Guest case study by Craftsmen Industries
Manufacturers who have historically relied upon trade shows as a primary lead generation channel had to find a new way to connect with prospects during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, many companies have chosen to deploy an experiential mobile marketing trailer that they can take directly to targeted customers to showcase and demonstrate their products. With the return of trade shows, these mobile units are pivoting to provide an additional way for manufacturers to engage with their customers.
While trade shows are a mainstay of business-to-business marketing plans for their ability to put exhibitors in front of a large number of people within an industry, the challenge for an industrial company has always been connecting specifically with those attendees who are planning a purchase for a given product or solution.
Experiential marketing campaigns, also known as activations, deliver an immersive brand experience for a smaller but more targeted audience. When executed on a mobile platform, they bring the experience directly to a customer.
“After the pandemic started and all our trade shows were cancelled, we first turned to webinars to tell our story,” said Amy Teal, Marketing Manager – Events at Stratasys, a manufacturer of 3D printers and production systems for office-based rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing. “But with 3D printing, we really need our customers to interact with our products, which led us to seek out a mobile showroom solution. If the customers could no longer come to us at a trade show, then we had to find a way to come to them.”
Launching a mobile showroom
Stratasys selected St. Charles, Mo.-based Craftsmen Industries, a rapid designer and fabricator of custom mobile vehicles. Having worked with a number of racing team clients, Stratasys had already seen effective, well-designed mobile spaces. Central to the design of the mobile showroom was the ability to tell their story in a compelling way.
“As a leading innovator in 3D printing, we needed our mobile showroom to not only allow visitors to touch and feel our equipment but also walk away with a sense of excitement and energy from the benefits of our additive technologies,” said Teal. “We designed the space to demonstrate several 3D printers and to be a showroom where we can talk about different applications and materials for a variety of sectors such as aerospace, automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, and product design.”
Given the precision quality of their 3D printing and production systems, Stratasys also needed to ensure their technologies were well secured and protected in transit.
Based on Stratasys’ vision for their customer experience, Craftsmen customized a gooseneck trailer to showcase Stratasys printers and 3D printing capabilities. The design included a glass-paneled slide-out wall, custom branded exterior graphics, and custom laminate cabinetry.
“It was important for us to deploy our mobile showroom as soon as possible” said Teal. “We got started on the actual build in August and we hit the road in early November.”
Executing a mobile showroom program requires managing the logistics of bringing a trailer to scheduled appointments with customers over an extended period. In Stratasys’ case, they planned for a six-month tour across the nation, which has recently been extended for an additional five months.
“We selected a partner who could manage the logistics of fielding our tour,” said Teal. “There are a lot of factors to consider, including calendar management, space requirements in customer parking lots, and simply transporting the trailer and the driver between customer locations.”
Companies also need to plan for updates to products during a mobile showroom tour. “We continue to innovate,” said Teal. “As a result, I am putting new parts in our trailer almost every other week. Some of these require design changes, and Craftsmen implemented these at the last minute. In one case, they developed a solution literally overnight for us. They were then able to cut new gussets, put our logo on the brackets, have them painted in our PMS colors—all within a day or two.”
Delivering immersive experiences during a pandemic
Hosting personalized experiences for targeted customers at their manufacturing facility or office location makes it easier to comply with pandemic health protocols as compared to traditional roadshow events where a manufacturer hosts guests at a restaurant or event space where there are more people involved and they don’t control the environment.
“We of course maintain safe distances with customers, limit the number of people in the showroom at a time, clean our surfaces constantly, use hand sanitation stations and installed a small air filtration system inside our mobile showroom,” said Teal. “We’ve proven that even with these health factors, we can still effectively present our products.”
Manufacturers have realized a brand benefit from their mobile showrooms, too. “It’s been really impactful from a brand awareness perspective as we visit companies at their office or manufacturing facility,” said Teal. “The effort we are making to connect with them says a lot about how much we value customer relationships. And because the experience is so unique, it is very memorable.”
Mobile showroom today, trade show booth tomorrow
Faced with the cancellation of all their trade shows, Somero Enterprises Inc., manufacturers of heavy-duty concrete laser screed machines used for leveling large concrete surfaces, chose to develop a custom mobile showroom.
They deployed their trade show budget to build a mobile asset they could initially take to customers and then later become their trade show exhibit when live conferences return.
Somero contracted Experiential Vehicles, who provides a secondary lease and rental market for pre-existing experiential marketing assets, such as trucks and trailers, to manage their project. Experiential Vehicles selected Craftsmen as the fabricator on the project.
“Picking fabricators is very much a trust game,” said Gordon Vaughan, founder of Experiential Vehicles. “Our customers are on a schedule and a product launch or customer commitment are completely dependent on their mobile showroom being ready on time.”
The project started with a pencil sketch from Somero. Experiential Vehicle’s designer then created a rendering to take to Craftsmen. It was a complex project, because Somero’s design incorporated multimedia to showcase their concrete leveling equipment, capabilities, and services on the 53-foot trailer. Two private meeting rooms for onsite sales discussions and a kitchen for hospitality were also needed. Custom features included a 4-by-8-foot Times Square video wall, a rotating wall, a stage, and extensive use of backlit graphics.
“The vision really was to create a flagship mobile showroom unlike anything the concrete leveling industry has ever seen,” said Vaughan. “Somero wanted a high-impact, statement presence outdoors when brought to customers and indoors, where it will be the focal point of their presence at the concrete industry’s largest trade show.”
A window of opportunity
Once trade shows return, these mobile units will connect companies in a new way to trade show attendees.
“Manufacturers can’t push pause and wait until trade shows come back,” said Vaughan. “They need to get in front of their customers now, and with a little foresight they can design a mobile solution that will also be a ready-made exhibit when trade shows come back. The incredible immersive experiences that can be created within these environments mean that a manufacturer is going to really stand out from the standard traditional booths their competitors will be using.”
This may also be a window of opportunity for those considering deploying a mobile showroom in terms of time and cost. Fabricators may have more capacity for trailer customization projects because of the impact of the pandemic, which can translate into faster project turnaround times and favorable terms for customers.