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5 Key Tips for Activating Your Brand at Events

5 Key Tips for Activating Your Brand at Events

Kelly Wrather

Vice President, Marketing Services

April 25, 2024

According to research, B2B marketers expect in-person tradeshows and events to be the largest area of spend in 2024. Event marketing is a highly valuable way to activate your brand for a live audience and create an experience that can engage and inform the constituents that matter most to your brand. 

Beyond the basics of event management, how can a brand make the most of event opportunities — whether that’s an intimate dinner or roundtable or a large-scale conference?

Here are our five key tips for taking your event activations to the next level.

1. Align your objectives and audience

Let’s start with something foundational: goals and objectives. While RSVPs and “butts in seats” are obvious measures to track for an event, it’s important to step back to consider the business goal associated with your event. Some common goals associated with events are: build brand awareness, generate leads, impact the sales pipeline, promote a particular product or capability, or nurture existing customer relationships. Understanding your goal will influence your approach— from the event format to what you’ll measure. 

Different types of events can be deployed to achieve different outcomes. For example, promoting a particular product may be best suited for a seminar or webinar where you can have an existing client discuss their experience with a particular problem and how this product solved it. If you want to nurture existing customers, perhaps an intimate dinner or appreciation event is suitable. Or, if you want to get in front of as many potential customers as possible to drive leads, showing up at a conference or tradeshow is ideal. 

Additionally, identifying the key objective will help you determine which KPIs to measure. Event ROI shouldn’t just be boiled down to ticket sales. For example, if your goal is reach and awareness: track attendance, social or press mentions, or use of a branded hashtag. For more sales or upsell impact, it’s important to sync event attendance back into your CRM in order to attribute any resulting revenue. 

By starting with your business goals and target audiences, you can determine the right formats and activations to suit your needs and how you’ll measure success.

2. Anchor your activation and messaging to a key theme

Once you’ve determined your objective, you can move on to your core event planning. Creating a central theme will allow you to anchor the direction of the event and help you make decisions about design and content. 

Events can be more memorable when you associate them with a concept. I don’t remember the specifics of dances I attended in high school but I could tell you the themes. Themes create a throughline that go way beyond decorations. 

For example, last year we helped an ecommerce client with their event strategy for a large retail conference. We worked with the client to brianstorm how they wanted to show up at this event, coming up with a core message concept that was the jumping off point for booth design, collateral, promotions, and talking points for representatives in attendance. Key to this was understanding the event audience and what would be most important to them. 

On a tradeshow floor you have to compete with sometimes hundreds of other booths. You don’t have the luxury of time and attention to tell your story the way you do on your website, a prospect call, or a piece of collateral. This creates a great opportunity to more succinctly and discreetly tell your story in a way that would tie into your core brand, but be more eye-catching and relevant to attendees you want to reach. 

3. Develop a distinct identity

With a theme in place, you can really show the personality of the brand in a creative way. This is one thing I love about events — the creative room provided to stretch the identity and interpretation of your core brand identity. 

Events are great places to push your brand’s identity to the edges of what you may do in your evergreen marketing efforts. Maybe this means leaning into a secondary color in your palette, reimagining usage of something from your design system, or developing a fresh set of design elements tied to your theme. What’s important is that the event still feels like your brand. 

A great example of an event identity at work is our approach to activate the Tulsa House at SXSW 2023. Having launched the Tulsa For You brand a few months prior, SXSW served as a great introduction to the portfolio of Tulsa tech and innovation programs. As a new brand, it was important to leverage key elements of the identity, but just turn up the volume for this activation. 

To do this, we added more vibrancy to the core color palette and swapped filled graphic elements from the brand for finer outlines and line work. We also considered the space where the event was being held and found ways to bring in new elements like art deco bar references to integrate into the space while creating a meaningful reference to the brand (did you know Tulsa has the third largest concentration of art deco architecture?).

The activation resulted in 15,000 visitors coming through Tulsa House. For 2024, we had a great blueprint to follow, with an approach that didn’t recreate the wheel but offered a new take on the design of the house. 

4. Create value in the experience and interaction

No one likes to attend an event and feel as if they are being pitched the entire time. The most successful activations are the ones that strike a balance of content, networking, interactivity and entertainment. Your brand can still leave an impression and create value without overt sales tactics. 

For example, in hosted events where you have planned speakers and panels, ensure that there is diversity in who has the mic. Avoid the inclination to have your company representatives dominate the speaking slots. Deploy industry thought leaders who can provide utility to your audience. Leverage advocates of your brand who can speak on your behalf — this is a great value exchange for customer advocacy.

At seated dinners or appreciation events, you should want attendees to walk away saying more than they had a great meal or a good time. The ideal experience is that they learned something, they met a new meaningful connection, or they have a next step to follow up. 

Attending an event as the only representative from your organization can feel awkward and networking can feel forced. As the hosting company, think about how you can facilitate those meaningful conversations and connections and break the ice at your gatherings. 

5. Connect your marketing and sales touchpoints

My final tip is don't plan and host an event in a bubble.  Connect the before, during, and after experience to get the most out of your efforts and tie back to the objectives you set out to accomplish. 

Often, events get dinged for not being able to show ROI, but with the right goal setting and tracking, you can demonstrate the impact of an event. There is a significant amount of data that can be collected and analyzed in the lead up (registrations, referrals, event page analytics), during the event (attendance, social mentions) and after an event (surveys, email engagement, sales follow ups).

Additionally, sales, client services, and marketing should be collaborative during event executions — from attendees list creation and outreach strategies to follow up messages and cadence. Be sure you set clear roles and responsibilities and timelines across your internal teams.  This will ensure teams are in lock step and coordinated in event promotions and communications and that the progress can be easily reported back up to senior management. This level of visibility will drive consensus and provide positive energy before, during, and after the event. 

Events are so powerful because they create the opportunity for one-to-one connection with your customers or prospects. Attendees are typically free from the distractions of a typical day at their desk or in the office and more primed for conversations that can move the needle.  By focusing on these event strategies and  tips, marketers can ensure that audience attention is well utilized. 

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