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May 12, 2008

THE POWER OF BRAND: Are your meetings and conferences harnessing it?

Although seen as part of the events industry, experiential marketing, where live experiences immerse customers in the values of a product or brand, is widely viewed as miles away from meetings and conference organising. In reality, both disciplines are creating an experience for an audience, and the more it engages with that audience the better.

What's more, in today’s highly competitive business environment, creating a strong brand experience at a meeting or conference for employees, distributors and other channels to market is just as important as doing this at an event aimed at external customers. After all, it is these key stakeholders who are invariably delivering the message about your product or service to the marketplace, and the more they understand the values of the product and brand, the more effectively they will do this. It also makes them feel a more valued part of your organisation, boosting motivation and, therefore, performance.

Any meeting or conference you hold, whether it's for clients, employees or those involved in delivering your product to customers, is an opportunity to get across key brand values that can help differentiate your company in the marketplace. Failure to do this means you're not using the event to the full and therefore not maximising return on investment.

Grasp the opportunity
“It is essential that a company’s brand is a key part of its events,” says Julian Pullan, managing director at live marketing agency Jack Morton Worldwide. “In fact, this should be essentially the driving force behind every event – to speak to your audience about your key messages, which are an expression of the brand. So any event that isn’t driven by the brand is a wasted opportunity.”

P&MM’s communication’s director Deborah Nightingale agrees, saying: “Lots of money these days is spent developing brands and products to give them differentiation in a crowded marketplace. Not carrying this through to live events is really missing an opportunity to imbue these values into the people who are going to be working on and delivering the brand to market.

“Staff, distributors and retailers all need to understand what the brand stands for or there can be a mismatch between what marketing messages say and how the service or product itself is actually delivered. Events are incredibly good at doing this as they present an opportunity for companies to get their employees and supporting delivery networks actually living the brand.

“Many employees spend their time working behind the scenes, particularly with specific business-to-business brands, and will have no experience of using the product or service. Therefore, an event can provide valuable education about what the product and its brand is all about, which can prove crucial when dealing with customers, even over the phone.”

A better return
Making sure there is strong brand delivery and consistency throughout internal events can also increase their effectiveness, and, therefore, generating more return on your spend. This is particularly a bonus in the current climate, when procurement professionals are counting every penny – and quite rightly so.

This point is made by Fiona Duffin, marketing and events executive at event management company Revelation, who not only believes that it ensures the right brand message is delivered into the marketplace, but also that sharing visions and values with your people makes them feel valued and key to the organisation.

“At an event, effective branding can make you immediately identifiable, it can help you communicate a consistent message into the marketplace,” she says. “A strong brand can also build loyalty, motivation and contribution.”

This often forgotten byproduct of getting your people on brand should not be underestimated at a time when, in many countries, finding the right skills is becoming increasingly difficult. What’s more, if a company builds a strong brand in the marketplace, but fails to deliver this effectively at an event, it will not be meeting its audience’s expectations, which can be demotivating internally and disappointing externally.

“By not utilising your company’s brand you run the risk of diluting your message,” says Duffin. “A brand can create expectations and if these are not fulfilled the person’s experience can be a negative one and this may reflect on the brand itself. Weak branding can result in weak positioning. If a brand is two dimensional, then an event is the third dimension of that brand. It is absolutely critical that the event is cohesive and true to the brand.”

Every touch-point counts
Delivering brand values effectively at an event requires planning from the outset, because every element should convey the right messages, from location and venue to the food and entertainment.

“It is imperative that the brand is expressed through every touch-point of the event,” says Jack Morton’s Pullan. “How it is expressed through every media should be considered, from the 2D and 3D design, through to the choice of medium to convey messages (whether that’s through speakers, debates, teambuilding exercises, presentations, film or digitally) and the choice of entertainment. The brand must be considered at every level.”

Managing director of global experience agency 2heads, agrees, also stressing the importance of not forgetting any supporting marketing activity, and making sure everything you do is appropriate to your audience.

“Each and every part of the environment can be used to deliver the brand, and we also place a lot of emphasis on the pre-event communication, as it gives the audience an understanding of what the event will deliver,” he says. “Importantly, understanding how people will move around the event is very useful as this represents different opportunities to engage with people, such as interactive displays near refreshment areas and guides. The use of space, lighting, sound and smell are also important, as they combine to create the right atmosphere at an event.

“The world of events is limitless in terms of what can be done,” he continues. “The clever part is making it effective, and this means researching audiences before the event, undertaking good qualitative, quantitative and post-event research. These will all demonstrate the benefits and the brand impact.”

From carving a valuable niche in the marketplace to building a loyal, well-trained and motivated workforce to deliver on your promise, the power of effective branding in today’s world economy cannot be overstated. And only events have the power to enable both external and internal audiences to truly live it!

Next week, find out how newly formed Middle Eastern company Zain successfully used four simultaneous conferences to unite its geographically dispersed divisions under a single brand and vision.

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