When it comes to event branding, Sarah Miller, event designer for Caplan Miller Events in Austin, says she sees three key trends. The first: Clients are asking planners to come up with new and innovative branding ideas for every event. “All clients are now asking, ‘What’s a creative way we can incorporate our brand that people haven’t seen before, and that makes us look innovative and new?’” Miller says.
The second: Clients are more aware of the importance of branding in events than ever before, she says.
“Clients are more mindful than ever of the placement of their brand and how the placement of branding at an event represents them,” Miller says.
Finally, it’s important that the branding makes sense to guests, Miller says. “What we’re seeing is people want branding that’s highly visible, but still done in a way that feels natural and authentic.”
With rising guest and client expectations, the pressure is on meeting and event planners to leverage event design, collateral and social media to achieve the client’s goals in fun and unique ways. Thankfully, planners also have more tools than ever before to execute creative branding ideas.
Texas event planners share some of their favorite branding ideas from recent events. Along with tips and advice for thinking outside the box, these planners also share how they are leveraging traditional go-to event elements to help guests and clients walk away happy.
CONNECTING WITH COMPANY CULTURE
When developing unique event branding design for her clients, Miller says her team’s inspiration first comes from the company.
For a recent event for Aston Martin, Miller says her team used the inspiration of the company’s European brand to design the event like a European flower market. Caplan Miller then decaled the wrapping for the flowers with the Aston Martin logo. The decaled floral wrapping fit with the client’s desire to subtly incorporate branding, while the flower market was a nod to the company’s European roots.
Miller says her team also draws inspiration from the event venue and location to come up with unique branding ideas.
“For Aston Martin, it was going for more of a European feel and where they originate from,” Miller says. “For a beach event, are we branding sunglasses? For an event in Austin, are we going to do a mezcal tasting? Are we branding cactus paddles or tasting cups?”
Considering company culture and the personality of the company’s CEO can also spark some fun event branding ideas, says Cindy Lo, DMCP, president and event strategist at Red Velvet Events in Austin. For clients with a fun-loving leadership team, Lo has printed a Big Head of the CEO (a Big Head is a blown-up cut-out of a person’s face).
For an event featuring another fun-loving guest of honor, Lo says her team made custom pillows featuring the honoree making different facial expressions in the fashion of emojis, including puzzled, surprised and scared. The pillows were then placed throughout the event.
“People loved it, because they knew the guest of honor couldn’t be with them at every photo opportunity,” Lo says.
To let company culture guide event design, Lo asks clients for their corporate branding guidelines. If the company is local, she asks to see their offices. She then asks multiple people what a typical day is like in the office. “The more views you have, the better,” Lo says.
By understanding the goals and objectives of the client, along with their corporate culture, planners can better incorporate the unique aspects of their clients into their events, she says. “If I’m a company that wants to show off a technology, can we use the technology to show it off?” Lo says. “If the client is a creative agency, can we create a creative environment to take photos and share them on social media?”
IDEAS FOR BRANDING IN HIGHLY VISIBLE AND SUBTLE WAYS
Since clients will have varying expectations as to how visible their brand is at an event, it’s important to understand their expectations as soon as planning begins.
For a company that wanted its branding to be highly visible, Rebecca Hackl, president of Trifecta Event Management, designed branded elements that took to the air. Hackl featured the branding of a homebuilder on tethered hot air balloons placed around a subdivision. The event also featured skyscraper balloons. “Everyone knew where the event was located,” Hackl says. “You could see the event for miles.”
At another event, Hackl and her team designed 50-foot-by-10-foot branded banners that greeted guests when they arrived. “We really want to showcase that branding as soon as they step out of their car or bus, and keep the branding going at every step,” Hackl says.
Custom lanyards for name badges served two purposes: they were unique and also helped event staff know the level of access each guest had to the event.
Hackl and her team also wrapped the company’s logo and imagery around a 24-foot-by24-foot bar during a reception.
“It’s not that you have to do a lot of branding, as long as you have the signature statements where people are reminded where they are and why they’re there,” Hackl says.
Though some clients may want their branding to be front and center, other clients specifically request for their brand to be incorporated in more subtle ways.
Lo has accomplished this by incorporating a company’s brand colors into an event in unique and surprising ways. A company that used purple as one of its key brand colors was distributing hoodies to guests. Playing off of the purple, Lo and her team swapped out the hoodies’ original cinch ties with purple cinch ties.
“It subtly hints to the brand without having to say the brand name,” Lo says.
Lo has also played off the animal in a company’s logo or distinctly used the first letter of a company’s name in the event design.
Miller has used items from food to décor to subtly show off the event or company brand.
“We have incorporated branding subtly in carving pumpkins, in coffee foam, on a cookie or using pillows in event lounges,” says Miller, who has also incorporated branding into a champagne tower. She recommends placing logos onto glasses or adding branded trinkets to champagne glasses for a subtle touch.
When considering unique ways to incorporate branding, Lo recommends thoughtful planning. “You have to take all of the elements and tie them together,” she says. “The elements have to be consciously thought out. We walk the space to see where we can weave details in.”
Hackl also suggests making branding considerations one of the first things you tackle on a new project. “Don’t wait to create the branding of the event halfway through the planning process,” Hackl says. “Don’t ever put any collateral out there until the branding has been created. It could be a sponsorship deck, a fact sheet—even if it’s going to a committee, the branding has to be established.”
Hackl says that the save the date or invitation for the event needs to set the style and tone for the event, and capture an event’s branding so it can create anticipation leading up to the event.
Then, when guests arrive at the event, the branding can continue at every step of the event.
EXECUTING OUTSIDE-THE-BOX IDEAS
With event branding getting bigger and more engaging, planners may need to negotiate with venues as they hope to try something new.
This was the case when the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas recently worked with the National Rifle Association; the NRA wanted to use large exterior areas of the center that were not normally reserved for branding.
“We met with their decorators immediately to determine ways to create these new spaces and even tested several substrates to ensure the materials would not damage the building,” says C.C. Gonzalez-Kurz, marketing communications manager at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
After working with the National Rifle Association, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center is now updating its offerings to expand the use of exterior spaces to other clients. The convention center is also working with another client to project several light art installations onto the building.
“The process allowed us to consider additional spaces, and now we are in the process of updating our Sponsorship Guide so that future clients can also benefit from these new advertising/sponsorship opportunities,” says Gonzalez-Kurz.
Coming up with outside-the-box ideas can become difficult with budget or space constraints. However, Lo asks her team to consider the full possibilities before moving forward with an idea. When members of her team come forward with outside-the-box ideas, Lo asks that they first sleep on the idea. She then asks them if money and time were no object, what else would they do?
“When you first hear a budget, it often times makes us freeze in our position,” Lo says. “We trap ourselves and don’t allow ourselves to think bigger. However, if you consider it, thinking time and money were no object, that’s where creative ideas come from.”
Some of Lo’s favorite outside-the-box ideas for corporate branding both took place at South by Southwest. One company created a photo opportunity for guests to take a photo on Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” à la her music video. Another company offered an opportunity for guests to take a photo with Grumpy Cat.
“South by Southwest is so noisy,” Lo says. “You have to do something really clever to get people’s attention.”
As in the case with Grumpy Cat, companies can take notice for what is trending and play off of it. “The line was out the door to take a photo with Grumpy Cat,” Lo says.
SHARING ON SOCIAL MEDIA
It’s important to know the demographics of your group and which social media platforms, if any, are most widely used. For guests likely to be posting during the event, planners continue to play with branding opportunities like Snapchat and Instagram filters.
Interactive photo backdrops continue to be hot. “We used to see one per event,” Gonzalez-Kurz says. “Clients are activating several interactive photo backdrops to maximize event promotion via social media.”
The traditional step and repeat also continues to be popular. However, there are some unique ways to use a step and repeat to make the typical photo stand out.
“We have worked brands into a hedge wall or a flower wall,” Miller says. “You can put the brand on Lucite and attach that to a hedge wall.”
Regardless of your unique social media idea, Lo recommends keeping a few things in mind. Putting together a photo-worthy focal point won’t be effective unless the venue has strong Wi-Fi to support all of your guests, she says. “Guests want to be satisfied and see their image right away,” Lo says. “If you don’t have the Internet, you better have a hot spot.”
Lo also points out that international guests may not have data plans to post during an event and may be relying entirely on Wi-Fi. Spotty service will mean that international guests will need to wait until they get back to their hotels to post photos, if they remember to do so at all.
BALLOONS ARE MAKING A COMEBACK
Balloons are again en vogue. Due to the worldwide helium shortage, many companies are staying away from filling balloons with helium, though. “The price rises and falls, so you can’t really budget accordingly if you’re doing a big balloon installation,” says Sarah Miller, event designer for Caplan Miller Events.
Instead, many planners are designing balloon structures that don’t need to float. Miller points to trend-starter Geronimo Balloons, which built structures of thousands of balloons that spill over a building face.
“Everyone wants to have that photo op,” Miller says. “A large installation over a doorway can use a logo or a design that represents the brand through its colors.”
Cindy Lo, DMCP, president and event strategist at Red Velvet Events, recommends using the balloons as another opportunity to subtly incorporate branding. She designs balloon sculptures in the company colors, sometimes with an ombré effect.