Let me first say, ‘branding’ is not the same thing as ‘plastering your logo everywhere’. This probably stems from the time before branding was defined, and event sponsors pursued simply the strongest, most frequent logo impressions possible. If that also preceded competition and market niches, maybe that was OK. But now, everybody is in a niche, and if you aren’t using your events to make attendees feel and understand the nuances that put you first in your niche, ie. using your event elements strategically, you’re missing out.
This is because branding is strategic, and next to your product and its packaging, events are probably the most powerful means to communicate it. (Unless you have bazillions of dollars for tv.) A brand is “a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service, the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced”. To get on the right path designing an event, I like to envision bringing members into your clubhouse.
- Is the atmosphere you’re creating light and airy, or restrained and polished? (Facility, decor, music, invitation) Neither is inherently right, but there is an environment that is right for your company.
- Are you putting your people and your products in front of the attendees?
- Is your essence statement (slogan) expressed explicitly in signage, ad specialty items, or in an address/presentation?
- How are the attendees engaged by your associates and the other staff at the event? I believe scripting their greeting and other predictable interactions, is important. You would (SHOULD) do this for staff in your trade show booth, so you want to do it here as well.
- With all these plans in place, can you envision your attendees ultimately, having the experience you desire?
Now I wouldn’t trust that the company you work for, or are designing the event for, understands this. I did several events for an international oilfield engineering company that happens to be French. For the initial associate events I did, they gave me free rein. As their strategic aim was just to express appreciation and instill pride, I used their company colors and logos in the registration area and on the stage, scripted talking points in their addresses, and scrolled images of their giant projects and ships on displays.
But for their first, major event at the Offshore Technology Drilling Conference, they froze. If I was to describe their brand, it is world-class (not world-renowned) engineering capabilities, extended in a confident, complicit fashion. (A little wordy but they didn’t pay me enough to boil it down.) Aside from expressing this, they wanted a fairly quiet atmosphere so the company reps could converse with clients and prospects.
I suggested a bistro environment. A theme would demonstrate self-confidence and loosen up attendees; it would make them stand out as a French company; and it could be lively without being noisy. Eh – we ended up with strong branding at registration, and I was permitted to do French-styled small plates instead of piece hors d’oeuvres, but with their second-guessing, the reception turned out like a library. Une bibliotheque European, peut etre.
If we want to take branding farther into the inbound marketing realm – introducing people to the company, making the way comfortable for them to make business inquiries – you would include other activities at the event. Polling people about your market and maybe, their perceptions of your company or products, demonstrating your product, showcasing your web site – all are ways to further communicate your brand. For a series I did for Comerica Bank, we tightly scripted their associates as they engaged the adult attendees, and they captured marketing data and qualified customers for follow up. The brand was extended through this interaction, and they brought many prospects to first or second base, ultimately closing $3M in new deposits. I told you, this stuff works!
Thanks for reading, and please add your own experiences or insights.