How to Brand Your Meetings and Events
By Catherine Kaputa
“All the world’s a stage,” goes the Bard’s familiar refrain. And in the business world, events are the primary stage on which one “performs.” Smart events organizers as well as celebrity executives and entertainers all understand what it takes to be in control of a public event. And how a company performs on the event stage can make or break the corporate brand, just as a person’s performance in giving a keynote or other talk will brand them as either a star or an understudy.
So how do you create a breakthrough event that enhances your event’s brand image? And that everyone enjoys attending to boot? The secret that savvy events planners are using is the branding playbook - apply branding strategies and principles from the commercial world to create a breakthrough event. Here are some of the ideas from my book, U R A BRAND! How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success, that show you how to create a branded event.
1. Name the event. Does your event have a great name? A good name is a valuable asset. From a branding perspective, the most crucial decision is the name of the product. A great name can practically make a brand. In some cases, the only difference between two products is the name. You need to come up with a name for your event that is memorable and conveys the idea of the event.
2. Create a tagline. Taglines are memory magnets. A key part of a brand’s verbal identity is the brand’s tagline. You’ll want to create a punchy expression of your idea that sticks in the mind and connects emotionally with the audience. Think of Nike’s “Just do it” or McDonald’s “I’m loving it.” Short taglines are best. Aim to convey the key differentiating ideas about your event.
3. Commission a logo for the event. Most companies and causes have a logo. Now, often a special logo is designed for important corporate events. A logo may seem like a small thing, but it is a very big thing in the impact it has to a brand. Logos like the Nike swoosh, Coke’s wave or the Olympic’s interlocking rings are as familiar as the names of the products or the event. Use the visual “mark” – the graphic of the logo to convey an important “idea” about the event. In the early 1980’s I worked on the “I Love New York” tourism campaign. Milton Glaser designed the “I (heart) NY” logo using a symbol – a heart – instead of the word “love.” It was so novel at the time of its creation and so widely understood that it immediately took on a global life of its own. The logo was a powerful symbol of the emotional attraction people felt to New York City and was an instrumental part of the campaign’s success.
4. Create a trademark element for your event. Come up with a signature element for your event that will be talked about and become a trademark of the meeting. At the State of the Union Address, the president acknowledges everyday American heroes who are present in the audience. It’s become a branded element of the State of the Union address. You can get a lot of ideas from successful TV shows all of which have branded elements and were put together by staffs adept at branding. Look at Donald Trump’s Apprentice and his signature line, “You’re fired.” Then there’s the trademark scene of the fired individual getting in the elevator at Trump Tower and wheeling a suitcase through the big gilded doors out into the “ordinary world.” All of these are branded elements of the show that differentiate it from other shows and brand it in the mind of the audience.
5. Think in terms of engaging the audience. In the branding model, marketers think of appealing to the target audience. They begin by thinking of what impression they want to make with the audience and how they want them to react. Then they plan the “content” of the brand message based on the target audience feedback. Often marketers go to great lengths to visualize themselves as a typical member of the target audience. The technique of becoming the audience is a great device for you to use as well in planning an event because it will help you figure out how to plan the event, what messages are needed and how to say them.
6. Create a sense of exclusivity. Just as there is a hierarchy of brands, there is a hierarchy of events. The most successful events and meetings are not only talked about, but people vie to attend them. Just as people fight to get the hot new designer handbags that are produced in small quantities to create a sense of scarcity. At the pinnacle of meetings in the business world is the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland which attracts top chief executives and heads of state from around the world, not mention celebrities like Bono and Angelina Jolie. You’ll want to create the sense that your event is a “must attend” that not just anyone can attend as well.
7. Add the celebrity touch. The celebrity endorsement is a well-known standby in the advertising business. Look at how Paul Newman sells spaghetti sauce and popcorn! The touch of a highly-visible celebrity can jump start demand and interest for a meeting or corporate event. Celebrities give you instant visibility and help draw big crowds. You’ll want to choose a celebrity though who is compatible with your corporate brand.
8. Create a branded experience. Everything – invitations, logo, venue, speakers, decorations, posters, room gifts, special invitees – conveys meaning, so use everything to your advantage. What you want to do is burn in a single-minded brand identity at every tough point, producing a consistent brand experience. Think of the ways smart retailers create a branded experience like Niketown, American Girl or Victoria’s Secret. Everything – the products, the store exterior and interior design, the location, the sales people – all complement each other to covey a distinct and unified brand message. What you don’t want to do is send confusing messages. That will undercut all your branding efforts. Branders must always be prepared to give up a design or idea or meeting element that could be confused with that of a competitor. What you want is a total brand experience that’s consistent and powerful – that’s your event and right for your company.
So when you plan your next event, take advantage of branding principles – harness the power of visual identity and verbal identity to build your company’s brand into the meeting. Your reward will be a successful meeting that gets talked about – that becomes an important element of your company’s brand.
Catherine Kaputa is a marketing consultant, speaker and founder of a New York City brand strategy company that works on marketing projects for companies, products and people (www.catherinekaputa.com). She is the author of U R A BRAND! How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success www.urabrand.com. For personal branding tips, visit www.selfbrand.com.