Who knew that imitating a rock band tour would elevate a company’s sales and marketing strategies to new heights? Vaisala, a Finnish-based environmental and industrial measurement company, and MGA Communications, a Denver-based full-service public relations, marketing and research firm, teamed up in late 2011 to embark on a first-of-its-kind, cross-country product tour. In the end, the tour would prove to be truly revolutionary.
In November 2011, Vaisala’s Roads segment, which focuses on providing road weather observation and monitoring solutions to public and private transportation agencies, was preparing to launch a revolutionary product called Condition Patrol. For the first time, these agencies will be able to monitor their entire networks of roads as opposed to a set fixed location. The mobility that Condition Patrol offers allows agencies to be more accurate in how they maintain their roads in all weather conditions, thus reducing costs and improving driver safety.
Because of the landmark status of the product, Vaisala explored concepts for a product launch unlike any it had done before. Three goals were established: 1) build awareness of Vaisala among potential customers in North America, specifically related to its position as a leader in mobile roads technology; 2) foster excitement and collaboration among the national sales team members; and 3) meet product sales goals in the United States and globally.
The company took a common sales and marketing practice from the music industry—a traveling tour—and applied it to their product launch. It was kicked off with an invitation-only event; tour T-shirts with the tour stops listed on the back were distributed; multiple audiences were engaged; and throughout the program, communications vehicles allowed those audiences to track, follow and engage in the tour as it traveled across the country. They also actively participated in traditional media relations, trade shows and advertising as well as social media, video and other online communications.
At its core, the Vaisala Across America tour consisted of a branded vehicle (outfitted with Vaisala’s Condition Patrol technology) that visited current and potential customers around the country to provide a hands-on experience while actively promoting the tour across all media channels. This type of a product launch was a completely new strategy for Vaisala’s sales and marketing departments. In the past, Vaisala’s approach to media relations and customer relations has been more segmented by geographic market and has focused more on industry media rather than business publications and general media. This more traditional approach is in line with others in the roads industry. This tour was a true first for the company and the industry in many respects, and it succeeded on every level. And the effort ignited an enthusiastic following from Vaisala’s 1,400 employees worldwide.
Vaisala’s corporate communications team and MGA Communications were tapped to provide strategic counsel on how to maximize the reach of the tour to have the greatest impact. The two agreed that such an innovative product demanded a unique approach to marketing and promotion for Vaisala and the industry, and so it was agreed to focus on using general U.S. news media and social media to reach the target audiences of current and potential customers as well as those in the road weather industry.
After learning of Vaisala’s goals, MGA established the following objectives for its involvement in the tour:
- · Develop key messaging about the product, tour and Vaisala that aligns with the company’s corporate messaging and helps to positively position the customer and product.
- · Support the sales team in media interviews by recommending media training and close coordination throughout the tour.
- · Obtain media coverage in all prioritized tour stops and in the top-ranked media markets in the snow-belt states.
- · Educate and create awareness among the general media about Vaisala, Condition Patrol and the impacts this industry and product have on the general public.
- · Help Vaisala build a robust and engaging tour website by including relevant and interesting content and continually refreshing that content for all target audiences.
- · Attract a targeted number of visitors each month to the tour website, with a specified average visit duration.
- · Increase Vaisala’s activity and engagement in social media, specifically by enhancing the company’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and use this opportunity to demonstrate to others in Vaisala how these tools can be helpful in sales and marketing.
- · Supplement the social media opportunity by developing multimedia content.
All of the above objectives were either met or exceeded.
MGA worked with Vaisala to establish a project timeline that outlined the tasks related to the key tour components and who was responsible for those tasks. They consisted of key messaging, alignment of tour marketing and branding with company brand guidelines, internal communications, trade advertising, digital communications, customer tour stops and media relations. The timeline ensured all parties were informed and working together.
Tour stops were selected and prioritized based on locations of current customers and high winter weather impact areas. These are areas that repeatedly receive snow, sleet, ice, wind and rain.
The project launch date of Feb. 1, 2012, was confirmed seven weeks in advance—not a lot of time to plan and prepare for the tour, get the product from Finland and install it on the truck, and launch the tour. The seven weeks also included three holiday breaks, which posed a challenge in regard to both planning and execution.
In the initial planning stages, the roads segment decided to leverage previously purchased advertising space in the top three industry trade publications. There was one ad placed in each publication: one each at the beginning; in the middle; and at the end of the tour, which helped reach industry professionals and coincided with trade show stops.
Starting a few weeks before the launch through its completion 16 weeks later, it was not uncommon for MGA and Vaisala to have multiple conversations each day about the schedule, weather, media interviews and more. The success of this project required ongoing contact, and MGA was committed to helping its client navigate this new territory and make it as successful as possible. MGA’s trademark is delivering effective communications that make a difference by getting people involved in the issues that matter most to its clients and to their communities. Through the close working relationship with Vaisala, a true partnership was formed, and MGA was able to help the client successfully meet and exceed all of its goals.
In 16 weeks—February 1 through May 23—Vaisala Across America traveled 18,325 miles and reached 60 current and potential customer locations in 45 tour stops. The tour earned nearly 100 media placements in 25 U.S. media markets, reaching more than 3 million people. Vaisala saw an increase in its social media and online presence. All of these components further established the company’s awareness and position in the marketplace and among the industry. To date, Vaisala has sold more Condition Patrol systems than expected in the United States and internationally. Vaisala will meet its global sales target for 2012, with most sales coming from the U.S. market in which the tour was conducted.
The tour was a tremendous success for the marketing and communications departments, the sales team, current and potential customers and Vaisala as a whole. Without the strategic and innovative efforts put forth by everyone involved during the collaboration, this project would not have been as successful. A critical component in the tour’s success was the media relations and digital communications (social media, blog and website) elements. These successes and others have better positioned the company with its target audiences and online communities, as well as laid the foundation for other segments within Vaisala to incorporate elements of the tour in their own work.
All of the tour’s successes have proven that out-of-the-box thinking, solid planning, team work and determination can make a difference in sales and marketing efforts. As a result of the tour, Vaisala has now positioned itself as the mobile leader within the industry, setting the bar high for other companies to be as bold, creative and innovative.
“This product is awesome! It performs exactly as promised, and every demo we have had so far, the DOT guys are discussing how to buy one!” —Mark Feldman, Vaisala territory sales manager
“We were excited to see the unit first hand. It is compact, easy to install and will provide us with the benefits of mobile weather data gathering.” —Mark DeVries, maintenance superintendent, McHenry County, Illinois, Division of Transportation.
Molly Osadjan is account manager at MGA Communications and managed the Vaisala Across America project. Jon Tarleton is the roads marketing manager for Vaisala, Inc., and works out of the company’s St. Louis office. For more information, visit www.mgacommunications.com or http://mobiletour.vaisala.com/across-america-tour/.