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Background: We’re a SaaS business and our target audience is web publishers, most of them monetize their websites using Google AdSense (which is famed for its monthly payment checks). AdPushup helps them optimize their ad layout, which means higher revenue by fighting banner blindness, without compromising on the user experience. So essentially our users generate more revenue from ad networks like AdSense because of us.

The question we had to ask ourselves was – In an offline event, how do you show a visitor in 5 seconds that an online company can help them increase their revenue (specifically online revenue from display ads) while simulating a natural real life occurrence.

For a startup, offline events can get really expensive. In the past (especially when we were bootstrapping), we’ve often skipped exhibiting at events primarily because of the huge cost commitment and uncertain RoI.

Just like the folks over at Groove and Buffer, we too believe in being transparent in our functionality which is why earlier we shared an in-depth description of how AdPushup raised its first angel investment. Then we went ahead and wrote a post about what it takes and how much it costs to build a kickass office for your startup.

Continuing down the same road, here’s what all we learned by exhibiting at an offline event along with the cost analysis and our marketing strategy.

Event: AdTech 2015, 19-20 March
At: New Delhi, India

This is a slightly long post, but I promise you that it will definitely help if you’re planning to exhibit/participate an industry event in the near future. So, let’s get started.

Introduction

Why we decided to exhibit for an offline event:

  • A visibly shorter route to get in touch with enterprise publishers.
  • Generate interest and buzz before our product’s launch.
  • Brand building.

Our expectation from the event:

  • Educate target audience (TA) about our product.
  • Generate leads.
  • Learn more about our TA: You can never do enough of it, just speak to them and listen carefully. You’ll be surprised to know how very little things they say, can help you understand your TA better.

Concerns (what all this meant for us):

  • This was our first offline event and a really big one for that. And believe it or not – first impressions do count.
  • We’re frugal and were not sure how much of an RoI we’d get out of it.

To get a better idea of how big this event was (and bigger the risk for us), here’s the official AdTech 2015 showreel:

And below is a breakdown of attendees – by job level

1. adtech-joblevel-alternative

Breakdown of attendees – by company type

2. adtech-company-type-alternative

Source

Here’s a breakdown of the Attendees at the AdPushup booth (data based on a sample size of 100):

3. adtech-booth-attendance-adpushup

Booth breakdown (design and cost)

Exhibitor Booth Fee: INR 2,80,900 (USD $4403.14 – including taxes)

Booth Design: We went for a clean and sober color scheme. Design was presented by the vendors who do booth fabrication – complimentary.

4. booth-design-edit

Size – 3×2 metres

Cost of fabrication:

  • Structure and construction of Booth – INR 35,600 (USD $559.26)
  • LCD TV Rental – 1 nos – INR 2,500 (USD $39.27)
  • Focus Lights/Color Lights/DJ Lights – 1 nos – INR 2,000 (USD $31.42)
  • Service Tax – INR 4956.36 (USD $77.86)
  • Total Cost – INR 45,056.36 (USD $707.82)

Oversight in booth planning that we found after the event –

  • The DJ lights didn’t blend in well with the fluorescent lights and background. Was a waste of money.
  • Placement of our “Features” text on the booth walls and the table was not visible because –
    a) lack of standing space in the booth due to which we ended up crowding and blocking the view on the wall
    b) it fell behind the LCD TV
    c) the booth location was such that only someone leaving (mental state: made up their mind, not seeking information, perhaps tired) would be able to notice the features as opposed to someone who is coming (mental state: exploring, energetic, open to ideas).

5. booth-mistakes

(Positive flip side – Because visitors were unable to see immediately what ‘we do’, they had to direct enquiries and questions verbally towards us instead of just picking up a pamphlet and walking off. This gave us the opportunity to deliver our full marketing pitch to them instead of a bland ‘Read Me’)

Marketing strategy (“Boogle” success with idea/cost breakdown)

Considering the scale of the event, it was obvious that there would be a lot of other exhibitors and most of them would have spent a lot more than us, for this event. So what is it that we can do to attract more footfall?

We were looking for a strategy to attract more people to the booth, with a potential to create something viral on the Internet. The task was to develop an idea that had the capacity to spread with as little money, considering we had already spent a lot on the booth.

It was a given that the strategy should go well with our target audience and not be a strategy just for novelty’s sake i.e. which attract numbers but not results.

While brainstorming, the team came up with a (legally) risky yet very witty idea, which we call as ‘Boogle’. We did it mostly because we though it is going to be fun and which it eventually was.

The simplest and most effective way to do that would be by giving out a gift. A ‘gift’ is immediately processed, accepted and one of the quickest ways to build a relationship based on a positive action (which even the FBI agrees with).

But then a lot of companies give away very expensive gifts at their booths (which we can’t really compete with), so how do we stand out? How do we attract and encourage visitors to our booth?

The answer was – What if we could get an industry celebrity to stand at our booth and give the gifts? A lot of people would definitely want to take pictures with this celebrity and almost certainly share it on their social networks.

Now in the AdTech world (and all over the world) the biggest brand name that everyone is familiar with is Google which is perfect because it deals directly with what we do. Since we Google cannot represent itself in human form to give away the prize, it was necessary to find a person who could complete this function. This person had to be well known, instantly recognizable by our TA and relevant to our industry.

We thought about a lot of good influencers but settled on Larry Page.

I picked up my phone and tried reaching out to Larry Page, asking him to come to India and stand at our booth for two days and help us with the promotion. Nothing unreasonable, eh?

Of course, I’m kidding. But we did the next (arguably) best thing.

We decided that we’d have a cardboard cutout of Larry Page handing out the prize under the ownership of Boogle (apparent legal reasons. For the lawyers reading, I know it’s still deceptively similar).

…and what was our gift/prize? $2 million in Ad Revenue from Boogle.

AdPushup plug: So Larry Page would handover this check from Boogle (synonymous with the AdSense check), to the publisher which will be worth $1 Million, with a strikethrough on the amount and $2 Million written right below it, explaining that AdPushup helped the publisher optimize their ad revenue from a million dollars to two. And we really do that.

Disclaimer: Since Larry Page was not available, we decided to honor him in spirit… by photoshopping an image of him handing out our prop check (yup, we totally piggybacked on his popularity).

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And Larry, when you read this – We’re huge fans ourselves, of the Google team and product and we didn’t malign your name in anyway during the execution of this witty plan.
Please don’t sue us.

Here’s a breakdown of the decision making process:

6. decision-making-flowchart-boogle-final

‘Boogle’ Preparation

With this strategy, our expectation was to make it a talking point during the event and have a lot of people click pictures at the booth and share it online.

The first thing we needed was an image of a man handing out/receiving something. We found the perfect image at stock photo repository site 123rf.com and purchased it from them for INR 1,200 (USD $18.80):

7. one-caucasian-business-man-holding-showing-whiteboard-in-studio-isolated-on-white-background

Here’s our first shot at superimposing Larry’s head on the image:

8. larry-edited

But the facial expression in the above image was quite solemn. On the other hand, we required an image that showed his face excited and full of vigor and which we found in this one:

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21:  Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page speaks during a news conference at the Google offices on May 21, 2012 in New York City. Google announced today that it will allocate 22,000 square feet of space in its New York headquarters to CornellNYC Tech while the university completes its new campus on Roosevelt Island.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Using basic photoshop we copied Larry’s face from the second image on to the first one thereby making him more in line for our purposes (and I believe we did a pretty rad job about it).

Next was constructing a fake check which was a breeze. Key elements of the check were –

  1. Payee – *will be filled with Visitor’s name*.
  2. Erasable ink material used for construction. This would allow us rewrite ‘Payee’ names on the check.
  3. Check amount of $1 million is crossed off and bumped to $2 million with the text reading that – “$1 million Optimized To 2 million By AdPushup.” The idea being that we doubled the advertising revenue of the person getting the photo clicked.
  4. Branding (website site url, logo, headline)

Here’s the final finished image –

10. larry-final-design

We even had some face masks made under the contingency if things didn’t go as planned. However, hollow eyed Larry didn’t have a very inspiring expression:

11. shubham-larry

All said and done, here’s the Boogle Strategy in a nutshell –

12. boogle-in-a-nut-shell-final

Boogle Execution

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We would first deliver our pitch to our booth visitors and once they were set to leave, we’d hit them with the Boogle task.

We also entered them in a end of the day competition wherein the person with the most shares or retweets (for the picture with Boogle) will get an Amazon gift card worth INR 5,000.

Note: In the beginning few hours we offered to enter them in a lucky draw but that wasn’t too encouraging an award so we changed it to the above process (which was better because now we fueled the virality quotient of this strategy).

Essentially we were optimizing as we went along the day.

8/10 were intrigued and stopped by to find out more about Boogle, specifically, why did we have a cut out of Larry Page.

However, this still wasn’t inspiring enough to get people to take action. It turns out that visitors need an added incentive to commit an action ‘right now’ unless there is an immediate benefit involved, no matter how small or big.

So, a higher conversion of Boogle started once we made two small but important changes

  • Put a candy bowl,
  • (we saw that the other booths had visibly higher footfall because visitors stopped by to pickup candy.  This was enough time duration for their booth reps to deliver the sales pitch)
  • And offered an immediate gift in the form of wrapped up Parker pens on completion of the Boogle task.
  • (Extrinsic Motivation)
  • Note: We bought these pens on the second day (40 nos – INR 4,000; USD $62.67)

Here’s a picture breakdown of what we asked patrons to do once they stepped inside the booth:

13. vartika-edited

We used the LCD screen to update our Twitter feed with all the pictures. This doubled as a visual cue to intrigue other passers-by into checking us out.

Result

Even personally, I was seeing a lot of activity on my own Facebook post about the same:

14. dWemZwS

Cost of all Sales/Marketing collateral:

  • Cutout Larry Page with Stand – 5×3 feet with stand (Nos. 1) – INR 4,500 (USD $70.69)
  • Standy Star Flex 6×2.5 (Nos. 1) – INR 1300 (USD $20.42)
  • Visiting Cards (Nos. 600) – INR 1050 (USD $16.50)
  • Check 4×2 feet on 5mm digital printing on sunboard (Nos. 1) – INR 920 (USD $14.45)
  • Tshirts with AdPushup logo (Nos. 8) – INR 4680 (USD $73.52)
  • One time designing and editing charges – INR 1,000 (USD $15.71)
  • Delivery Charges, Freight and installation – INR 1,000 (USD $15.71)
  • Total cost – INR 14,450 (USD $226.51)

What we learned from the two days we were there

  • Competitions and giveaways do work and are just the thing to get people to take action.
  • We thought our booth was crowded because it was small (five people) but having more people actually helped because whenever the traffic increased, we were able to adequately handle it (and this happened several times).
  • The questions we prepared which required in-depth explanation, weren’t really asked by the visitors. In fact, the customers were more concerned about whether we were an ad network or not, if we optimized mobile ads (a large part of the visitors asked us if we optimized for mobile ad units) and product pricing. This meant our positioning was not clear to the publishers (we took this as feedback).
  • You have to explain your product like you’re telling a five year old especially if no such service is available in the market (hand gestures, drawing diagrams etc).
  • Events are a good way to connect with enterprise customers.
  • Even though ad networks are not our target group, we still converted them into an opportunity by explaining the indirect benefit of our product to them. They were more than happy to refer our name and product to their web publisher clients.

Where we lacked

  • Our sales pitch could have been more polished (in other words = we should have practised our pitch). People weren’t very clear about what we do.
  • Internet connection + T.V. – We had planned to use the LCD to constantly keep on updating the screen with the tweets/posts people were mentioning us in, and the pictures they took at the Booth.
  • For this purpose we rented the WiFi connection provided by the venue. However the network was not strong enough and we (other exhibitors and attendees) had next to no connection. This put a dent in our plans and we had to resort to setting up our own hot spots. But the signal reception still wasn’t strong enough so we had to scrap our idea altogether.
  • Note: In retrospect, I now believe that the network was weak because it couldn’t handle such a huge spike in traffic. Even our mobile reception was horrible.
  • In the heat of the moment, quite a few times we forgot to add people’s name in the Boogle check or the hashtag #adpushup
  • We didn’t have any pamphlets/brochures but we believe in a “save paper policy” any which ways.
  • Data entry and segregation then and there – noting down details of exact needs (in the form of keywords) of the people who came to our booth. This would help in easily categorizing data and make the follow up process more efficient and quick after the event.

Miscellaneous learning

  • Having a dustbin has unexpected benefits – there was a sizeable number of people who were looking to throw their ice-cream cups (after eating the ice-cream from the exhibitors next to us). Now most of these visitors felt guilty or were embarrassed to come to our booth to only use the dustbin. So to make up for it, they would stay back to find out what we do (hehe)
  • You have to, scratch that, you should stand more and sit less. Attentiveness is contagious, reassuring and inspiring.
  • Stock up on pens and writing pads.
  • Setup and test the internet connection.
  • More footfall on your booth does not necessarily mean more business (I’m referring to the exhibitors having food stalls).
  • You can generate intangible ROI in the form of networking and goodwill.
  • If you’re there, you might as well pitch for a speech or join a panel.

15. ankit-panel-skitch

(Discussion on “Native Advertising – Is it advertorial rebranding or evolution of content marketing?”)

  • A smile and eye contact (reassuring nod) does go a long way. Body language is still the best medium to hook passers by and encourage them to come and talk to you.
  • Have ample visiting cards.
  • Not having a large booth did not adversely affect us. Infact, our advisor Arun Bansal slipped this in my ear – “This is for the better because there is no point in being too flashy and attracting too many clients. You shouldn’t bite more than you can chew.”
  • Set up shop early and inspect the booth for electricity and carpentry.
  • Looks are deceptive and some very important people commit to this as a tactic. There were a few, very plainly dressed people, who wanted to see us talk more rather than answer our questions. I believe they were judging us by the first pitch which comes naturally and not the one which we polish up when we’re trying to impress.
  • Crowd on a stall != interest (exhibitors were raking in footfall by giving away eatables to everyone who passed by their booth).
  • It is tiring.
  • If you’re there, have some fun too.
    Here’s my colleague VJ at the Skype booth. Skype had the brilliant idea of bringing in a huge cutout of the moon’s surface with a beautiful and gargantuan image of Earth in the background. Visitors on their booth could take pictures infront of it, essentially saying “Here’s how earth looks from  where I’m standing (the moon)”.

16. VJ

  • Take lots of photos.

Grand Total – INR 3,45,606.8 (USD $5,417.42)

Finally, ROI from the event –

No. Of Leads Acquired – 401

Cost per Lead – INR 861.86 (USD $13.46)

We’re still closing leads with some large publishers and once that happens, I’ll write another post about it detailing how it went down.

Until then, feel free to ask any questions that you might have regarding our experience as first time exhibitors 🙂

P.S. Apologies for some of the low quality images. I salvaged them from wherever I could.

Vendor Credits: Booth – Sutradhaar Enterprises, Boogle Cutout and other misc. work – Param Printing Service

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