What you can learn from: Trade show treasure

It was about this time last year.

Technical documentation and boating manual provider Ken Cook Co. had a new marketing team on board and a new sales team dedicated to the marine market.

After standing in the background for the past several years, the company wanted to grab the industry’s attention and demonstrate its renewed focus on the marine business to current and prospective clients alike.

What better place to do that than the International Boatbuilder Expo and Conference? The annual boat builder trade show would provide an opportunity to introduce its new marine sales team to the industry, building new relationships and revitalizing old ones.

To do that, however, the company needed to attract its target audience to its booth. After some extensive brainstorming, the Ken Cook Co. marketing team decided on a plan of attack.

It launched a pirate-themed direct mail campaign inviting current and prospective customers to come to the show and visit its booth. Three mailers were sent out, each a month apart in the time period leading up to the show.

The first was a postcard featuring a pirate map with the company’s location within the IBEX exhibit hall marked with an X. The second mailer — a 6″x6″ padded envelope — included a small compass and asked recipients to “chart your way to our booth.” And the third, which came in a business envelope, included a key with a tag. Recipients were instructed to print their contact info on the tag and bring the key to the Ken Cook booth to try their chance at opening the treasure chest.

The results exceeded expectations. Not only did Ken Cook Co. see a 25-percent increase in booth traffic, compared to previous years, it won an important new client and a significant upgrade in services for a current client. Then, the company received a Bell Excellence Award from the Milwaukee Chapter of the Business Marketing Association for its IBEX campaign.

The campaign — which cost the company only $2,000 (it was able to produce the mailers in-house) — generated the best return on investment it has realized at a show to date, according to Melissa Marney, Ken Cook Co.’s marketing coordinator. She says the company will likely use the treasure chest at IBEX again. While the 10 winning tickets it sent out last year won recipients who showed up at the booth a pair of waterproof binoculars, the company isn’t telling what prizes will be in store for winning keyholders in 2007.

Here’s what Marney says other companies can learn from Ken Cook Co.’s success: “I know that more and more attendees plan their route before they get to the show. Get on that list before the show, and they’ll come to see you. Also, look really hard at your audience and make sure what you’re planning to do will attract them.”

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