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As events get smaller and more targeted, the opportunity for companies to control every aspect of the message imparted to attendees grows. Recent trends in event marketing have proven that events can be an ideal place for businesses to impress their brand message on employees and business partners—those who will eventually have to go out and sell it to customers well beyond the event floor. By creating a well-tailored event that closely follows a theme incorporating the brand message, companies can create an emotional relationship between the brand and event attendees, whether they are customers, employees or partners.

According to Finn Yonkers, principal creative director at event branding and design agency Studio 1011, it is easy to emphasize brand-building at a face-to-face event because of the targeted relationship between event organizer and attendee. "The trade show environment is unique," he said. Because of the face-to-face environment, Yonkers added, a company can prioritize the brand messages it chooses to impart and create customized conversations that speak to each attendee individually. This feeling of a personal connection is ideal for building the brand.

Strength, Clarity of a Brand

Not long ago, according to David Curry, creative director at full-service event production company Campos Creative Works, internal meetings held for employees and retailers focused solely on introducing a new product. While that type of event is still essential to the business community, targeted product launches no longer need to focus solely on the product itself, he said.

Companies, Curry continued, are realizing that at an event, attendees can be motivated to identify with a brand and take that emotional connection along with them after they leave. "You can tell them your objectives, you can tell them the benchmarks, but at the end of the day they have to `get' the brand. They have to understand what the brand promise is and get a clear picture of what's expected of them to help `live' the brand," Curry said.

If a company is unable to, as Curry said, help its employees and business partners "live the brand," it will become difficult to find a place in the market.

According to Gene Brown, VP-marketing and public relations at American Suzuki Motor Corp., "Your ability to compete successfully is highly correlated to the strength of your brand. Strength of your brand is determined by how well you define it and how consistently you execute it. If you look at a power brand like Apple, their market cap has skyrocketed, not by being the low-cost provider or [having a] magic distribution system, but [by] the strength of brand reflected from product to retail."

The most successful way to achieve this, according to marketers, is by integrating brand-building into events. The ultimate brand-building goal, Brown said, is to have the brand message really sink in and become more instinctive for those who will ultimately be a mouthpiece for the brand beyond the event. "[If] they can latch on to it psychologically and emotionally, their likelihood of acting on it [post-event] … is increased," he said.

Start with a Theme

This "instinctual" relationship with a brand can be created through an event. "It all starts with a theme," Curry said. "The theme is critical. A good theme actually sets a course of action. It really is, in theory, supposed to more poetically imply what the brand is and what the action to deliver on the brand is all about. If anything, [attendees should] come away with understanding that thematic hook that you can use to build your message all the way through."

Each aspect of the event should ultimately be attached to the brand and its message. For example, Curry said, even the set design and staging is crucial. "The brand has to be represented in terms of lighting, graphics, shapes … [each must be] a physical manifestation of the brand," he said. "The music that you use: It has to literally tie in to the company's corporate identity in a very strong way. The live event has to embody the visual and emotional characteristics of the Web site, corporate brochures and advertising. It's a requirement for branding live: That's anything from a cocktail reception, to a partner pavilion, to a product demonstration—an exhibition to a theatrical presentation. They all have to make the brand come alive."

Suzuki's Brown is currently planning the company's upcoming National Dealer Meeting in Denver and hopes it will embody the brand. "At our dealer meeting, we've evolved over the last few years. [Initially it was] a basic get together. We're becoming more of a tier-one player in our industry, and it's an event that's more reflective of what we stand for. This year will be more significant," he said.

The brand message for the company is "The Suzuki way of life." To reinforce that idea, Brown and his marketing team are integrating the brand message into every aspect of the event, down to the selection of the event city itself. Denver, he said, is a city conducive to outdoor activities—and the ideal location for attendees to associate with the brand.

Information packets will be waiting for attendees in their hotel rooms when they arrive, featuring a familiar lifestyle magazine with a cover that Suzuki has specially customized to reflect its brand message.

"The brand relates to everything: The signage in the lobby when they check in to the literature waiting for them in the room when they arrive," Brown said. "We're hosting our entertainment at Red Rocks amphitheater. It's an outdoor amphitheater, a natural, mountain setting. We're a brand that appeals to people with a relatively bold spirit—courageous, gutsy, yet smart. The vehicles are personalized and reflective of people's individual passions. You could say the same of Red Rocks."

Clear and Concise Messages

However, reinforcing an understanding of the brand message for event attendees can be more straightforward as well. According to Campos' Curry, increased use of breakout sessions dedicated solely to teaching employees and business partners the specific brand message has proved successful. "It used to be breakout sessions were about drilling down deeper into the product knowledge and selling techniques or local advertising. [Now] a breakout session [can be] solely devoted to the brand identity and the brand promise, and really drilling down into that message," he said.

Marketers must be careful, though, to ensure the brand message is decided on in very early planning stages and followed all the way through the event. "If you didn't have that consistency, you would have confusion; and it eliminates the ability to have that stream of connective dialog," said Studio 1011's Yonkers. "It's important that the message remain untainted by different agendas, by different internal forces. By building a theme first, everybody can work toward communicating that theme. … [Plan] how to talk to [attendees], using a common thread that ties it all together. The thread—if it's done r—addresses key differentiators [distinguishing your company from] competitors. … It's also important that in whatever you're doing, you have an awareness to work toward a modular platform so as things change you can breathe fresh life into that message without starting over."

Once each of these objectives is accomplished, the brand message should be obvious to everyone involved. "The primary objective is to make the brand come alive and have the participants leave knowing exactly what's expected of them to deliver on the brand promise," Curry said.

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