Overcoming the Distance – interzum @home

While manning the reception counter in Cologne, Germany, red-eyed from jetlag with blistered feet from hours of standing, I received a panicked voicemail and multiple cryptic texts from my mom. She was dog sitting at my home in Joplin, Missouri, so I quickly snuck into the storage room to see what was wrong. It turned out the gentle creek that innocuously flows past my house jumped its banks, rising high enough to cover the steps of my porch, flood my fields with several feet of water, and carry away fallen trees. I was 4,724 mi (7,602 km) away from home and couldn’t do anything to help.

In 2019, I could feel the expanse between the interzum show floor and my home. In 2021, the show organizer, Koelnmesse, announced interzum would move to a digital-only platform due to the pandemic. I wondered, “How are we going to overcome this distance? How are we going to create something engaging with half a world between us, our customers, and our sales staff?” Like many things, the only way to get there is one step at a time.

Step 1: Goals
First, we needed to revisit our goals for messaging and customer engagement. How could we still achieve our objectives using the digital platform? We worked with the Koelnmesse staff to better understand our options and the lingo of virtual trade fairs. What is a product stage vs. product highlight vs. roundtable, and how much are each of these things going to cost? How could these different modes of communication convey the message we were trying to deliver? A few spreadsheets later, we narrowed the options to one package that allowed us to highlight our main objectives.

Step 2: Global Collaboration
With barely two months to prepare, our plan involved product sheets, virtual showroom graphics, engaging copy, digital campaigns, website landing pages, a new product launch, two live roundtables, and seven videos with content from sales representatives on five continents.

It was during the 6:00 a.m. video calls, continuous flow of Teams messages, and global collaboration that I began to feel the distance shrinking. This is when the magic began. Our sales reps stepped out of their comfort zones and became on-camera stars. They became directors, producers, and scriptwriters for their own videos. Within the span of just a few weeks, we had content gathered, and Marketing + Creative’s videography team started their part. With record speed, the video team curated the home-produced phone footage into webcast-worthy broadcasts.

While the videos went through production, the rest of the M+C crew was doing their part to make the digital showroom appealing and well-stocked with relevant assets.

Step 3: Customer Communication
Once our virtual showroom was dressed, the next step was getting customers to attend the online fair. We used a three-pronged approach: social media, email advertising, and personal invitations. Partnering with the Web + Digital Marketing team, our Associate International Creative Director created a LinkedIn and email campaign teasing the launch of our newest innovation, Anatom II. At the same time, the international sales reps were busy extending personal invitations to their key customers.

Step 4: Training
One of the most challenging parts of switching to a digital platform was training our sales staff and customers. After going through virtual training, the sales reps distributed instructions to customers about how to redeem voucher codes and best practices for using the platform. Some of the training even happened on the fly during the show. Our Project Program Director created instructions for our customers on how to access roundtables after an unsuccessful first attempt on the platform. Just like any live trade fair, we had to learn and adapt quickly to the show environment.

Step 5: Going Live!
A short 61 days after deciding to exhibit, interzum @home kicked off! As hectic as any in-person show, day one was full of hiccups, questions, and learning moments. But by day four, we were a well-oiled machine. Staff connected with customers, interacted with the live content, and led engaging roundtable discussions.

By the end of the show, our distance didn’t seem quite so far. While we are all looking forward to gathering in person for interzum 2023, the virtual environment managed to develop the same sense of camaraderie among staff, connection with our customers, and re-energizing effects of a typical in-person event.

International Bedding’s Digital Showroom by the Numbers

  • 28+ Sales staff spanning 5 continents
  • 13 Marketing + Creative staff
  • Drone operators in 8 countries (Croatia, UK, Denmark, France, South Africa, China, Brazil, and Switzerland)
  • 5 divisions of Leggett & Platt (L&P International Bedding, L&P U.S. Bedding, L&P Brazil, Peterson Chemical Technology, Inc., and Spühl)
  • 7 prerecorded videos shown on product stages or in the digital showroom
  • 2 roundtables
  • 118 voucher codes distributed
  • 839 visitors to the digital showroom from 56 countries – so far
  • 509 documents downloaded – so far
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