Ciena hits the road with mobile event

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Before the economy turned, Ciena Corp., a network solutions company, was beginning to reconsider its decision to attend large events. “We saw the reduced effectiveness of large trade shows, but the desire was to still have conversations with our customers,” said Bill Rozier, VP-global marketing at Ciena.

At large events, Rozier said, “You're surrounded by the distraction of a trade show. [Attendees] are almost window shopping through a mall versus having a dedicated conversation. Lack of distraction results in a much deeper conversation.”

So the company set out to build an event as an alternative to trade shows that would bring the event to the customer, provide a one-on-one experience and eliminate the distractions of a large show. The result was the Ciena Innovation Lab: a big-rig truck, which can be driven to and parked at or near a customer's place of business.

Inside the truck, the company built an “Innovation Lab,” which looks like a high-concept trade show booth. The truck is staffed with three or four Ciena employees demonstrating functional installations of the company's most popular products—network connection and extension devices—as well as using Kaon v-OSKs, interactive video screens, to let customers get a hands-on experience with 3-D renderings of the rest of Ciena's available networking solutions.

“The truck itself carries our most significant products. But the place where we get the most attention is around our Kaon unit,” Rozier said. “Many of our products are so large we can't put them on the truck. The ability to put them in 3-D on our Kaon unit gives us the chance to display our entire portfolio.”

The success of the truck, and customers' ability to see Ciena's Ethernet and LAN-related networking solutions, was immediately apparent. The company started with one appointment per week and is now bringing the truck to three customers every week—its full capacity. Additionally, the truck was upgraded to a unit that expands when it parks so more people can fit inside. During an event, 20 to 120 people can view Ciena products.

“It's greatly in excess of anything we would ever see at a trade show,” Rozier said. “We always stumble upon somebody within our customer base that is in a position of budget approval that we have never seen or talked to before. Every time this truck stops, we will get access to an unknown project that our customer hasn't made us aware of. That almost never happens in a trade show environment.”

And with the current economy, customers' desire to see the Innovation Lab at their front door is much greater. “It's been enhanced by the downturn because our customers can't travel now,” Rozier said. “There's meeting space; it has full branding; and you're staging a trade show for one. We look at the truck the same way you would look at any marketing asset. We have a prearrival marketing push via e-mail that talks about when we're going to be there and what they're going to see. Then we have the event, and then follow up to thank them. In many cases, attendees ask us for additional information. We hope, eventually, that they will trend to annual visits.”

Overall, Rozier said, the mobile event has created a tighter bond between Ciena's brand and its customers. “When you can individually invite a customer, it's a much better opportunity to create a relationship. There's no better way to strategically and purposefully have a dialogue than in the customer's own location.”


Objective: Find an alternative to the large trade show, which was proving to have reduced effectiveness over time.

Strategy: Take the show to the customer with a mobile lab built into a big-rig truck. The lab holds all of Ciena's major products, along with Kaon v-OSKs displaying 3-D digital renderings of all the company's offerings.

Results: Over the 10 months it has been running, the lab has made 51 stops with about 2,000 customers walking through. The mobile lab Web site, posted on the side of the truck, has received 1,200 hits.

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