by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | December 01, 2015
(Pictured) Attendees gathered for a presentation at the Hub Stage at the Direct Marketing Association's rebranded annual show, now called &THEN, held in October in Boston.
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When London-based consultancy Brand Finance unveiled its annual ranking of the world's most powerful brands this past February, a surprise winner emerged. Lego, the Danish toy maker of colorful plastic blocks, was crowned best brand in the world, knocking the reigning champion, Italian automaker Ferrari, off its pedestal.

How this 83-year-old, family-owned company outmaneuvered high-profile global firms like Nike, Red Bull and Rolex is a testament to its strong brand identity and ability to evolve in a dynamic and competitive marketplace. According to trade organization Brand Identity, Lego hit all the right branding buttons in key factors such as consumer familiarity, loyalty, promotion, staff satisfaction and reputation.

Meetings and events, too, can live or die by the effectiveness of their branding. Planners can take a few lessons from the effective strategies of experts, as well as brand-savvy peers.

The power of branding 
When thousands of people gather in a space, the atmosphere has to be just right. Visuals, lighting, sounds and colors all should create an excitement that makes attendees feel they made the right choice to spend the time, money and effort to be there. But branding efforts should begin in the initial planning stages of the event.

Even then, an eye-popping logo, a cool name and a killer website are not the sum total of what it takes to create a brand for any professional event, says Matthew Shaw, co-founder of London-based branding and web-design agency Shaw + Skerm. The agency is the branding brains behind many of London's most high-profile professional campaigns and events, including Go/Fence, from British Fencing, which wants to shift people's perceptions of the sport as elitist, and Cloudforce, San Francisco-based's largest U.K. show, held annually at ExCeL London.

"Professional event branding is all about a joined-up approach, with every element of the event design complementing all others for maximum effect," says Shaw. Done well, he adds, it should be utterly seamless from entrance to exit. "The most important thing to remember is that branding isn't about creating a host of identical displays and stamping the same conveyor-belt design onto every banner and stall. It's about developing a strong, cohesive idea that echoes across the event."


Craft beverages and specialty
foods are new features of
the Texas Restaurant Association's
annual trade show

That includes the design of the trade-show floor itself, where every surface, corner and nook is an opportunity for attendees and exhibitors to connect and communicate. That concept drove the new layout for the Austin-based Texas Restaurant Association's rebranding of its annual two-day food-service trade show, which rotates between Dallas and Houston and attracts more than 700 exhibitors. In 2013, fresh from celebrating the event's 75th anniversary, the association's board of directors decided it was time to rebrand their venerable Southwest Foodservice Expo to keep up with a restaurant industry that had been gradually transforming from regional Tex-Mex player into a more sophisticated dining scene.


Food trucks were a highlight of
the Texas Restaurant Association's
re-imagined event.

The strategy: a new name -- the Texas Restaurant Association Marketplace -- and a completely redesigned show layout.

"It looked like a typical farmers' market, but with a very cool, bar-like atmosphere," says Wendy Woodland, vice president of marketing and communications for TRA. The show featured four distinct exhibitor areas: food trucks, a craft beverage garden, new restaurant technologies and Texas farm-to-fork specialty foods.

"The feedback we got from our attendees was they felt the show had so much new energy," says Woodland. "We definitely reached new exhibitors and got our audience talking. It's a very exciting time for us."