By Dana Plotke
How well does your event brand complement your association brand?
I came across an interesting question posted recently on the American Society of Association Executives list serve by a national association's senior VP. The gist of it was this: to what extent do you incorporate the name of your association as part of your conference or trade show brand? Care to weigh in before I share my thoughts? Take the reader poll on the main page of this month's issue.
Surprisingly, there weren't many responses to this post after several days, so I decided to step up. I have worn many hats in my career as a marketing professional, and event marketing is a specialty that I am proud to have in my skill set. Not only have I been involved in organizing, promoting and participating in a fair number of association and business to business (B2B) trade shows and events over the years, but I've helped organize and promote music festivals and rock concerts, too (hence, the upcoming analogy).
With limited information about the ASAE poster's situation at hand, I explained why one could argue for taking a strong association brand and creating a seamless extension of that brand onto the trade show floor. I went on to point out that the marketing creative used to promote the event should complement, yet stand apart from, the rest of the association's communications program. If it doesn't, you risk a missed opportunity to create the 'buzz' necessary to make your event stand out from the rest.
But, as so many of us know (and just as many easily forget), a trade show brand is something that takes years to build and must be grown and nurtured 365 days a year (see related comments in today's feature story). A show's brand is about the entire user experience – not a name or a marketing and promotions campaign. With an event, it's the programming, the venue, the time of year, the marketing, the numerous external factors that are beyond our control and last but not least, all the people behind the show (i.e., the association) who play a role in how attendees and exhibitors feel about the experience.
As I mentioned earlier, I have been fortunate to have experienced how festivals and concerts are produced and promoted in addition to B2B trade shows. So this question made me wonder: do you think the Rolling Stones' promoters ever question whether to include the band's iconic logo as part of their latest tour? Or, more to the point, would they debate about whether the tour should be called “Rolling Stones' 2011 World Tour?”
Obviously, it would be impossible to promote a Rolling Stones concert without mentioning the Rolling Stones. So, the logical question is why would an association shy away from highlighting the “star of the show” when developing its own conference or trade show?
Balancing the association brand with the trade show brand
In fairness, I don't think this is exactly what the ASAE poster was suggesting. In fact, there are valid reasons for an association to create some distance between the association brand and its live event. For example, there could be some history or a negative brand perception that either the show or the association is trying to overcome. In that case, it would be wise to tread lightly until you have a game plan for overcoming these challenges. With that said, I have seen plenty of examples of conference branding over the years that would suggest there are other motivations for not taking full advantage of the core brand when promoting a show.
My guess is that there are likely two dynamics at play. First, our tendency to “overthink” certain elements of what we do (and by “we” I mean anyone who has a hand in marketing, communications, events, etc.) and second, an underlying, underappreciation for how everything that we do flows together and feeds off the other to create a brand perception in members' minds.
To the first point, I recall a blog post that one of my colleagues linked from Naylor's Facebook page. Written by Scott Briscoe, it was titled, “The over-naming, over-thinking, over-strategizing rant.” Let me first say that I have been accused more times than I can count of “overthinking” a situation (I won't tell you how long it took me to write this article) but the older, and hopefully wiser I get, the more I appreciate why this can be dangerous for an organization.
Careful consideration should always be given to how our actions can impact other elements of the organization (e.g., how is member recruitment going to be helped/hurt by incorporating the name of the association into the conference brand?), but the focus has shifted from the more superficial aspects of marketing a brand (Do we call it “Rolling Stones 2011 World Tour” or the Rolling Stones' “2011 World Tour”?) to how to provide relevant content to our customers/members/prospects in a way that is useful, transparent and still consistent with the brand's image.
The second point relates to the concept of how all communication elements produced by the association – whether a trade show, a magazine, a website, an e-newsletter, etc. – combine to help formulate what the association “brand” represents to members and other constituents.
At Naylor, we talk a lot about integration, and there is a simple reason for that: we believe in the power associations have with their members and know that if they take the initiative to coordinate their message and strategy throughout everything that they do, the entire organization will become stronger. Membership will flourish, advertising revenue will grow, and the association will have more time and resources to fulfill its stated mission.
If “we” remember that the association is the real star of the show – not the products and services it provides – the rest will fall into place without much thought or consideration for how it happens.
Dana Plotke has worked in B2B marketing and communications for more than 15 years, with a focus on association media and events since 2002. She leads the marketing efforts of Naylor, LLC.
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