Mark D. Steele, P.E. is the president, CEO & co-owner of Craftsmen Industries Inc. (craftsmenind.com), manufacturer of highly engineered and executed specialty industrial fabrication, containerized and mobile solutions since 1982. Steele is recognized as an NACD Board Leadership Fellow, is NACD Directorship Certified and earned Cybersecurity Oversight credentials from the CERT at Carnegie Mellon. He received a B.S. in Mining Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, and an M.S. in Industrial Administration (MBA) from the Carnegie Mellon University GSIA (Tepper School).
Manufacturers who have historically relied upon trade shows as a primary lead generation channel have had to find a new way to connect with prospects since trade shows were cancelled because of 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.
While trade shows have been 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. Manufacturers can focus on specific companies and have their undivided attention to tell their story and demonstrate their solutions.
“After the pandemic started and all our trade shows were cancelled, we first turned to webinars to tell our story,” says 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.”
After a lengthy search for companies who are experienced in mobile design and showroom fabrication, Stratasys selected a rapid designer and fabricator of custom mobile vehicles.
Having worked with a number of racing team clients, Stratasys had already seen how effective mobile spaces can be when well-designed. Central to the design of the mobile showroom was the ability to tell their story in a compelling way.
“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 additive technologies,” Teal says. “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 the 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, the custom mobile vehicles fabricator 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” Teal says. “We got started on the actual build in August and we hit the road in early November. [Our fabricator] was able to complete the project in a very short period of time.”
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, Teal says. “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,” Teal says. “As a result, I am putting new parts in our trailer almost every other week. Some of these require design changes and [our fabricator] 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.”
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,” Teal says. “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,” Teal says. “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.”
When trade shows will return is still very much an unknown, since it is largely dependent on the timing and effectiveness of the nationwide vaccine rollout.
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. | AC&F |