Why You Won’t Succeed Without a North Star

October 12, 2022

Denzil Rankine

Denzil Rankine is Founder and Executive Chairman of AMR International, a strategy consulting firm that assists corporate clients and PE funds with growth strategy and acquisition support.

As the saying goes, “the only constant in life is change.” The same rings true for trade show organizers.

More than ever, the industry is being challenged to adapt and evolve in what is a new normal, where customer expectations are rapidly evolving, and digital technologies bring the promise of new opportunities. How can we make the most of it?   

We believe it comes down to strategy. Get this right, and you’ve made a giant stride. 

For example, AMR’s new Exhibitions 3.0 Framework is making organizers rethink, putting customers genuinely at the heart of their business. As an extension of our community catalyst concept that calls for a new post-COVID vision, the focus is on changing the role and ambition of the organizer to one that facilitates much more than just events, instead moving to shape the future of the ecosystem it serves. 

This framework comprises five steps, with the first being the development of a “North Star.” It’s the critical first step on the journey to transformation.  

What is a North Star? 

Essentially, the North Star is the organization’s vision that acts as a guiding light. It sets the direction of travel.

A classic example is Amazon. Its vision is “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.” This North Star hasn’t changed since Amazon launched in 1995, with the focus 100% on the customer and meeting their needs.   

Why is having a North Star important?

The North Star is critical to success because it helps generate a common understanding of the goals and objectives that the organization is aiming to achieve. 

While the North Star is an effective tool for communication internally, it can also be used to inform current and prospective customers of the organizer’s vision, along with the opportunities and value they want to create. Consistency across internal and external communications makes it all the more powerful. 

What are the benefits?

The North Star sets the foundation and building blocks of an organizer’s strategy, helping the team to identify where the most value can be provided to attendees, exhibitors and sponsors.

It can help to generate alignment on the ambition the team holds and sets a realistic target that is believable, and more importantly, achievable. 

For example, introducing digital channels is much more than just launching digital events. A well-defined North Star might set the agenda of serving customers more broadly and improving specific areas of performance, such as sales and marketing processes or new product offerings that meet customers’ needs.

It also provides a sense of ownership and responsibility for the implementation and success of the defined strategy. 

In a nutshell, it’s your elevator pitch. The North Star condenses ambition into a single statement that can be shared and easily understood by all. Even your grandmother would know what you’re talking about.  

What are the risks?

Communication is imperative. We have worked with organizers that have set strategy and vision but found the organization not to be engaged. Management needs to deploy time and resources to ensure the North Star and its meaning is clearly explained and spread throughout the organization, from the CEO and senior management, right across to operations and customer service. The receptionist and even interns and temporary staff should know it, starting from day one. It won’t work without buy-in at all levels.

Delivering on a North Star also most probably calls for changes to current ways of working. So, to be implemented properly, again, total buy-in and belief is essential. 

It’s not an easy endeavor but it can be achieved. We’ve already been supporting some organizers on this journey, and we are seeing other examples of Top 20 organizers doing likewise. These are the organizers that are tackling the future head-on, increasing their likelihood of long-term success.

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