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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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.