March 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March 2002 Current Issue
March 2002 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Louise M. Felsher, CMM, CMP


“Experience branding” gets the message across and reinforces the power of meetings

Times change. Yesterday’s definition of “brand” was how a consumer identifies a product, service or company. Today it means the complete sensory experience that represents a product, service or company.

While few planners carry brand management titles, the need to brand events properly has become a strategic must. In fact, the level of clarity and faithfulness in promoting a product’s or company’s image can determine a program’s return on investment.

One way to inject image into the event and to draw out results is through “experience branding” creating activities that relate to the brand. For instance, the premiere party for the movie Legally Blonde offered attendees makeovers, manicures and chances to model blonde wigs.

ROI questions to ask after such events include: How did the stakeholders react from first point of contact to last? How do they now feel about the firm or product? How was the bottom line affected? Data can be collected via survey and/or measured by participant behavior.

Whether consciously or not, planners inject experience into brands simply by the nature of their profession. This imparts enormous power, since planners generally are the first and last either to determine or execute participants’ experiences.

Most importantly, planners often represent the only live marketing source influencing the different channels the Web, advertising, PR, direct mail needed to promote the event and support a brand. And even though an event may be live, the total experience is made up of contributions from all the promotional channels, each eliciting different experiences for everyone involved.

Prior to completing an outline of an event’s goals and settling into the nitty-gritty details, planners must understand their organization’s brand strategies. Are there sub-brands (i.e. Mars Inc. vs. its individual products, such as M&Ms, Twix and Uncle Ben’s rice)? Are there specific campaigns for new products or strategic partnership brands that can be incorporated into the event?

Branding strategy is equally important to associations. For instance, at its annual meeting in January, the Professional Convention Management Association introduced a new logo as a way to strengthen its identity.

After determining all the points of contact for participants, planners should communicate the same message through them all. Branding particularly experience branding must be meticulously orchestrated and consistent. The more each point of contact sticks to the strategic plans and is leveraged off the others, the more impact it will have.

How should the participant feel when opening the invitation? Will it invoke or complement the reactions from the Web site? How will the follow-up be handled? What will attendees feel when they arrive at the event? Will the last point of contact be as powerful as the first?

At the event itself, the most memorable experiences include all the senses. In addition to integrating the details of the site, signage, registration, seating, etc., keep in mind some tricks others have used to elicit a desired response from an audience.

The faint scent of vanilla was pumped into a highly successful pharmaceutical launch last year.

David Letterman keeps the temperature very cold in his studio to keep his audience animated.

A top software firm plays only baby boomer music during event breaks. Thanks to lots of over-40 customers, sentimentality is part of the company’s branding strategy.

Louise M. Felsher, CMM, CMP, is a free-lance strategic marketing consultant in Northern California’s Silicon Valley.

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