by Marshall Krantz | November 30, 2011

Attendees walking the show floor at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit had a hard time missing the 60-square-foot digital wall calling attention to the new Toyota Prius. But this wasn’t just another electronic billboard. The wall, installed by JUXT Interactive, a sister agency of the George P. Johnson (GPJ) company in the Project: WorldWide holding company, featured three 82-inch LCD touch screens. By interacting with the screens, visitors accessed text, images, photos, and videos showing the life cycle of Toyota’s Prius from factory to showroom.

“People are adopting technology in much more intimate ways now,” says Todd Purgason, executive creative director of JUXT. “They’re always connected. That’s opened people up culturally to accepting, and even expecting, technological elements in brand messages.”

Purgason’s emphasis on technology is in sync with a report issued last year by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) that placed a high value on interactive, digital technology for event marketing.

The report, “Digital + Exhibiting Marketing Insights 2010” (funded by George P. Johnson), concludes that “marketers are choosing the online channels that not only provide greater insight into their customers’ preferences, but also give their audiences a platform on which to engage with the brand on their own terms. This customer-centric approach aligns with the increasingly experiential nature of the exhibition engagement model and marketers’ efforts to build and nurture communities of interest around their events.”

As more people enthusiastically—sometimes fervently—embrace inter-activity, event marketers are just as eagerly embracing an array of technologies for product launches and brand positioning. But a wealth of choice is not necessarily a good thing. Here are four guidelines for deciding which platforms will work best for your organization’s products and customers. 

Follow The Trends—If There’s A Payoff
Purgason says touch screens represent the biggest trend in event marketing technology, brought about by the popularity of smartphones and tablet computers, both of which rely heavily on touch technology. 
“Multi-touch experiences are not new,” notes Purgason, “but the trend is going mainstream. Multi-touch is taking over because it’s an easy and more intimate way to access content; using a computer mouse was always an abstract idea—it’s an extension of the user’s finger, but it’s purely visual. It doesn’t activate the psychological power of the sense of touch.”

But plugging into that power does not come cheap. Depending on the size of the wall, a customized package that also includes software and content can cost well into the six figure range.

But that’s still a substantial investment, so before you run out and build a wall of touch screens, be certain it’s going to make a significant contribution to your brand message. 

Promote A Call To Action
The Toyota Vision presentation, as the package at the auto show in Detroit was called, contained hyperlinks to Toyota’s Facebook fan page, along with quick-response codes (QR codes) that attendees could scan with their digital devices to receive more information. 

The program proved so successful, based on buzz generated at the show, that JUXT created a similar presentation for Toyota’s Camry sedan. And Toyota has also deployed a smaller interactive wall for regional auto shows.
Visitors to the Prius exhibit also accessed a list of Toyota dealers and submitted their email addresses directly to Toyota, although Purgason says of the touch wall, “It’s not meant to be a lead-generation tool. People engage with it more for education and as an experience.”

The medical equipment manufacturer Siemens was interested in leads for a new mammography machine, so the company combined a live roadshow with a contest promoted through social media. Contestants, who worked at hospitals and cancer treatment centers, were asked to submit videos extolling the people who inspired them professionally. The winning medical center won a mammography machine.

Liz Kay, vice president of account strategy for Cramer, the event marketing firm that produced the campaign in North America, explains that Siemens typically emphasizes technical excellence when marketing its products, but this time the company wanted to tie that distinction to medical benefits for people. The contest was titled, “Who Inspires You?” and was a play on the new machine’s name, MAMMOMAT Inspiration.

The campaign launched early this year and was promoted through email, a Facebook page, and a specially created website where visitors downloaded contest applications and viewed the entries that contestants posted to YouTube and other video-sharing websites.

Complementing the digital strategy was a mobile marketing roadshow, in which Siemens representatives drove a branded motor coach to hospitals and cancer centers in eight U.S. cities to demonstrate the new machine. In addition, Siemens exhibited at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual convention, which was held in November. Promotions during the roadshow and convention encouraged attendees to participate in the contest.

The contest yielded 3,000 applications, for which contact information was captured, out of a target audience of 4,500, and 100 video submissions, twice the number expected, according to Kay. As of October, Siemens had installed 1,000 new mammography machines worldwide.

Match The Medium With The Audience
“You need to know the digital ‘watering holes’ of your target audience, how long they spend there, and what kinds of behaviors those platforms encourage,” says Ian McGonnigal, senior vice president of client strategy and brand performance for Jack Morton Worldwide, an event marketing agency.

While social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have captured the public’s imagination, McGonnigal claims that websites and blogs can provide the most effective way to reach target audiences online.
“Blogs give marketers the opportunity to create a brand voice and personality online as well as a platform for third-party testimonials,” McGonnigal says, adding: “If you want deeper knowledge, you’re not going to go to Facebook or Twitter. Those are mostly for social interactions, and where people share links to blogs. So blogs become the destination, and Facebook and Twitter are the portals to that destination.”

For Eaton, a manufacturer of power-management equipment, Jack Morton created a campaign to reposition the brand for information-technology professionals. The campaign, “Things Have Changed,” appeals to the perception among corporate IT professionals that they are overworked and underappreciated, and promised that Eaton’s products would help them on both counts.

Although it seems obvious that IT professionals primarily learn about their industry online, Morton’s market research indicated that IT pros also obtain a lot of information from print publications and face-to-face events.
“That was counterintuitive to us,” McGonnigal says, “but IT professionals interact with brands most deeply through events.”

So it made sense to kick off the campaign in August at VMworld, a major industry conference. There Eaton debuted a revamped website, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page.

The centerpiece of the campaign is a lead-generating sweepstakes in which IT teams can enter to win Eaton products. Postings on Facebook and Twitter about the contest contain links to the website, where visitors can enter the drawing and learn about Eaton products.

As of early November, the Facebook page garnered 87 “likes,” and the Twitter account had 60 followers. But the company logged a fivefold increase in visits to the new site, and sweepstakes entries numbered in the thousands, according to Mike DeCamp, Eaton’s senior marketing manager. 

“It’s pretty early in the campaign,” DeCamp says, “but the initial feedback is positive. We’re pleased with the 
results so far.”

Time Your Communication
Whether it’s an interactive wall with a seven-figure price tag, or an email campaign that costs next to nothing, it’s important to use a technological tool at the proper time in the life cycle of the event to ensure maximum impact.
The CEIR report, which surveyed 242 event marketers mainly in the U.S., found that respondents most frequently deployed the following digital vehicles during an event life cycle: pre-event online advertising (48 percent) and email (39 percent); text messaging during the event (41 percent); audio recordings post-event (40 percent); and RSS feeds throughout the cycle (57 percent).

In terms of value, the event marketers considered that email delivered the greatest return on investment (85 percent), followed by websites (54 percent) and social media networks (47 percent).

“It’s important to create a continuum of communication points that drive marketing messages at the appropriate time,” Kay of Cramer says. “But the bigger challenge is to determine which channels provide the most impact for 
a specific audience. Selecting the right channels and then anchoring them with live events in a seamless manner that reinforces a message is critical to success.”