Going Beyond the Logo: How to Integrate Your Brand for Success

Untitled Document

By Tom McCulloch

Integrating Your Brand:
Tips for Success

  1. Acquire leadership direction and buy-in.
  2. Plan early.
  3. Develop a clear strategy as your first phase of planning.
  4. Stay true to your brand and objectives.
  5. Communicate goals to key members, planners, vendors, stakeholders and onsite staff.
  6. Track key performance indicators to help plan for future meetings.
  7. Provide easy access to high-resolution artwork for all vendors and stakeholders.
  8. Test run the brand with a small group of attendees so as to avoid any accidental misunderstandings (cultural barriers or business unit barriers).

Integrated branding—the concept of having all aspects of marketing communications work together in unified force with a consistent message—continues to gain acceptance. As such, the meeting planning industry has realized the importance of finding ways to incorporate these branding experiences into events and conferences to maximize their organization’s exposure with attendees during a dedicated timeframe and focused attention span. But, how do you do it in a meaningful way that supports and reinforces the brand without it seeming forced? Key to success is integrating the brand into the strategic plan from onset and then managing it throughout the process to ensure cohesion with your message.

It Starts with a Plan
As is the case with most things, success can be traced to early planning and thoughtful consideration of the vision. The goals and key messages of an event should be based on a strategic plan set forth by the leadership of the association. This is typically the first step to planning the meeting or conference, as it should drive the direction for all tasks moving forward. In fact, if your team wants to dive right into logistics, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Depending on the goals of the event or meeting, the key messages can vary. For example, if the meeting is your annual conference, the messages should probably encompass continuing education and actionable tools to help improve the skills sets of your members and make them more productive throughout the year. In contrast, if the event brings vendors and purchasers together, the goals and key messages should focus on how to best create an environment that allows for collaborative meetings and networking sessions that enable the vendors to showcase their products and services.

With the goals and messaging identified, it is essential to explain the vision to key vendors and partners. It is important that they understand the strategy and driving force behind the conference or event as they will become stewards of the brand. Further, it is crucial that the identified goals and key messages support the association’s brand. Not only will this lay the groundwork for the event, but it serves as the building blocks for how members and key stakeholders perceive your value and offerings. The brand should be integrated into the event to keep these messages consistent.

Branding Clarity
In essence, your association’s brand should help guide the organizational team. For example, due to a recent acquisition, one of the main objectives of the Jobs2web Annual Users Conference was to smoothly transition its brand to that of the firm that acquired them—SuccessFactors, Inc. metroConnections was brought into the planning process early on to help strategize how the new brand would be introduced and integrated into the event. To help attendees make the transition, the branding was transformed as the event progressed. The conference began as a Jobs2web event and, by the conclusion, every branded element was changed over with attendees fully embracing the message, "We are SuccessFactors."

Key to successful integration of the brand and theme is creating guidelines that can be used throughout the event. These guidelines should be shared and actually reviewed in detail with all vendors and partners early on to make sure they understand the expectations and follow the recommendations. By taking the time to explain the goals and objectives, everyone can work together toward a common goal and create a successful event.

Separate but Equal?
One common area of confusion is whether to have a separate brand and/or logo for your meeting, or simply use your association’s brand. As a general rule, an organization has a brand, while an event has a theme that supports the brand. For instance, an industry-leading dental distribution firm developed a series of seminars located throughout the United States to use as a platform to promote its new product to its customers and train them on how to use it. This series of eight events stayed true to the company brand and logo as to not confuse the audience on who offers the new product.

However, often times, there may be a sub-brand, such as a conference logo and theme. These branded elements should be reflected on every attendee touch-point from the registration website and info onsite, to lobby signage, the stage, collateral, post event surveys, and more. To ensure the sub-brand is successfully integrated, it is vital to determine it can work together with the primary brand without competing against each other and creating confusion.

For instance, if the theme of the event is "Coming Together in 2014," you can support this message by developing a creative video to show at the opening session that illustrates people coming from all over to connect and collaborate around one cause and in one location. To make sure the audience is connecting, while still grasping the overlying brand of the association, the video should begin and end with the association’s logo and/or specific message. The video can also coordinate with the brand by following branding guidelines such as font styles, color tones, and consistent logo use.

Another example is a recent international conference hosted by a large association with more than 2,500 attendees. To promote its conference, it used both the association and a conference logo depicting the theme and location of this year’s event. This helped set the stage as to what attendees could expect once onsite at the conference. Attendees knew the standards that the association works by, but, the conference logo got them excited to experience the culture and sites of the hosting city. To ensure the two did not compete with each other, their branding guidelines required that they were always used simultaneously whenever promoting the event or throughout the signage and marketing materials onsite. In essence, the association built the conference logo right into the association logo for just this one event.

In some cases, it may make sense to let the conference logo take the spotlight especially at a time when association’s are under the microscope when it comes to budgets and spend. For example, one nonprofit was cautious about having its name and logo showing up in the hotel lobby and throughout the hotel. By branding the event itself, it was able to place the organization in the background, while sticking to message via a creative conference/event brand. The attendees became extremely familiar with the brand long before the execution of the event so they knew each location of breakout sessions, networking events and more but to the general public, the nonprofit’s name was protected.

Going Beyond the Logo
Integrating the brand should go well beyond the logo and corporate colors. Specific examples include carrying the brand throughout email invites prior to the event, on the custom-built registration website, signage throughout the whole venue and housing properties, opening session video, custom branded post-conference surveys, and email follow-ups. Be sure to think beyond collateral and marketing pieces as association names and logos can be splashed onto the flooring and walls using decals and customized lighting elements. Furniture, such as cocktail tables, chairs and refreshment bars are constructed into identifiable pieces by incorporating branded insignia. Even placement of a logo or decal at the bottom of the venue pool can be available. The possibilities are endless. If at all possible, develop renderings before the event so the entire team is able to visualize the stage, camera shots, lighting, and transition cues.

With your plans in place, it is key to evaluate the event from a branding standpoint. After all, the success of your event goes well beyond the technology working, good lighting, powerful speakers, and increased attendance. Rather, did you deliver on your brand and support your theme, and ultimately, the mission of your organization?

Tom McCulloch is vice president of marketing and conference services for metroConnections. He can be reached through its website at www.metroconnections.com.