open entertainment event called "Clientpalooza," which featured the band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
To attract visitors to the booth, the team created a contest that gave away prizes from the company’s clients. Grand prize: A two-year lease on a Chevy Tahoe hybrid.
Every interaction with Aon during the show counted as a unique entry in the sweepstakes, giving attendees more chances to win the more they engaged with the company’s representatives. Step #4. Pre-show promotion through direct mail and email
By the time the team developed the Client World concept in 2008, they only had a few months to promote the events and features to clients and prospects.
- Their first promotion was a direct mail piece sent to a house list of their top prospects. The package was designed to look like a small suitcase, which opened to display a booklet about the Client World concept and invitations to the major events.
They mailed the package at the end of March, roughly one month before the event.
- At the same time, they began an email campaign to generate interest in the concept and encourage customers and prospects to register for events and the sweepstakes.
The team targeted a larger list of prospects and customers from their house database, sending a new message every two weeks until the event.
Each email highlighted a different aspect of the Client World concept, or different events and Aon speaking sessions taking place at the show. The call-to-action on the emails was a link to a custom Client World microsite on the RIMS conference website, where prospects could register for the sweepstakes or for specific events. Step #5. Track multiple customer touches during the event
The team used a special scanning system at the show that allowed them to record prospects’ interaction with all the company’s events and locations.
- The first time an attendee registered with Aon, whether at the booth or a meeting space, a team member scanned their badge and printed them a custom barcode for their badge.
- Then, team members scanned that barcode at any Aon location or event during the show, creating a personalized record of how many times and at which places the attendee interacted with the company.
The team also created paper lead cards for sales representatives who had identified a genuinely qualified lead at the show. After the sales rep filled out the card, a team member manually entered that information into an on-site computer.
"There’s no easy way to automate that," says Sanders. Step #6. Add contacts to marketing database for post-show follow-up
After the event, the team shipped its contact records to a data processing team in India to create new entries into the company’s CRM system.
- Contacts generated through the barcode scanning device were added to a list for future marketing and qualification campaigns.
"We didn’t consider every registration a lead," says Sanders. "We’re pretty picky about what we consider a lead."
- Leads identified by the sales team on the paper lead forms were added to the CRM system for a more direct follow-up.
The team tracked all post-show interactions with trade show leads through to closed deals, to determine how much revenue was generated by the event.
Sanders’ team was "thrilled" with the results. "We shifted the resources to the right places and [attendees] loved it," she says.
- Average deal size for sales generated at RIMS 08 was:
o 12% higher for new business than the average deal size for all new business
o 36% higher than the average deal size for RIMS 07 business
- RIMS 08 win rate on deals was 15% higher than the normal win rate for deals.
- RIMS 08 exceeded expected number of leads by 7%.
- RIMS 08 opportunity rate (% of leads that turned into opportunities) was 2% higher than the average opportunity rate for all marketing campaigns.
Anecdotal feedback collected during the event also showed that clients and prospects loved the concept. As a result, the team repeated the Client World approach at the 2009 RIMS conference, which is showing promising ROI despite event attendance being off from 2008. (Aon’s sales cycle ranges from six months to two years, so the team does not have enough data from this year’s event to quantify results)
Even better, the team achieved its goal of differentiating Aon from its major competitors at the most significant industry event on their calendar.
"This is the second year in row, and we were fully expecting to go to RIMS and see people copying what did, but they didn’t," says Sanders. "There were no copycats this year, just the same-old, same-old."
The team has also been able to extend the Client World concept to other marketing channels. They used the video testimonials and client case studies developed for the event as the basis of a new print advertising campaign:
- They created a series of client-focused advertisements for one of their regular industry trade magazine ad placements.
- The ads provided a brief description of how the company helped a particular client, and included a URL for a special website where prospects could view the video testimonials and case studies. Useful links related to this article:
Creative Samples from Aon’s Client World trade show campaign
Risk and Insurance Management Society, Inc.
Legacy Marketing Partners: Aon’s agency partner
Event Technologies: Provided the barcode scanning technology