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At Sans Serif we do a lot of corporate event branding work (among many other things). But for those who aren’t working in this niche, it can be difficult to imagine what exactly it is we’re doing and why it’s important.
Putting on big events, whether they be conferences, speaker engagements, educational trade conventions, or whatever else builds brand equity and loyalty for companies. They can create opportunities to deepen customer engagement, teach about products and extend use to generate brand loyalty and customer habits, or give customers access to subject matter experts and industry insiders. Or in another context, they allow leadership to strategically align sales teams or engineers, partner organizations, or cultivate and deepen relationships with a company’s biggest, most important clients.
So what goes into branding an event and why does it matter?
Here are a few of the key branding and design elements we create to maximize the effectiveness of these big budget events so participants can engage deeply and receive the message, ensuring the company’s investment is worthwhile.
Using verbal-visual themes to say a lot with a little
Companies have strategic objectives and KPIs for any campaign or big expense, and flagship events are no exception. The speaker lineup, content, the whole experience in general isn’t incidental or simply an exercise in logistics.
Events tell stories.
Year over year, the events we work on form a narrative that helps shape the understanding of the company and of the world of those who attend them.
There are different strategies for communicating effectively with verbal-visual event branding. Some organizations use an annual visual-verbal theme to help distinguish one year from another. Others use a theme for an extended period, effectively building a cohesive, continuous event brand over years at a time. The annual approach allows for more relevance and flexibility: The theme can relate to the moment in the world more broadly, to team morale, to some big new initiative or key turning point in company strategy like an acquisition or exciting new product. A perennial theme fosters familiarity, loyalty, and cadence. It can help make the personality of the company and the brand feel more solid and reliable. Strategically this emphasizes long-term alignment and identification.
Either way, as the name indicates, verbal-visual themes are made up of two key, interrelated and complementary parts.
Verbal themes shape participants’ understanding and establish the narrative. They function like the lede or thesis of the event. All the messaging, in one way or another, ties back to and amplifies that one key message. In good times, a strong verbal theme can harness momentum. In challenging times, the right theme can be bracing and encouraging.
Verbal themes come in a variety of motifs. They can expand on brand mantras, marketing campaigns, or strategic positioning. They can echo inspiring cultural reference points or idioms—so long as they aren’t trite or cliched. A call-to-action style of verbal theme can energize and motivate attendees to do something in the world.
One of the most frequently used approaches is to identify a relevant “rallying cry”: Something an executive could credibly shout from a stage and bring the audience to their feet. It should ring in their ears after the event has ended, when attendees must apply what they learned.
In all cases, a verbal theme should be memorable, a shorthand way of calling to mind the key messages, learnings, and plans-of-action the event aimed to instill. It should help shape all participants’ understanding of the company and their relationship to it. And it will be featured on the vis-ID in key moments and places.
A visual identity, or vis-ID, is the visual complement to the verbal theme. It usually follows the verbal theme, though collaboration and iteration between the two makes both stronger. A good verbal theme inspires a strong vis-ID, and a strong vis-ID can help hone a verbal theme to be more precise and incisive.
Vis-IDs are rooted in a hero image or graphic that helps bring to life the verbal theme. It captures the energy, whether high or low, fast or slow, of the events’ verbal theme and messaging to imprint it in the mind of attendees throughout the event and after. Good hero images allow for a wide variety of crops, views, angles, and visual treatments that don’t muddy the message and don’t grow tiresome.
65% of people have a visual learning style, and great visuals can have a visceral effect and with a speed that written words simply cannot match. A well-branded, unified event should seamlessly reinforce the verbal theme and key messaging through the vis-ID such that immediately upon seeing the vis-ID, the viewer thinks, feels, and resonates with the verbal theme.
Event brand guidelines
Having an outstanding verbal theme and vis-ID ultimately loses its force if it’s not employed well. The size and scope of the events we work on means multiple creative partners, including internal creative and brand teams and other creative agencies. A rigorous framework that ensures consistency and fidelity to the key messaging to be expressed is crucial.
Event brand guidelines define the verbal theme and what it means for all creative teams, ensuring the company’s strategic message doesn’t get lost or warped. They present the vis-ID, what it’s named, and what it means to unite creatives in investing the hero with meaning for the audience and to articulate the company’s messages. They also safeguard aesthetic and technical execution of the event branding holistically, including use of the verbal identity and vis-ID, but also company logos, colors, brand voice, brand personality, editorial style, and more.
The event brand guidelines are the roadmap for a successful rollout of an aesthetically meaningful and strategically effective event brand, especially when there are lots of parties and stakeholders involved.
There’s always more
There’s a lot more to what we do when it comes to flagship events. But verbal themes, vis-IDs, and event brand guidelines are some of the cornerstones of our event branding, marketing, and participant enablement expertise. We help clients express a unified, powerful message that resonates with participants, grows a culture, generates buy-in and engagement, and ultimately secures the success of a company’s efforts to form a cohesive community around the messages and objectives it has identified.