It’s easy as meeting and event planners to get wrapped up in the logistics of a meeting, all the nitty-gritty. Instead of getting too laser-focused on the “what,” a recent report by AMEX Meetings & Events “Focus on the Why: How Branding Principles Can Guide Your Event Design” emphasizes the importance of also thinking like a marketer.
To dive a little deeper into the topic, Colorado Meetings + Events sought out two industry pros in the state and looked at the ILEA Live 2018 conference held in Denver.
PLUG INTO PERSONALITY
When working with clients, Greenwood Village-based Andavo Meetings & Incentives approaches it from “a goal-oriented standpoint,” says Creative Director Victoria Rosenblatt. “We look at the ultimate goal of the event and build something to fit that.”
A big part of that is integrating a brand. “The personality of a client can come through in the activations they choose, such as food and beverage,” she says. Planners have started enlisting the talents of coffee artists and pastry chefs to incorporate logos and themes on coffee, pastries and macaroons for example. “These are the memorable experiences versus necessary ones; it’s gone from cocktail napkins to food branding.”
Andavo Meetings & Incentives is working with a DJ group in Los Angeles that is hosting its first-ever conference. The client does not want it to feel like a “normal” conference but instead be “playful and capture the personalities and creativity of the attendees.” In place of big, blocky name badges on lanyards, identification will be QR temporary tattoos that can be scanned with the event app, encouraging interaction while building in the event branding.
A telecommunications company that Andavo worked with a few years ago has a brand that is known for being a little loud and carefree. To get their conference going at the early hour of 8 a.m., Andavo booked a DJ so there was “music instead of coffee waking people up,” Rosenblatt says. Plus, branded sunglasses and boas were handed out. “We injected energy into something that can be mundane and tied into the company’s brand personality.”
Another client wanted one key visual piece for a large prefunction area that would prompt attendees to take photos and post them on Instagram. Andavo designed a huge photo wall made out of boxes that were 2.5-feet tall and printed with different designs on each side, so that they could be switched around throughout the gathering. One side had logos and another side featured images of mountains to inspire. “It was budget-friendly and surprising,” she says. “Find opportunities for décor to be used in a couple different ways.”
On the higher end side of things, she is drawn to bringing technology into event branding, especially video mapping and augmented reality. A 3D hologram of a CEO thanking people for participating distributed through an event app is sure to surprise, and clear Lucite tables combined with video mapping can be an interesting alternative to tablecloths and centerpieces. “The images can change while guests are sitting there and go from a logo to an art piece when talking about creativity to little bulldozers when talking about construction,” she proposes.
KNOW YOUR BRAND
The International Live Events Association chose Denver as the destination for its 2018 annual conference, ILEA Live, held at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel from Aug. 16-18. The graphic identity for the meeting changes every year but always falls under the brand umbrella that “ILEA Live is about the business of experiential creativity,” explains ILEA Marketing and Communications Manager Ande Leslie.
“When coming up for look for the 2018 conference, we wanted something that reflected ILEA’s personality: fun, creative, values relationships, thinking outside of box,” she says. The resulting logo and associated graphics were colorful and lighthearted and “embraced who we are versus destination-based marketing,” adds Leslie, noting that they looked for any way possible to tie the look into the conference such as the website, event app, videos, speaker presentations, signage and more. The graphics also spilled over into social media with Facebook profile photo frames, Facebook live stream videos and Snapchat filters.
“We really tried to take a holistic approach in carrying out the theme with pre-event and on-site marketing,” Leslie says.
ILEA’s overall brand was the driving force for educational tracks and the overall experience for 505 attendees. Keynote speakers were from parallel industries and discussed how their business principles cross over into the event world. “One was from an architectural company, and he talked about their work and forced attendees to think outside the box. ILEA Live is different than other conferences where you expect speakers to be specific to a topic or industry,” says ILEA Live Event Manager Shannon Cavanaugh.
Another was William Espey, a brand visionary for Chipotle Mexican Grill, who encouraged event professionals to create a complete brand experience that captivates customers and leaves them craving more.
“Your event is a product of who you are. Branding is really important for products, services and events. This year we were really able to embrace that and communicate that this is the international conference of ILEA, who we are in the industry and what that means,” Leslie emphasizes.
The conference planning team shared the branding approach with the local volunteer committee made up of ILEA Denver members, sponsors and vendors for décor, A/V and signage to ensure all elements of the event had a consistent feel. “When choosing vendors, make sure they understand your vision and the best way to achieve that vision in all areas,” Leslie says. For example, in the Tech Hub, Cloud Touch had large, freestanding kiosks that integrated the conference branding, and A Custom Look Events showcased its stationary and portable photo booths, taking digital photos that were emailed to attendees with an ILEA Live frame.
The graphic identity for 2018 ILEA Live launched in December 2017. “People liked the colorful and fun approach versus the location marketing done in 2016 and 2017. That’s how we came up with the merchandise piece, deciding to test drive some merchandise featuring the 2018 look,” Leslie says.
However, the destination was clearly woven into the messaging and itinerary to get people excited about visiting Denver and Colorado, with the opening reception held at History Colorado Center downtown. Upon arriving at the opening reception, attendees received a branded menu guiding them through a culinary adventure with three food areas highlighting skiing and the Rocky Mountains, Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the music scene, and the artsy River North Arts District.
“I think the look was really successful,” says Leslie, adding that the conference planning team will replicate the approach for ILEA Live 2019 scheduled for Aug. 8-10 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Cavanaugh agrees: “We were able to nail it this year with what we were able to accomplish.”
AN EMOTIONAL CONNECTION
Colorado Springs-based Forté Events Inc. brands every event, from nonprofit fundraisers to corporate training programs. “For example, when we have done nonprofit events, we look for an idea to brand the event so that over time people know that the idea/concept is that nonprofit,” says CEO Tami Forero. “An internal event for a corporation is harder because people have to go … they are more jaded because they already have lots going on personally and professionally."
Several years ago, Forté Events was hired multiple times by a Denver nonprofit to help with a fundraising event that had lost attendees and money. “They are a mental health organization that is not a name brand, so they felt they had a few hurdles to overcome. One, it can be difficult to make a mental health event fun or sexy and two, they compete with more known organizations for attendees and dollars in Denver,” she explains. “They were doing a comedy-themed event called Laugh Out Loud that had some big planning flaws, but we liked the idea overall. We just wanted to do it better and make comedy events synonymous with their organization ... branded.”
The Forté Events team put the Laugh Out Loud theme on steroids and created a unique theme under that same brand each year to keep the comedy idea fresh. “For example, the first year the theme was A Carnival of Classic Comedy (The 3 Stooges, Lucille Ball, Groucho Marx, etc.), which was a big hit with lots of attendees and sponsors. The next year was British comedy and included participation from the British Consulate in Denver,” Forero shares. “We used lots of specific branding techniques to ensure this client owned comedy-themed fundraising events in Denver, and it worked.”
From the start, Forero knew that everything related to Laugh Out Loud had to be “super branded” and have the same look, from the save the date, invite, sponsorship kits, website, social media and décor. A Carnival of Classic Comedy was held at Comedy Works South at the Landmark, with all three floors featuring carnival-style décor. Upon arrival, guests were greeted by actors portraying comedians, received buttons and Groucho Marx glasses instead of the usual nametag, could grab a bite to eat from containers filled with popcorn and themed snacks, and enjoy their first cocktail in a freight elevator bar.
The results? More than 300 showed up for A Carnival of Classic Comedy, and Forero attributes the stellar turnaround to solid branding and the nonprofit’s hard work to re-energize the event’s sponsorship outreach.
The corporate side of meeting and event branding can be tougher, she says, but providing good communication on the front end and delivering when attendees get there is key. And, don’t forget that corporate groups also like creative themes.
Forté Events organized a leadership excellence training series for Conagra Foods that featured three modules and three meeting locations in three different states. “We had to do a lot of branding and pump people up,” Forero shares.
For the Colorado Springs session, a natural location was the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and the theme (Leading Others) plugged into sports. The coaches and athletes helped participants consider what a “corporate athlete” looks like and how to build stronger teams. “While here, everything was about the athlete, nutrition, psychology, world-class athletes and coaches, budget, and how to build the best team but in the corporate sense,” Forero says. “At the Olympic Training Center, we find that leaders will have an epiphany about themselves and want to go back and be a better leaders.”
The Omaha session was held at the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum and focused on the theme of Leading Self. “We talked about leadership in different ways. With each program we had to brand differently to make it understood what they were going to learn,” Forero explains.
“If we are the creative industry, branding shouldn’t be hard. We should be a bunch of Elon Musks running around changing the world or we’ll be just logistics people; we need to rise up. There needs to be an emotional connection,” she emphasizes. “As an industry, we have so much to look forward to and create, and that includes branding. Here’s what it is going to feel, look and smell like … We have to sell and produce that.”
PINPOINTING THE “WHY” OF A GATHERING
To successfully brand an event, planners first must understand the why, according to AMEX Meetings & Events’ report “Focus on the Why: How Branding Principles Can Guide Your Event Design.” Here are the three recommended steps for implementation.
Identify the Desired Outcomes – Why are you having this event?
» Determine the objectives.
» Define desired behavior change.
» Describe measurable and intangible goals.
Get to Know Your Participants– How do you want them to feel?
» Understand how attendees will connect with the why.
» Utilize the attendee demographic information you have on hand.
» Dig deeper into the emotional and creative aspects.
» Utilize mood boards, word sheets and pre-event surveys.
Choose the Functional Attributes– What will bring the experience to life?
» Consider the elements that are needed to meet the objectives, from invitations and registration to the on-site experience.
» Think through the wow elements that create the emotion of an event.
» Pre- and post-event efforts are just as important as what happens on-site.
MEETING & EVENT BRANDING TIPS
Victoria Rosenblatt, Andavo Meetings & Incentives
» Step back and visualize the meeting or event from an attendee experience. What would I want to see? Would signage help me?
» Make branded décor items multipurpose.
» Sometimes planners are so focused on the event itself that the prehype excitement is forgotten about. Nudging and reminding that this really great event is coming up can be really special. Send invitations to a mystery dinner that are scratch cards and require special glasses to read.
Ande Leslie, International Live Events Association
» In 2018, we worked really well with our vendors to be on same page with what we were trying to accomplish.
» It really is about collaboration and a process. As new sponsors pop up, how can we work with them? Locals help make the location come alive Along with the sponsors and vendors, it forms a creative circle.
» Define the goals and responsibilities of staff and volunteers. It took out a lot of the confusion about who was doing what when.
Tami Forero, Forté Events
» For nonprofits, don’t go too heavy on mission and why people should support the cause in the pre-stages of event branding, instead focus on the reason this is a cool event and why people should attend. At the event, go heavier on message and mission.
» An event branding idea has to help solve a problem (e.g., boring training, fundraising, press coverage, encourage employees). We can’t fix a problem in one event, but we can help people see what is possible.
» On the sales side, come up with a branding idea; go online to find photos for color, entertainment, type of venue, food, speakers, etc. to give your client a visual idea. Then, verbally describe how and why it will work and the emotions that will be evoked.