A BlackHat Sponsor Booth Done Right

For cyber security companies, your booth presence at shows like RSA and BlackHat are sometimes the only times potential investors, customers and media may see you. Trying to differentiate yourself, tell your message and catch the eye of vendor hall attendees is very difficult to get right. At BlackHat 2017, Polarity ran a very successful booth and there are many lessons other cyber-security companies can take away from this.
Polarity offers memory augmentation software for your team. They focus on cyber-security but can help your team remember any large set of rapidly changing data with a heads up display on your desktop. I use it for recognizing malicious files and network traffic as well as seeing when my LinkedIn, Twitter and other contacts show up in the news.

To raise awareness about their company’s solutions at the BlackHat 2017 conference in Las Vegas, they performed the following activities:
  • They announced a contest in July asking Blackhat attendees to memorize a file hash.
  • Attendees at the conference could enter the hash into a computer which was configured with the Polarity software. A hash is 32 digit hexadecimal number made up of numbers and letters A through F.
  • If the hash was entered in correctly, Polarity displayed information from their integration partners such as Reversing LabsVirus TotalCarbon Black and Threat Connect.
  • Teams successfully completing the entry of the hash got to win prints of famous xkcd comic strip signed by the author as well as a chance to win an infrared thermal imaging camera.

The Polarity team was able to meet many potential customers, analysts, media and partners and had a generally successful show. Here is a list of subtle things they did correctly that many companies overlook.

Pre-conference Announcement
By sending out information about a contest ahead of BlackHat it gave conference attendees something to think about other than the normal “come hear our CTO speak about the last cyber threats” topics. More importantly, simple act of trying to remember the 32 character hash communicated the value of Polarity well before anyone set foot on the conference floor. And lastly, the announcement was very clear, suggested the use of teams and gave a variety of tangible and desirable potential prizes.

Booth Experience
At first glance, the Polarity booth is nice and clean, but not unlike other vendor booths with a podium, a few computer displays and some graphics and messaging:

The panel in the back had the computer which conference attendees could enter the contest and try to submit the memorized 32 character hash in the following interface:


Energy and Activity at the Booth

The contest allowed for the use of teams of up to 8 people. It also allowed for contestants to wait as long as they could at the booth to try and memorize the 32 character hash. Both of these created activity at the booth and offered a great opportunity for the Polarity team to engage contestants in a very “non-salesey” manner.

There was also excitement in winning an xkcd signed comic print and having a chance to win the infrared camera.

Allowing teams to play is normally counter intuitive to typical drawings. In this case though, the more people on your team, the higher your chances of completing the task.

To a conference attendee who did not know Polarity, they would see a vendor booth with many actively engaged visitors. More importantly, if the attendee had asked anyone who was in the booth or in line what was going on, they would have been able to describe the memory augmentation of Polarity’s solution. This is such a hard thing for cyber security companies to do because our solutions are so technically complex.

Social Media Presence
Allowing teams to play is normally counter intuitive to typical drawings. Why would I tell other people about a drawing and decrease my chances of winning? In this case though, the more people on your team, the higher your chances of completing the task.

A cool prize can also make a cool tweet as we see from some of the winners below:

Partner Integration
Correct entering of the hash displayed information from partners. This created feedback between the Polarity booth and other floor vendors. Polarity makes it very easy for any type of data to be presented to augment your desktop in a relevant manner. By having several of their partners as part of the contest activity, it created a natural conversation for attendees to go and speak to their favorite vendors who weren’t integrated with Polarity.

This is also something that is very hard to get right. Not only did the Polarity team get their message correct at the booth, they were able to have the attendees reach out immediately to other floor vendors to ask they work on an integration.

This is also something that is very hard to do. Vendors attend conferences like RSA and BlackHat with their product management teams. They often meet with customers and some vendors to discuss integrations, but with 100s of potential new vendors each year, its really difficult to figure out which use cases are in the best interest of each vendor to commit to. In Polarity’s case, they were able to get introductions planned with partners they hadn’t even considered because attendees suggested and did introductions.

Regardless if you are in cyber security or not, when planning your booth keep these tips that the Polarity team used for an effective trade show at BlackHat in mind:
  • Have a great reason for people to visit your booth other than to learn about your solution, but make sure your solution is subtly the major part of that reason.
  • Make sure your booth experience is easy, simple and fun and not just a physical banner add for your company.
  • Make your partners part of your booth without looking like you have multiple vendors or messages in one booth.
I’d like to thank the team at Polarity for letting me use some of their pictures from BlackHat. Anyone interested in memory augmentation and heads up displays for their security operations, incident response and hunt teams should visit them at http://www.polarity.io or see videos of their various integrations and use cases at their blog.