Event branding – what you can learn from successful conventions

July 23, 2014

So far this year, I’ve engaged with a half-dozen conventions, spanning multiple sizes, styles, and worthwhile-ness. It occurs to me that despite how varied they all are in overall experience, there exist brand values spanning all successful conventions.

While there are multiple parts to conventions, three have really stuck out as primary pillars to an effective convention experience: Audience engagement, expense / experience ratio, and handling the negative 10 percent.

Engage with people not data
Your convention is nothing without attendees. Your attendees are more than numbers on a spreadsheet to figure out profit margins or how much space you'll need for panel rooms. Acknowledge that they're human beings, and provide communications throughout the convention to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience for all involved.

That said, a convention can’t be everything to everyone. Yes, that's obvious, so let's drill down a bit. How much should you be to your audience? You're building an experience through your vendors, guests, artists, panels, workshops, and how you integrate activities such as badge purchase, registration, and pickup. The entire breadth of the experience your attendees will have should be considered, not just for content but also for logistics.

I've been in impromptu “line-cons” due to mis-managed space and time utilization. (Line-cons, for the uninitiated, are excessively long lines of people waiting for badges, or for a panel room to open. It’s the equivalent of when a new must-have Apple product comes out and it's opening day, and the line is five blocks long.) If you want to build a great reputation, your experience needs to be organized and consistent from top to bottom.

Give what they pay for (and more?)
If attendees don’t get the quality of content and overall experience they paid for, then why should they bother attending? This is an ever evolving equation that I've seen erode several conventions into near obsolescence.

The expenses of running a convention are varied, but invariably high. Factor in space, staff, guests, vendors, artists, and hotels, and the badge prices become more understandable. That is, if the convention experience provides the right level of entertainment and value for the dollar price.

I've paid anywhere from the cost of gas to get to a convention, up to $750 when all was said and done to attend conventions. Now, that price is not just travel and badge costs. The upper end includes attending as an artist and renting booth space and various expenses to manage that. But for me, the expense to experience ratio was acceptable, even for the $750 price point, as I was able to create the experience I wanted as an artist.

You have to think beyond face value of badge costs and factor in the time and full expense for your attendees. Ask for feedback about what creates a great overall experience for them – poll them on willingness to pay, get ideas on how to improve perceptions of value, and don’t be afraid to be explicit about the benefits attending will deliver. Sometimes people don’t see the value until you point it out to them.

Acknowledge the bad; embrace the good
No matter how well an event is managed, there will always be snafus, wrinkles, and disgruntling moments. The trick is in how they're handled. Yes, again, an obvious statement. So, lets see just why it's such an issue. These are my own estimates, so take them with a grain of salt:

Accept the good with the bad, but work on maintaining the good while solving the bad. The staff should address any possible issues where it's feasible to fix, alter, or otherwise make better for future conventions. Clear communications between event coordinators and event space staff is one of the easiest and quickest ways to ensure the negative 10% of experiences can be resolved.

What event experiences did you enjoy or find lacking? What is the right expense to experience ratio for you when it comes to such events? Have you seen bad convention situations handled well or completely overlooked?

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