How Hard Could It Be to Build an Event Brand?

It shouldn’t be that hard, and yet I know that many of you have spent thousands of dollars going to conferences and workshops to learn what you think is the secret.

In fact, the secret equation is simple: The promise + delivery on the promise = an event brand.

The promise is whatever you tell the community you serve that you’re going to deliver to them with your event. 

What have you promised? Is it to deliver to sponsors and exhibitors the people they may want to do business with? Is it the information potential attendees can’t find anywhere else? Is it the chance to meet people with similar interests?

Whatever the promise is, deliver on it. Do what you said you would.

This is uppermost in my mind because of circumstances I have become aware of with two completely different event organizers in which they recently made a decision to not deliver on their promises at virtually the last minute. One of these cases could be considered unethical.

In the first case, an organizer decided a couple weeks out to cancel an off-site networking event that had been mentioned in marketing materials for months. Perhaps more egregiously, another organizer canceled the order for a branded lanyard when it was learned the sponsor would not be present and would not learn about it.

It may be these two different organizers get away with what they consider strategies to save some money on event expenses at the last minute, but what if they don’t?

What do their event brands become then?

The promise + delivery on the promise = an event brand.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

What Any Show Organizer Can Learn From SXSW’s Mistakes

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 10: <> on March 10, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic for HBO)

Huh? The organizers of SXSW make mistakes? Well, once in a while.

As the event that has become all things to all people wrapped up its 31st edition last week, Adweek asked its advisory board what it thought of one annual event that every show organizer wishes they had launched.

Interestingly, the advisory board’s consensus was that the event’s two greatest assets were inextricably linked to its two greatest faults. Their discussion might offer some wisdom for those of us whose event goals are a bit less ambitious.

First, the Adweek advisory board noted that, while SXSW offers attendees the opportunity to network across a wide cross-section of industries, the atmosphere is sometimes so chaotic it is logistically difficult to connect with specific individuals one may want to meet with.

One of the first impulses of anybody looking to grow a new show is to find new categories and interests that might not be central to the original purpose of the event. The rationale is that it gives more people and companies a reason to sign on. However, doing so too quickly can dilute the original community that gathered around the event in its earliest days and cause first-time attendees or exhibitors to say to themselves, whether it’s true or not, “I can’t find anybody I was hoping to meet here.”

Next, the group Adweek surveyed found that while SXSW remains an excellent venue for an established player to activate a new brand (like this year’s high-profile introduction of HBO’s Westworld), to some extent the event’s original desire to be the place to find next-generation innovations has dissipated. (Who remembers now that Twitter was introduced to the world at SXSW?)

If you’re running an event that, after a few years, is just starting to take its rightful place in the consciousness of the industry it serves, you’re thinking, “I want to be both the show where the biggest players introduce their new products AND the one where the newest start-ups can find their first big deal.”

But are you quite ready to pull that off yet? Maybe your confident answer is yes, but there will be trade-offs to consider.

Everybody wants their event to grow, but the key to doing it successfully is remembering why sponsors, exhibitors and attendees were so excited about what you were doing in the earliest years. Find new ways to serve more of those people successfully, and they’ll bring their peers and colleagues along with them.

Don’t ever put a long-time fan of your event in the situation where they look up from the showfloor one day and say, “I can’t see anybody that I care enough about to meet.”

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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How Tribalism Can Work for Your Event

We hear “tribalism” blamed for much of the political and cultural dysfunction in the world today – and probably rightly so.

By tribalism, I mean the attitude or behavior exhibited when loyalty to a certain social group represents a higher value than other values, i.e., truth, facts, what’s right for the country.

There are many explanations for why this drive toward tribalism is sweeping, not just the United States, but the entire world. Among them are the advent of social media and, with it, the accompanying ability to only receive messages that affirm your views and ignore those that contradict what you already believe.

However, a Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising report indicates a few truths associated with tribalism that could work to the event organizers’ advantage as they compete against other forms of marketing – if they are willing to change.

After surveying 28,000 Internet users in 56 countries, the report found that consumers trust recommendations from families and friends above all other forms of advertising. And 70 percent trust consumer opinions posted online by people they don’t know.

That is in contrast to the 29 percent who trust text ads on mobile phones, the 33 percent who trust online banner ads and the 40 percent who trust ads served in search engine results.

So, who would be the best person to promote your event – the blogger with a small but avid audience who has been to, trusts and loves your show, or the high-profile speaker you try so hard to get but for whom your show is just one of many he or she will speak at this year? The Nielsen report indicates it might be the former rather than the latter.

The Nielsen report, I think, has one more lesson for event organizers, this one dealing with conference content. I have been working with one fairly young – albeit so far successful – conference that adopted and stuck with a philosophy that conference speakers should be practitioners in the field itself rather than high-priced third-party experts, consultants or, heaven forbid, motivational speakers.

The attendees at the conference have spoken with their registration fees: They want to hear from people like themselves – whose experience they trust – as opposed to advice or sage wisdom from somebody with celebrity status but who is disconnected from their own profession.

Yes, it could be the world is becoming more tribal, but that might offer new opportunities to event organizers who have the courage to adopt new ways of doing things.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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Do You Have an Event Brand?

Last weekend I visited our local Whole Foods and saw some big changes underway: Temporary walls were placed around a large portion of the main floor with signs making it clear that renovations are underway behind those walls and that “The Amazon Store Is Coming!”

With its acquisition of Whole Foods, the company that started out a mere 23 years ago selling books online will now have a brick-and-mortar presence a mile or two from my house. This week, Amazon also announced a new technology it’s experimenting with that will allow them to enter your house when you’re not there to deliver packages in a secure place, all the while videotaping the visit for your safety.

In other words, the Amazon brand now permeates most parts of our lives as consumers. Can you say the same for your event and the lives of the people who might and should attend it?

Looking back, for Amazon it all started out so quietly. The online book seller took more than a decade before it was the technology disruptor that would destroy most of the book store chains once in existence.

Eventually, it would become one of the first companies to make cloud computing accessible to large numbers of small companies and now has its own branded apparel labels, snack foods, consumer electronics, television shows and movies.

Amazon has taken another step with this next phase, moving beyond online retailing, “back to the future” and an earlier era of retailing that involves personalized, face-to-face customer service with live employees in its own stores.

So, it has come full circle, from offering an alternative to the traditional book store, to practically destroying that entire business model, to a new version of the old-fashioned book store down the street.

Jeff Bezos is always looking for the next opportunity to extend the Amazon brand; this time, it just happens to be back to the past.

Let’s say you started out with a single trade show in 1994 and, even though you might not have known what you were talking about, you called it a brand. Twenty-two years later, how far have you extended that event brand?

There are ways to do it, starting today.

Jeff Bezos is no smarter than you and, if he can do it, so can you. Besides, if you don’t extend your event brand, and fast, somebody else will read this, do it for you, and make it their brand.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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Events Done the Nordstrom Way

For years, consultants have asked organizers about their events, “Do exhibitors buy space at your show because they want to take orders from customers, or because they feel “they have to be there”?

Today, many perceptive organizers would say, “Neither.”

Now, the booth on the showfloor is rarely the first point of contact between a buyer and seller. It has never been the last, and that is even more the case recently because of the habits we are picking up as consumers.

Why, attendees are asking, should the experience I have when I buy something for myself be that different from the experience I have when I make a purchase for my company? Consumer retailing is leading the way when it comes to how marketers use events.

Look at what Nordstrom – legendary for its customer service, known as the Nordstrom Way – is doing with the store it opened Oct. 3 in West Hollywood, Calif. Called Nordstrom Local, it takes up about 3,000 square feet, much smaller than more traditional Nordstrom department stores that span closer to 140,000 sq. ft.

It has plenty of dressing rooms, but very little inventory on display. Personal stylists are onsite to help shoppers digitally create their own unique “look.” Orders are delivered to customers’ homes later in the day. They can return them any time to the brick-and-mortar store, or they can come back to meet with tailors who will be available to make alterations.

While at Nordstrom Local, shoppers can enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of espresso at the in-store bar.

A recent study on brand experience by Freeman demonstrates that, just as retailers are changing the ways they connect with customers, companies are looking to events to accomplish different goals as well.

Freeman’s report concludes the events that can offer sponsors and exhibitors brand experiences are more valuable than traditional buyer-meets-seller events.

After interviewing more than 1,000 marketing executives around the world, the study found that 58 percent of chief marketing officers look to events to increase their advocacy. In other words, they’re looking to meet influencers who can spread the word on their brand. Just under half of CMOs (48 percent) said they want to use events to demonstrate thought leadership.

Selling products on a showfloor, it would seem, is so very 1995-ish.

This is not to suggest that the conventional trade show turn itself into the equivalent of a trendy Southern California boutique. But it is clear that exhibitors and attendees expect more than they did 20 years ago.

How much are you prepared to disrupt your event to accommodate them?

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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Heard Enough Talk About TED Talks?

Even if you’ve never been to a TED conference, if you’re an event organizer, the phenomenon has changed your professional life — sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse — and could change it even more, if you’re willing to risk it.

Having now lived with the TED phenomenon for about 10 years or so, when an attendee at a conference I’m associated with walks up to offer me some advice and starts with, “You know, at TED Talks….” I find it hard to not roll my eyes.

Never have so many had so much to say about an event so few have ever been to.

Still, the concept behind TED is a substantial one that is slowly beginning to transform the conference industry — again, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

The better: One piece of real information many people have connected to regarding TED is that there is an 18-minute limit on all presentations. That has forced those who organize conferences to realize they can’t sit three or four speakers behind a table in front of an audience, give them an hour and a half and a clicker for their slides, and expect a satisfactory result.

TED has helped many of us realize it doesn’t take that long to tell a good story or deliver a valuable lesson.

The trend is toward shorter conference sessions where fewer speakers — often only one — take a deep dive into a single subject before the attendees move on to their next deep, but quick, dive.

The worse: I can’t count on both hands the number of people in the last few years who have told me, “My goal is to do a TED Talk.”

The well-branded TED phenomenon has pushed us into the era of the “thought leader,” the person who is less interested in giving your conference attendees information they can use and more interested in evangelizing an idea, usually one they alone know can save the world.

It has created the speaker who has a “following,” who moves from conference to conference delivering the same presentation — albeit with a different clever title each time — and whose real ROI is a round of applause at the end and the opportunity to distribute their Twitter handle.

Meanwhile, the conference organizer is stuck with a crowd of attendees filling out post-event surveys a few days later who suddenly realize that, while they enjoyed the speakers’ performances, they can’t remember a single thing they learned at the event that will help their businesses.

The promise: What started out back in 1984 as a single conference for 800 invited guests…remains that, but it has spawned a never-ending string of TED-related channels that constantly reinforce the original brand.

Most of the 18-minute TED Talk presentations are available at ted.org, YouTube and other venues. There are thousands of TEDx Talks held by unaffiliated organizations, but under strict guidelines mandated by the original TED organization.

There are TED Books, TED blogs, TED Prizes, TED Fellows and, yes, countless opportunities to become TED’s marketing partner.

A little more than 10 years ago, after entrepreneur Chris Anderson bought TED from its founder, he declared it no longer a conference, but “ideas worth spreading.”

That’s his brand: “Ideas worth spreading.”

Why doesn’t the average Annual ABC Conference and Trade Show have “ideas worth spreading”? Why is access to ABC followers limited to three or four days the same month every year?

The promise that TED offers the events industry is the opportunity to expand its brands way beyond a mere conference into numerous paths for followers and community members to take that will allow them to spread their own ideas.

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Is Your Show Transactional or Transformational?

In a recent CEIR Blog post, Robert Hughes noted that, after interviewing hundreds of exhibitors, he found that more than 90 percent of them thought the general contractor owned the tradeshow they were exhibiting in.

What is wrong with this picture?

The evidence for this revelation is clear: The biggest check an exhibitor writes is to the general contractor, not the show manager. The general contractors often represent the only human beings exhibitors meet, the ones they know to go to if they have problems.

Apparently, most exhibitors only talk to show management when they’re booking their space – and who among us has not made preselling the next year’s show our top onsite goal?

This may be efficient on the part of the show manager, but it’s no way to grow an event. It’s no way to worm your way into the heart of a community, which is exactly what events must do in the future if they are going to remain competitive with digital marketing vehicles.

The successful relationship between a show manager and an exhibitor (or an attendee, for that matter) cannot be transactional. It cannot simply be the exchange of something perceived to be of value, money in exchange for a booth in the exhibit hall.

A successful relationship between an event and its participants must be transformational. It must be more than the hackneyed “place where buyers meet sellers.” A transformational event is one that puts itself at the center of an industry’s community, the place where that community comes together from time to time to meet itself.

You certainly don’t want participants calling it the “contractor’s show,” or even the “show manager’s show.”

You want them to say, “This is our show.”

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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