How 3 Trade Shows Created Distinctive Event Brands — And What You Can Learn From Them

March 25, 2019
Seed Expo

A well-built brand gives consumers an expectation for the experience they will have. For example, we expect different offerings from The Ritz-Carlton than Motel 6, because these hotel chains have established brands that clearly communicate their unique selling propositions. Branding differentiates their hotel from the competition and makes consumers’ purchasing decisions easier.

The same principles apply to trade shows. The need for trade shows to differentiate themselves and clearly communicate their value to participants through a distinctive brand has never been greater. Merely promoting a show’s destination or a theme that changes yearly does little to paint a clear picture of value to attendees, exhibitors, influencers and the media.  

Benefits of Branding Your Trade Show

Strong brands offer events many benefits. Laura Craven, director of communications and marketing for foodservice packaging company Imperial Dade, points to the success of its show, Innovation Expo, as an example.

“We attribute several benefits to the establishment of a show brand,” she explains. “We sell out our show floor, our attendees look forward to the show, attendance grows each year, our sales team considers the event an excellent marketing tool and the show pays for itself.”

She also noted that Innovation Expo’s branding has led attendees to know exactly what to expect from the show.

Stephanie Heishman, founder and chief event planner at Freya, LLC, adds that establishing a brand helps events clearly communicate their identities to target audiences.

“The benefit of establishing a brand is that you leverage your identity visually across multiple communications platforms, resulting in honed messaging across platforms and audience,” she says.

Specifically, branding a trade show impacts attendance. Jennifer Crouse, director of meetings and services at American Seed Trade Association, says a strong brand makes the decision to attend easier for attendees.

“If someone has an emotional attachment to your event, your brand reinforces that attachment and makes them have more trust in your organization and more faith it will be a quality event,” she said. “Therefore, it is easier for them to decide to attend and recommend the event to colleagues.”

Whether working from the position of a startup or a from a long established trade show, the branding process is lengthy and rigorous.

How to Brand Your Event

To begin, Heishman advises collaborating with all stakeholders to get on the same page about the trade show’s goals. This will limit back and forth and expedite establishing a quality brand.

“It is important to come into that [initial] meeting with a creative brainstorm agenda, or a written brief that identifies your target event audience, what content you’ll deliver to them and how you want to attract them,” she says.

You should include your creative, social, communications, and marketing partners on those initial brainstorm meetings so that you can get creative input from designers early on. “You want the ideas and implementation people all in the same room,” says Heishman.

Trade shows can identify the foundations of their brands in a number of ways.

When launching a new event for Performance-Driven Marketing Institute last year, Trade Show Organizer Tom Haire relied on the brands he and business partners built in previous roles.

“PMDI’s early branding was all about the names you know and trust creating a new, better trade show that truly moves performance-based marketing forward into the world of omnichannel, direct campaigns across all media.”

Following the success of the first event, he says, PDMI’s strategy is about driving home those four letters in its acronym so people understand who they are and what they’re about. Then, the focus shifts to attaching the quality of its services, events and publications to those four letters.

 Crouse noted that the ATSA took a different approach, using the association’s rich history as a basis when modernizing its brand.

“Many of our participants have long-held fond memories of attending the show early in their careers,” says Crouse, “but, our show brand was in definite need of modernization, globalization and simplification.” For example, the original name of the show was Corn & Sorghum Seed Research Conference and Soybean Seed Research Conference and Seed Expo; it’s now the (easier to remember) CSS & Seed Expo.

Creating a Visual Identity for Your Brand

Once the goals of your brand are established, it’s time to focus on the visual appearance. These visuals should flow through the entire trade show experience, from marketing to on-site signage and materials.

Craven says Imperial Dade built the brand experience with a number of participant touchpoints.

“We created a logo for the event; developed a consistent registration process; used a branded website and invitation package; ensured the on-site experience reflected the promotional materials with consistent colors, graphics and amenities; and even branded the show supplies, including napkins, tote bags, staff uniforms and prizes,” she says.

Heishman added that a visual identity is important for sustaining your brand over the long term.

“By using a distinct logo, hashtag, talking points, etc,, you sustain your branding across channels while delivering rich content that will resonate with perspective sponsors and attendees,” she says.

Constant attention to the brand is required to sustain a brand in today’s market.

For PDMI, it comes down to delivering quality and ROI.

“We want attendees to feel like everything is top notch — from the hotel to the meeting hall and the education to the networking events — and walk out feeling they not only got more than their money’s worth for the event, but also a couple of new clients,” Haires says.

Imperial Dade sustains its brand by evolving programming to meet the needs of today’s buyers, involving industry association partners and the press, and moving the location to capture attendees from its service areas in the Eastern United States.

ASTA aligned its show branding and signage to include the show look, the latest communications graphics and motto in order to align the show with its strategic plan. They’ve also included international organizations in the show schedule and modernized the registration process, conference app and online show proceedings.

“Promoting this constant evaluation and measurement process with our attendees and exhibitors helps them to have continued trust that we care about the value they are getting out of our event,” says Crouse.

The trade show brand is an essential cornerstone for success in today’s market. It takes many stakeholders working together to integrate the brand across all facets of the show so that participants can gain a clear understanding of the value it offers year after year.

Photo credit: CSS 2018 & Seed Expo Flickr page

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