PHOTOS: LGS COMMUNICATIONS, RED FUSE COMMUNICATIONS, 2019 NORTH AMERICAN VETERINARY COMMUNITY, WWW.UNIVERSALIMAGE.NET
Exhibitor: Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc.
Creative/Production: 3D Exhibits Inc., Schaumburg, IL, 800-471-9617, www.3dexhibits.com; Red Fuse Communications, New York, 212-210-3873, www.redfuse.com; RR Donnelley & Sons Co., Chicago, 800-742-4455, www.rrdonnelley.com
Show: Veterinary Meeting and Expo (VMX), 2019
Promotional Budget: $300,000 – $399,000
• Drive 4,000 visitors through the exhibit.
• Get 80 percent of attendees surveyed to agree or strongly agree they learned about Hill's to Home through the exhibit experience.
• Obtain 1,500 sign-ups for Hill's to Home.
• Generate 1.75 million media impressions.
• Attracted 4,440 attendees to the exhibit.
• Received 90-percent agreement from visitors surveyed that they learned about Hill's to Home in the exhibit.
• Logged 1,554 sign-ups for Hill's to Home.
• Spawned 1.95 million media impressions.
In a massive pet food industry that generates more than $30 billion in spending annually, it can be hard to stand out. Established brands face the additional challenge of staying fresh. Everyone loves a playful kitten, but a few years and dozens of lint rollers later, the charm can wear off.
Those were some of the obstacles Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. faced when planning for the 2019 Veterinary Meeting and Expo (VMX) in Orlando, FL. The Topeka, KS-based company hoped to use VMX – which attracts close to 17,000 visitors – to launch Hill's to Home, its new home-delivery service that allows veterinarians to send recommended Hill's products directly to pet owners.
Hill's is no puppy in the pet-care business, as it's been providing pet food since 1939 and has a long history of working with veterinarians to sell more specialized products. And while the products weren't changing, Hill's to Home would make it a lot easier for veterinarians to get those products to clients. In addition, vets would be making a profit, since they can set their own prices and control their margins. It seemed like a winning proposition for Hill's and vets, but with almost 700 exhibitors expected at VMX, Hill's needed a strategy to help it bark louder than the other big dogs in the industry.
Scratching up a Strategy
To put some bite in its plans, Hill's partnered with three firms for creative and production activities, including Schaumburg, IL-based 3D Exhibits Inc. "When we began ideation sessions with Hill's in August 2018 for the VMX show, we started by asking them to describe Hill's as a brand," says George Furman, senior account executive at 3D. "They described themselves as kind of like a Chevy pickup truck – established and reliable, but slightly dated. They needed something fresh to bring Hill's to Home to life."
After multiple working sessions, the company devised a plan to integrate Hill's to Home into an attention-grabbing campaign that included a Hawaiian vacation giveaway, a celebrity appearance, and an exhibit filled with four-legged friends. Plus, through a VMX sponsorship, Hill's would use show-floor transportation to literally drive home the message that Hill's to Home was ready to deliver.
To quantify the success of a program designed to get tails wagging, Hill's established a solid set of goals: lead at least 4,000 visitors through its VMX exhibit, get 1,500 of them to sign up for Hill's to Home, and generate 1.75 million media impressions. Through an in-booth game-show activity and educational sessions, Hill's also hoped that 80 percent of visitors surveyed would agree or strongly agree they learned about Hill's to Home as a result of their exhibit experiences.
A Vet Vacation
To underscore that its delivery service takes the headache out of putting products in pet owners' hands, Hill's pre-show marketing offered up even more relief for veterinarians' day-to-day woes: a free trip to Hawaii. "Pre-show activities focused on creating an engaging sweepstakes – the Hill's to Home Hawaii Getaway Giveaway – that we could activate digitally in media and carry through to the conference experience," says Susan Lord, senior brand manager at Hill's. The company began its launch with a pre-show email blast that explained the basics on Hill's to Home and invited recipients to visit the Hill's booth and opening
ceremony festivities at VMX. By clicking to sign up for more details on the delivery service, readers were entered in the sweepstakes for a five-day trip to Hawaii, the winner of which would be announced after the show.
But you didn't need to get an email to enter. Hill's dangled the details of the giveaway and its VMX exhibit across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and LinkedIn to maximize pre-show impressions and get attendees as excited as kittens on catnip.
As the doors opened at VMX 2019, Hill's sponsorship package began to pay further dividends. Visitors' show bags included four inserts advertising Hill's to Home, the vacation giveaway, and more freebies at its exhibit. Additionally, show-provided golf carts busing visitors around the expansive show floor boasted Hill's branding. Signage mounted on top of the carts included imagery of a Hill's to Home box on a doorstep, the slogan "Let Hill's Deliver," and the company's booth number.
But the real cat's meow of Hill's sponsorship benefits were the VMX kickoff festivities. "The opening ceremony stage was set with towers of Hill's to Home boxes and made to look like a mix between a warehouse and a daytime talk show," Lord says. "It kicked off with an energetic drum troupe that was choreographed with dancing and synchronized drumming." The on-stage antics even included a stunt deliveryman who "parachuted" onto the scene with a Hill's to Home box in hand.
"Following the performance, the crowd was energized and enthusiastic when our speakers came to the stage," Lord says. "Jolle Kirpensteijn, our chief professional veterinary officer, interviewed Brooke Shields as the main headline event." Shields gave an intimate description of her battle with postpartum depression as part of a larger VMX 2019 campaign called "You Matter," which included events and information focused on the mental, emotional, and financial well-being of veterinary professionals.
Coming Home to Hill's
With its messaging echoing throughout the show floor, Hill's created an exhibit that played on the at-home nature of its delivery service. A large Hill's to Home banner framed the entry to the 30-by-60-foot stand. Dead center, the company crafted a relaxing, backyard-themed space. Plush outdoor couches complemented by branded pillows sat atop faux patio-paver flooring. Staff invited visitors to take a load off and get the scoop on Hill's to Home from reps equipped with iPads that facilitated service sign-ups and sweepstakes entries. Meanwhile, a large touchscreen on a patio table allowed attendees to scroll through the new service's details at their own pace. "The environment was warm, friendly, and very much reflective of being at home," Furman says.
The right side of the booth boasted a quiz-bowl game with a digital gameboard. Participants buzzed in to answer in the form of a question and then, if they answered correctly, they selected the next topic. Points were given for correct answers, and prizes were handed out to all who played. "The quiz bowl enabled attendees to learn about our key focuses, including Hill's to Home, while having fun and competing in a lighthearted game," Lord says.
Hill's further amped up the fun factor on this side of its exhibit with a furry friend photo op. Staged in front of a wall designed to mimic a typical doorstep piled high with Hill's to Home boxes, the Instagram-friendly activation featured dogs and cats that performed tricks and posed with attendees. Photos snapped with the animal guest stars were posted to the company's social-media platforms and broadcast on a large LED screen at rear of the booth.
||The on-stage antics even included a stunt deliveryman who "parachuted" onto the scene with a Hill's to Home box in hand.
Other exhibit components included billboard-sized signage, an animal shelter donation station, a theater-style presentation space, branded boxes securely stacked to form pillar-like displays, and plush puppy giveaways. "I've been in sales a long time, and I know that exhibits don't end up in my living room, so I try not to fall in love," Furman says. "But we really used the entire space to promote Hill's to Home – corner to corner, ceiling to floor. In doing so, we created our own space in the hall, which was an extremely warm environment that attendees found very entertaining. The patio theme invited them to come in and get a cup of coffee, grab a tote bag with product info, and take a fun photo."
To measure the success of its exhibit, Hill's hired an independent firm to survey departing visitors on their experience, including the knowledge they gained on Hill's to Home. After tallying the results, Hill's found that 90 percent agreed or strongly agreed they learned about the delivery service via the exhibit – 10 percent above pre-show goals. Other objectives were also surpassed. For example, 4,440 attendees browsed the booth (11 percent above goal), and the company logged 1,554 sign-ups for Hill's to Home (exceeding its aim of 1,500). What's more, the booth and associated sponsorships generated 1.95 million media impressions. "The comprehensive campaign successfully created massive brand awareness," said one Sizzle Awards judge. "It would have been next to impossible for any attendee to miss the ubiquitous Hill's to Home logo, and the company expertly used those touchpoints to engage with and educate booth visitors."
"I love how the various components of this effort all worked together," Lord says. "They complemented and built on each other for a fully integrated campaign to bring our new delivery service to life." Lacing that campaign with branded giveaways, a celebrity appearance, four-legged guest stars, and a fun and friendly exhibit experience, Hill's integrated-marketing program left both attendees' and company execs' tails wagging.