Static displays of corrugated cardboard—no matter how luxuriously embossed, varnished or otherwise dressed up—add about as much glamour to a trade show floor as a table-top collection of the various trigger mechanisms that can be fitted on a plastic spray bottle.
Few people know that as well as Pete Coughlin, head of global events and graphic services at Richmond, Va.-based packaging solutions company MeadWestvaco Corp. Coughlin is charged with creating a platform that gives personality to the seemingly mundane, with creating a consistent story that lends character to perfume pumps and paperboard clamshells.
“We're primarily packaging and dispensing, which makes it very challenging,” Coughlin said. “We do these little piece parts, and it's hard to put them in a booth. Our design capabilities and our innovation make us stand out, [but] those are intangibles.”
The company, however, is investing in technology that amplifies those intangibles in the face-to-face environment and allows MWV to streamline the development of customized marketing stories as its trade show program moves into growth markets outside the United States.
Visitors to the MWV booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in January could take one of the company's components and place it on a shape-recognition table, activating a digital presentation. Touch-screen technology allowed them to thumb through product details and even customize packaging designs. Large vertical touch screens also told the company's story.
“It allows us to go beyond product information that can be static,” said Jon Hickey, executive director at agency George P. Johnson Experience Marketing, Boston, which is working with MWV to develop the interface and digital assets. The technology is being rolled out in the various verticals that the company serves, including beauty, consumer electronics and healthcare. “Some [products] are high-end luxury products; others are very clinical medical products that might have a different look and feel. You can create a mood to help demonstrate the products.”
This fall, the company will introduce large translucent LCD screens that will be placed in front of physical components. Customers will be able to use the touch screens to bring up informational overlays.
All of this large-scale event technology is advanced enough to gain attention on the trade show floor, Hickey said, but the novelty factor is not the focus. The real innovation comes in creating a centralized, easy-to-update library of digital assets that can be carried anywhere.
All the touch-screen applications have been developed with tablet delivery in mind, and MWV plans to roll out iPad applications later this year. The company participates in more than 200 events annually, and it wants to take the interactive storytelling method beyond top-tier exhibitions.
“Tablets allow the technology to go to smaller events,” Coughlin said. “If you're doing a pop-up in the lobby of a hotel, you're not going to ship out large kiosk systems. You can put an iPad in your suitcase.”
The portability also means that the message can be applied outside the event space. A sales force equipped with tablet devices will be able to carry renderings, videos and customization options on an individual sales call. “It becomes a leveraged investment,” Coughlin said. “It's not just for the trade show. It's for the sales kit; it's for the meeting. It gives it a lot of legs.”
The development gives the company's marketing officers better control over the messages associated with more than 150 different products in various verticals in the global marketplace.
“We can build a digital solution for CES, for example, and then port that to all the other geographies,” Coughlin said. “We can control the message, and we can update the message simultaneously.”
Sales representatives will be able to use templates and pull together customized presentations without dipping into a PowerPoint grab bag of clip art and copy.
“We see it as a good investment, especially when the technology has so many different outputs,” Coughlin said.