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As events compete with an increasing number of marketing mediums (print, web, email, social media, direct mail, online ads, mobile marketing, etc.), getting the attention of potential attendees can feel like a Herculean task.
A surprising number of show managers don’t realize they have a potential secret weapon — one that will do some impressively heavy lifting when it comes to drawing interest and attendees.
“Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room.” - Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Associations and trade show managers often don’t think branding should be one of their big priorities. After all, by their very nature, associations tend to be mission-driven.
And that’s exactly why show branding is important: A show’s brand should be a major determinant of who the show attracts.
During a recent Freeman Brand Experience Lab (BEL) thought leadership and learning event, Daniella Smith from the American College of Cardiology (ACC) made a crucial point about branding: “A brand is not necessarily visual, it’s a promise of an experience.”
Essentially, a brand helps connect the attendee’s needs and expectations with the event itself. It sets the tone for the show. It lets attendees know that this is exactly what they’re looking for.
Picture an educational medical conference whose website uses modern slang and plenty of gifs. While trendy, this branding might be more appropriate for a trade show geared toward social media influencers rather than scientists and doctors.
Some trade shows rely on destination marketing, letting the local attractions and atmosphere entice attendees. But what if a successful Boston-based show markets itself around Beantown attractions, then wants to add a west coast version of the show?
The key is to combine an appealing locale with an irresistible show brand and targeted messaging. Do that, and attendees will be halfway to buying their ticket before they even read the program.
To develop a brand that promises an experience, show managers need to consider:
With both sets of goals in mind, show managers can use this simple three-step process to develop an event brand that delivers against their needs.
At the Freeman Brand Experience Lab, Shauna Peters from mdg (A Freeman Company) emphasized the importance of performing primary and secondary research to gather data on an event’s audience. Show managers need to know exactly who their attendees (and desired attendees) are before they can know what branding will appeal to them.
Engage in a brainstorming session, with no ideas off the table.
The team at ACC did a “wallpapering session” where team members wrote down ideas on stickies and literally wallpapered the room. From there, they examined the ideas and determined which ones cut through the clutter and felt most authentic to the show promise and their audience’s needs.
While it’s not necessary (but certainly can be fun) to wallpaper a room, this exercise demonstrates the importance of smashing barriers during the creative process, encouraging fresh thinking, and letting every idea receive consideration.
Once the team settles on a single idea that makes the show stand out, it’s time to decide what to say about it and how to say it. To create a compelling brand narrative, show managers need to look at what distinguishes their show and how best to encapsulate the value it brings to attendees. This is your show brand promise.
Keeping with our example from earlier, if the educational medical conference stands out for showcasing cutting-edge research, the narrative could focus on bringing together great minds to discuss world-changing ideas, providing attendees with fresh inspiration and excitement about their industry.
As Maureen Varnon and the team at American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) explained at the Freeman Brand Experience Lab, this process led to a new narrative that focused on storytelling around their relationships with surgeons and the value and emotional benefits attendees get out of the show.
Once the narrative is cohesive and clear, it becomes the theme for every other brand-related decision. It’s important for show organizers to spend time on this or work with experts like the strategists at Freeman if needed.
Using the brand narrative as a guide, the team can then develop a visual identity to convey the brand to their audience. Logo, color palettes, tone, taglines, boilerplate text, imagery, creative assets — it should all work together across all show materials and assets, in a cohesive brand message telling audiences exactly what the show’s “promise of an experience” is.
Working with the expert creative directors and graphic designers at Freeman can help show managers visually interpret a brand narrative into compelling and complementary visuals.
Once a show has its new brand, it should be used consistently across all mediums both digital and physical, to cement it in the eyes and minds of attendees.
It is also critically important to ensure that the brand’s promise is kept by aligning the show content with the new branding. So, back to our educational medical conference example: if the brand promise is around cutting-edge research, it’s crucial to make sure the show delivers on that promise. Otherwise, attendees will experience a disconnect and disappointment.
A brand promise is only valuable if it is kept.
Creating an event brand that draws attendees is more than colors and font choices. It takes time, effort, research, coordination, and expertise to do well. If all of those elements are provided, the show brand can lift a show above its competitors, staying in the minds and hearts of its attendees season after season.
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