Spotlight on Customization
DRS and Associates brings customization to Watermark Designs’ ICFF exhibition
Client: For over three decades, Watermark Designs has been a leading manufacturer of decorative plumbing fixtures, bathroom accessories, lighting and elegant hardware for the luxury commercial and residential markets. Based in the independent design hub of Brooklyn, where their products are made, Watermark’s designs are a reflection of the creative melting pot from which they hail. Combining sustainable product design with an eye towards architectural detail, their distinctive product quality is achieved using hands-on design and development combined with state-of-the-industry equipment.
Taking industrial design one step further, Watermark Designs’ new Elan Vital collection combines the utilitarian aesthetic of Industrial Design with the ability to completely customize faucets. Elan Vital may look as though it was plucked from an 18th century factory, but it has all the modern touches. The galvanized pipe and industrial design made of solid brass construction allows for endless customization. With Elan Vital, the designer or end consumer literally can specify the height of the fixture, length of the spout, or mounting dimensions they want or need – and in which of Watermark Designs’ 40 finishes they want the finished product. If they prefer a different handle, they can choose from one of Watermark’s 130 designs.
Case: In May 2014, Watermark Designs exhibited at the 27th annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) held at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City. ICFF is North America’s premier venue for global design and luxury, mapping the newest frontier of what’s best and what’s next. This important trade show packed 629 exhibitors and 31,421 attendees over the course of four days. Here, Watermark unveiled their new Elan Vital collection to architects, interior designers, developers and consumers.
In 2013, DRS and Associates’ CEO David Schlocker designed Watermark’s booth for their first ICFF exhibition (read more about 2013 ICFF exhibition). The interactive booth allowed visitors to touch and feel the materials up close and select their own faucet and handle combinations using Watermark’s innovative rare earth magnet handles. The booth attracted a large number of visitors who were drawn in by the hands-on interaction. Coming off this success, Watermark Designs’ President Avi Abel asked David, “What can we do to top it?”
“Don’t worry,” said David. “We’ll figure it out.”
Solution: For 2014, David designed an ICFF booth themed around customization to reflect both Watermark Designs’ “Made in Brooklyn” aesthetic and their new Elan Vital collection. Because Elan Vital is made up of customizable parts and components (pipes and fittings), DRS created an environment where visitors could literally interact with the materials and build their own faucet creations. This successful trade show venue and campaign were accomplished through four significant initiatives: an inviting and compelling theme, interactivity, product focus, and engagement through social media.
1. Theme: First, David came up with a creative way to reflect Watermark’s edgy and artisinal theme. Inspired by chalkboard art – commonly seen on hip gastropub menus – David applied the concept to a much larger scale. He created a booth with walls made entirely out of black chalkboards to be artistic canvases and compelling storyboards for the space. David also wanted a clever way to incorporate real, full-scale products into the one-dimensional medium. This concept came together with David’s idea to mount Watermark faucets on the walls and to add a real, dimensional component to the display with chalk art incorporating the fixtures in its design. An artist was hired to translate the same look incorporated in Watermark’s catalogs and other branding to a much bigger scale. The artist drew three-dimensional, whimsical designs of basins, pedestals, a stove and even a toilet by hand in chalk and creatively drew out the entire booth, doing all foundation artwork prior to the show.
Inside the booth, David installed interesting, real workbenches as workstations for visitors to get creative with Elan Vital’s various components. School lockers were not only used as storage for catalogs and miscellaneous parts but also as part of the design. Paying attention down to the smallest detail, David decorated the lockers with Brooklyn-themed stickers, some customized with Watermark’s logo. Also, a clothesline was installed to hang (to-be-printed live in the booth) photos of visitors who built their own faucets in Watermark’s booth during the show.
2. Interactivity and Engagement: The next step was to figure out how to draw visitors into the booth to experience Elan Vital and demonstrate the collection’s functionality. David’s philosophy and mission for Watermark was to get attendees to do more than just admire a stagnant display. He wanted to create a visual, intellectually creative and tactile experience for guests. Playing into this interactive concept, the booth artist decorated the chalkboard walls like a living canvas, adding imagery over the continuous days of the trade show. The chalk art included not only pictures but words, poetry and expressions about water and Watermark, and even Elan Vital’s Latin roots (“the vital force of life”). The live art was also a way to attract repeat visitors and other conversations about Brooklyn, art, creativity and thinking outside of the box.
DRS communicated Elan Vital’s “build your own” aspect with workstations that offered visitors the chance to make their own faucets. Watermark produced many parts and fun optional components for the occasion to allow their participants’ creativity to shine. While most faucet collections are displayed in ways that only allow users to turn the handles on and off, Watermark’s display allowed visitors to engage with the products up close and see the details firsthand. “Creating an interactive space where we can allow visitors to participate with the products and engage with clients goes way beyond just showing up and being ‘sold’ to,” said David. “It’s experiential marketing at its finest. That is what trade shows should really be about – and we definitely achieved that once again.”
Each participant got to experience the faucet collection on many levels, from the substantial feel of the weighted brass parts to the quality, machining, details and knurling. This elevated experience enabled visitors to grasp the product information in a way that went beyond the typical display. It was interesting to see architects and designers really get into their creations. “Even when guests said they had no time to assemble a faucet, once they entered the booth and took hold of an Elan fitting or two, the magic happened – and they began to create!” said David. The interactive element also allowed for a genuine and active dialogue between Watermark’s team and their visitors.
3. Product focused: Because Avi wanted the booth to be singularly product focused (only representing one collection), the visual story and concept had to be on target. This approach was a unique contrast to traditional booths where companies put their entire catalog of fixtures on display. The job for DRS was to let the visual impact of the space and the one interactive product design draw visitors in, where they could learn more about the diversity, depth and breadth of products Watermark offered. David also wanted Watermark’s booth to contrast the stark, clean and contemporary booths of many faucet companies, which he did not believe fit Watermark’s theme. Watermark’s newest linear drains were also incorporated into the space, with the decorative finished grates serving as flat wall dividers between different sections of the booth. This simplicity allowed Elan Vital to truly stand out – while maximizing booth space.
4. Social Media: DRS utilized social media to keep fans engaged during the trade show and beyond and to extend the story and reach of Watermark. Visitors who built their own custom faucets had the chance to enter their creations in a daily contest, which played out through Watermark’s social media outlets. The Watermark team working the booth took a picture of each contestant with his or her faucet design and printed it out in real time using Bluetooth and a wireless printer. The pictures were hung on the clothesline (adding even more to the daily “live art” mission) and posted on Watermark’s Facebook page. Watermark distributed a card to each visitor to become a Facebook fan and to go online and tag their photo for an additional chance to win. Once a day, a guest editor was invited to judge and pick his or her favorite design. “The whole concept of having people create their own faucet and then pose with their masterpiece was really fun and brought serious meaning to fan engagement,” said David. “However, we also wanted to share the live experience with our Watermark friends who did not attend the show by adding a new level to the competition and further expanding Watermark’s reach.” Winners received solid brass Watermark bottle openers made from actual Elan levers as well as other fun prizes. In addition to the contest, DRS posted pictures and activities from the booth on Watermark’s social media channels throughout the trade show.
With exhibitors ranging from start ups to established brands, Watermark Designs was one of the most popular booths at ICFF. There was constant traffic and attention from media, architects, designers and consumers, as well as attention on an international scale. At most booths, representatives had to initiate conversation with visitors to get them engaged with the product; however, Watermark’s interactive approach drew visitors in and inspired conversations they wouldn’t normally have. This concept also emphasized the importance of experiential selling and marketing. In marketing, the idea is to make emotional connections between the audience and the brand and/or its products through storytelling, interaction and participation. Because the main story was Elan Vital and customization, Watermark ensured visitors became part of the experience rather than simply being told the story.
DRS and Associates is proud to say that the 2014 ICFF Watermark story had a happy ending.
UPDATE: On September 10, 2014, DRS and Associates’ work was honored with a Gold Award for Best Trade Show Marketing Strategy from Hanley Wood’s Brand Builder Awards, 2014. The Brand Builder Awards recognizes the most innovative and effective marketing campaigns throughout the residential and commercial design and construction industries. The entries were judged by a prestigious group of high-level experts in the fields of graphic design, architecture and marketing. “Creating an interactive space that allowed visitors to participate with the products and engage with our clients went way beyond just showing up and being ‘sold’ to," said David Schlocker. “It’s experiential marketing at its finest. That is what trade shows should really be about – and we definitely achieved that once again.”