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Fueling Better Brand Experiences with Innovation

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Dawn Archambault-Perry
Dawn Archambault-Perry

Vice President, Brand Experience


How event organizers can set aside the status quo for greater success

The comfort zone might feel safe, but is it helping your events succeed?

Many event organizers embrace the tried-and-true, doing what they’ve always done and shying away from the untested and daring — blithely unaware they’re running one of the biggest risks of all: the risk of growing stagnant.

What they need is innovation.

Innovation is pure jet fuel, propelling events forward while engaging audiences and enticing exhibitors. And it was a hot topic during the Trade Show Executive (TSE) Gold 100 Awards & Summit.

Become a brand builder

“It’s our collective responsibility to advance society and elevate the human experience.”

A quote from keynote speaker, Freeman Design Leadership council member, and founder and president of Cunningham Collective Andy Cunningham, this statement helped set the tone for the day.

Cunningham backed the quote, citing staggering statistics about our industry:

  • We contribute $71.3 billion to the U.S. GDP.
  • We reach 69 million attendees.
  • We speak for two million exhibiting organizations in participating in face-to-face events.

However, if we are to achieve this lofty mission — and we can — we need to position ourselves as brand builders. According to Cunningham, brand builders are strategic partners that help their customers understand what she considers to be the two most important questions in business: Who are you? And why do you matter?

Answering those two questions will lead to better brand positioning, which can be leveraged when developing the emotional side of brand building: the tone, design, and color; what a brand looks, feels, and acts like.

And where does that come to life? Brand experience!

When done right, it’s the very best of storytelling. It’s a way for humans to interact with each other and build their own stories in an environment completely owned and designed for a particular brand.

But we can’t get there by doing what we’ve always done. It’s our strategic imperative to innovate.

It’s our collective responsibility to advance society and elevate the human experience.

Andy Cunningham

Envision the future

One way to harness the jet fuel of innovation?

Design thinking.

During the TSE event, a panel of experts discussed the opportunities design thinking creates — and Peter McGrath, Freeman Design Council Member, offered interesting contributions to the conversation.

Design thinking is the antithesis to “We’ve always done it this way.”

It’s the perfect marriage of creativity and logic, starting with the willingness to envision a bold new future, and then embracing the discipline to examine the idea from every possible angle to find a way to bring that vision to life.

On a separate panel, Nancy Walsh, President of Reed Exhibitions U.S., reinforced this message. She emphasized that it’s up to event organizers and brand leaders to move forward, create experiences, and embrace relentless innovation. She further challenged the room to think differently about activations, show floor layouts, lead retrieval, matchmaking, and integration of technology.

A recipe for innovation

While many people might think creative innovation is freewheeling and hard to quantify, it can be consistently developed and grown using a simple five-step recipe shared by speaker Bill O’Connor, Innovation Strategist and Founder Innovation Genome, Autodesk:

  1. Draw an innovation map in which you identify 8-10 topics ripe for change.
  2. Develop the topics, asking and answering questions to gain a full understanding of the situation.
  3. Develop ideas, allowing a safe and open space where creativity can flow.
  4. Prioritize the ideas.
  5. Create projects and develop logical routes to implementing the ideas.

Everybody can be creative

Panelist Doug Solomon, IDEO Fellow and Innovation Consultant, noted there are already people in every organization who are wired to innovate, even if they don’t realize it.

Some people embrace grand, sweeping innovation that disrupts the entire industry. Others are more comfortable changing just a few elements per show. Both types of people can be equally innovative and groundbreaking.

The key? Knowing who is who, and developing a portfolio strategy for innovation.

Katie Kirsch, co-Founder of Girls Driving for a Difference, was also on the panel and emphasized that every one of us has the capacity to be extremely creative beings. The muscle of creativity just needs to be flexed. Part of flexing that muscle involves embracing ambiguity and even the possibility of failure. But along with fear comes fun, play, and the exhilaration of opening your mind and letting those “lightbulb” moments arrive — without immediately questioning their validity.

Embrace innovation for success

To propel events forward and get the most innovation out of their teams, organizers should focus on two things:

  1. Nurture the right environment: Even the most brilliant people sometimes have ideas that don’t work. But if management shoots down a dubious idea, the team might be reluctant to share any ideas in the future. When event organizers foster a free, flexible, and open environment that welcomes creativity and gives serious consideration to all ideas, they create a culture of innovation where ideas will flow freely without fear.
  2. Positive planning: Instead of looking for reasons why an idea won’t work, organizers should challenge teams to come up with ways to make it work. From there, develop a clear and transparent list of steps that will turn vision into reality.

Even small innovative changes can have an enormous impact, breathing fresh air into stale events and paving the way for immersive, meaningful and compelling experiences that will resonate far beyond the event doors.

For more on where the event industry is headed, download the insights paper: Tomorrow, Today: The Future of Brand Experience

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