Beyond the tradeshow: Create a branded event

Having a big, bold presence on the tradeshow floor can be an important aspect of your marketing. Tips for standing out at that all-important tradeshow are here.

But perhaps this year, you might consider a branded event. A branded event is focused solely on your products, your services, and your expertise. You don’t vie for attention with hundreds of other companies. It’s all about you and your audience.

Imagine face-to-face meetings with customers over the course of several days. Imagine multiple positive touchpoints with your target audience. Imagine conversations focused on your brand and its benefits. These are the benefits of an owned, branded event. It’s the branding equivalent of surround sound. Here are four fundamentals to help you take full advantage of this powerful marketing opportunity.

1. Brand your event boldly

First things first: What is the name of your event? Is it memorable? Or ho-hum? You need an event name that communicates the goal of your event and distinguishes it from competitors. You also need a name with longevity. Can you imagine this same event in 2014? 2015? Make sure your name is contemporary, but not trendy.

After a great name, your event needs a theme: a compelling phrase that defines your event and gives it focus. It’s not enough to use your company tagline, no matter how witty, concise or competitive. Your event needs a theme to capture attention, communicate enthusiasm, and boost attendance. If your theme is personal and speaks directly to attendees, even better.

Avoid business-speak. Keep your theme conversational, like these examples:

Unstoppable

Fuel the Movement

Right Here. Right Now.

Stand Up. Stand Out.

One way to give your theme extra credibility is to weave it into discussions taking place in the industry. Get corporate thought leaders talking about industry challenges on video and using your theme to underscore points. Then show that video at your event. Make your theme the title of a blog post. Write an article that sets forth the relevance of your theme to challenges in the industry.

Think “soundbite.” That’s the memorability you want for your theme.

So how do you go about creating a theme? Here are 6 tips to help you get started.

2. Wow attendees with your visuals

Your branded event needs a bold visual personality. Think beyond your logo and corporate colors. You need fresh, inspiring visuals that create anticipation for your event at every touchpoint—digital promotions, social media, print promotions, and the graphics at the event itself. Your goal is to create an immersive experience that surrounds attendees with color and imagery — and creates real personality. Everything is your canvas!

Be sure to avoid visual clichés. Don’t waste time, effort, and dollars on promotional materials that will be dismissed or ignored. Here’s a short list of no-no imagery: the business handshake, the sunrise, the puzzle pieces, the silhouetted business figures deep in discussion, the light bulb.

3. Build community

Everyone who decides to spend time and money to attend your event is already on the way to becoming a brand booster. If you treat invitees with esteem, honor their expertise, ask their opinion, and involve them, they are more likely to become true brand advocates.

Events that create a sense of belonging are undeniably successful. Attendees feel an unmistakable connection: “These are my people. These are my issues. This is relevant to me, right now.”

Here’s a test. Would you call the people at your event “attendees” or “participants”? We’ve all been to tradeshows filled with people passively attending sessions and walking by booths. Notch up the experience. Connect people with your brand and with each other, creating participation. Social media is the ideal platform.

4. Promote with pizzazz — and a personal touch

Your event isn’t confined to the walls of the venue. When attendees use social media at your event, they talk to people all over the world. Give them something amazing to share — before, during, and after the event.

Before the event: Your goal is to build excitement, create buzz, and encourage community. Create a content-rich event website, with a blog where speakers can post and engage the community. Establish and publicize an event hashtag for Twitter and start using it several months in advance to get the conversation going. Tweet about topics, speakers, and the event venue. Post event details on Facebook and Google+. Interview speakers on your YouTube channel or  invite them to Google+ Hangouts. Encourage interaction with questions, polls, and fun contests. Remember to acknowledge each person who responds.

If you’re planning a big, yearly event, consider creating a mobile app in addition to your event website. It’s ideal for event information, room information, timely videos, and last-minute updates.

During the event: Get writers lined up for live blogging and tweeting. Use large screen displays for Twitter feeds. Encourage check-ins on Foursquare and other geosocial apps. Assign someone to create on-the-spot videos, respond to tweets, and continue conversation on your event blog. Consider remote participation with those unable to attend the event with featured Google+ Hangouts during the event. Remember, there is the live event, and there is the digital event, created by armies of people posting and tweeting. If you have engaged participants, they will magnify your event tenfold.

After the event: Get thought leaders lined up for recap blogs. Follow up with photos and vides posted on Facebook, Google+ and YouTube. Use event highlights as tweets and posts to encourage continuing conversation on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Capitalize on your success by encouraging people to stay involved and attend next year’s event.

A branded event is a supercharged marketing opportunity that’s all about you and your audience. What could be better?

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