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How HP Creates Connections Through Brand Experience

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Jane Culcheth Beard on trends, event inspiration, and measurement

When it comes to improving lives through technology, it’s the job of Event Marketer B-to-B Dream Team member Jane Culcheth Beard, head of strategic events at HP, to tell the story of how the brand is making an impact. We caught up with her to find out just how she’s helping people reinvent their lives as she helps the HP brand evolve to meet evolving consumer needs.

Q: Hi Jane! Let’s start something simple. How do you, or how does HP, define brand experience?

JCB: Brand experience for HP is a combination of what we bring to our customers and how we deliver it. We ask ourselves how people experience our brand at events. How do we bring our mission and purpose to life? How do we form that into the experience our attendees are going to have? How do we differentiate ourselves from other brands and keep reinventing event after event? 

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Q: Where do you find inspiration when you’re building brand experiences?

JCB: I’m lucky to live in London, so I’m able to experience the theater quite often. I always look for and think about new ideas and inspiration when I’m going to a production or exhibition. It’s those things that really inspire me and spark creative thoughts outside of events. 

Live events are like a show. They’re a unique experience that can only happen once because you can’t do a retake. That realization coupled with an emotional connection made with the attendees, your brand, and your partners at the event create a “wow” moment that’s really special.

It’s a real challenge to accomplish, but when it happens right it’s truly fantastic. When you’ve been successful, you know it, because there’s an energy and emotion connection that is palpable. That’s the feeling and the experience we’re always striving toward and that’s what makes me love events.

Q: Beyond that feeling of energy, how to you measure the success of your events?

JCB: We measure our events in a number of ways. We have soft metrics and hard metrics, but one of the most important is the net promoter score. This measures the experience of our attendees for HP. Would they promote HP to their colleagues, to their friends, or to their family? We survey before the event and we survey after the event. 

We’re always looking for a positive advocacy score but what we really look for is an uplift of at least five points between before and after an event. This helps us to measure if the event made a difference for the attendees. Has the event made an emotional alteration in the way the attendees perceive HP and how much of an advocate for HP they are? That’s the key measure for us.

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Q: A big part of it is getting the right audience. How do you attract the right people and find out what they want?

JCB: Our partners sell products to consumers and a lot of them are millennials. So, we have a lot of younger people we’re trying to establish a connection with. To us, the most important way to connect is to be authentic.

To do that, we use brand ambassadors and influencers that are authentic for our audience. If it’s aligned well with our brand, then it is cohesive and genuine. If you’re faking it, people can tell and the experience will not work at all. Every single brand experience is different because it has to be tailored for each specific audience if you expect to make a true emotional connection.

Before the event, we go out and survey our intended audience. We find out what they’re interested in right now, how that’s changed in the last year, and what topics they’re interested in talking about in the present. We track the trends so we can get to know them better and understand what they’re looking for, so we can tailor an event just for them.

Q: What are some trends you see right now that marketers should capitalize on?

JCB: One major trend I’ve seen is the blending of the physical with the digital at events. People used to think that virtual events were the way of the future, but that’s simply not the case. People want to come together face to face.

We have found, however, that you can easily amplify the face-to-face experience with digital technology. We use mobile apps as well as social media platforms so we can connect with them before they even arrive. It needs to be relevant communication, but on platforms our audience wants to use — otherwise, they won’t engage.

This approach seems to fit in perfectly with what people experience in both their personal and work lives. How we communicate, the kind of subjects we’re talking about, and how we’re engaging with our audience is very reflective of the blend between the work and the personal. And that leads to the second trend I see, which is a sort of consumerization of business-to-business events.

As event attendees, we expect to have a more consumer experience. The challenge as an event marketer is to find a way to make that work that’s relevant to both the business story and the engaging personal experience we expect. I’ve noticed how we structure content and format events has really been impacted by these two interconnected trends.

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Q: Where do you see the future of our industry heading?

JCB: Our industry is at a really interesting point. I think we have an amazing opportunity to blend both the physical and digital aspects of an event that we’ve not had before. The internet and use of digital technology have given us the ability to provide so many different experiences and I’m really interested to see how VR and AR technology start to contribute to storytelling in a meaningful way. 

I also think we have a fantastic opportunity to bring people together, share ideas, share common visions, and share content. Events are a really special way to advance companies, ideas, and communities. I’m very excited to be in the industry right now and I can only imagine what the next 10 or 20 years will bring. I really want to be a part of shaping that.

Q: How are you planning the storytelling of HP for that future?

JCB: It’s incredible to be at HP and listen to the geniuses that work in our labs because they truly look at things 10, 20, and even 25 years ahead of time. When I go to visit the labs, I get inspired by all the progress, imagination, and engineering that goes into creating a better world for the future. A lot of it is understanding how we harness the ability to tell the HP story — a story that’s relevant now and in the years ahead. The deep innovation that is HP gives us the ability to tell their stories in a genuine and exciting way.

Thank you so much for speaking with us today! We can’t wait to see the stories HP has to tell in the future!

JCB: Thank you so much — I’m excited too!

For more on industry trends, download our Freeman Trend Lab report.

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