By Steve Friedman, firstname.lastname@example.org
The difference between business success and extinction isn’t simply having a good idea or product. It’s having people – not consumers – who are passionate about your brand and engaged with it at an emotional level. People give their best because they really want to; success is about capturing hearts as well as minds. Major retailers implement a variety of ways to try and make this connection with their internal audience, and one key means of doing so is a national conference, convention or meeting.
A convention allows you to be face-to-face with the key stakeholders who are directly responsible for the organization’s success – store managers, salespeople, employees, franchisees, etc. These constituent audiences ultimately represent your brand and corporate image to the end consumer. Producing a strategic, engaging event that connects with this internal audience can deliver meaningful results and leverage your return on investment. The following are some key methods for achieving those results:
Whether your meeting is for 300 or 3,000, it’s important to plan strategically all aspects of the meeting – from developing the theme, to the overall messaging to the communication objectives you want to achieve. Thinking strategically versus tactically will result in a connection on a firmer and more lasting basis. Begin by setting clear objectives. What exactly do you want your audience to walk away with? Many times motivation is the ultimate goal, but often there are other just-as-important objectives such as the details of a new product line, educational objectives, new brand standards and recognizing top performers. Determine the key messages early and focus on engaging your audience throughout the conference to keep the energy at a level that’s consistent with your strategic plan.
Successful retailers will tell you that some of the most effective marketing communications they do is to their internal stakeholders. This too is strategic since an audience is more likely to be receptive to a meeting’s content, to believe it and remember it when they are emotionally engaged. We’ve produced conventions for some of the world’s most successful organizations and they’ll be the first to tell you the proof is in the pudding. Offering engaging vs. passive elements throughout your conference will result in higher energy and a stronger connection. So how do you strike that emotional chord and engage your audience? A large business meeting or convention is, in many ways, a theatrical experience. It must be approached, from a design standpoint, to not only deliver the appropriate content, but maximize the engagement.
A great meeting involves two-way dialogue, collaboration and genuine interactivity. Offering interactive elements throughout the event allows your audience to address common challenges, feel involved and offers an unscripted dynamic. Interactive elements can be as simple as Q&A panels, or emerging technologies such as ARS (audience response systems), mobile-based applications and social media.
It’s difficult to build any sense of loyalty and respect if your audience isn’t convinced what they’re viewing is authentic. Interview actual employees, franchisees, etc. across a broad demographic and use real stories to communicate success and how they’ve overcome common challenges. Testimonials are an important element to developing authentic emotion.
The use of humor is an age-old and universal method to connect with people. It’s a great way to break the ice, tell a story and engage. The use of comedians, spoof videos, improv groups, etc. are all timeless ways to connect. Humor can simply be an entertaining act, or be incorporated into presentations or keynote addresses.
Video is a key component to any meeting. It’s not just a break from the ordinary, it’s truly a way to use a variety of elements (music, imagery, animation) to inject a specific emotion and provide a rhythmic structure. Video can be as simple as testimonial interviews or as complex as producing a multi-city tour to be shown at the conference. Just as important, videos produced for the meeting can be repurposed for marketing and training after the event.
Tell a story
The best way to connect with people is to remember they are just that – people. Turning information into stories that everyone can comprehend and emotionally relate to is a powerful occurrence, one that influences belief, motivates change and inspires people to act. Executive presentations communicate a message, but do they tell a story? Do they offer an engaging story of compelling characters, a motivating plot and act as an agent of change? Each of these elements should be considered throughout the meeting, especially when used for recognition and sharing best practices. Stories should be interesting, entertaining and, of course, emotionally engaging.
Create a brand experience
Your brand is what your key stakeholders and end consumers view as your external identity and ultimately relate to. It’s important to understand your brand and your company’s culture when strategizing your convention. Effectively understanding your brand means understanding the message and experience you want to deliver. Creating a brand experience is an important element to effectively drive home the messaging and emotional engagement to your audience. The meeting’s theme, logos, collateral, guest speakers, stage design, entertainment, videos and web pages all reflect the brand and contribute to a memorable brand experience.
Extending the message
An often overlooked element to business meetings is keeping the emotional engagement going after the event is over. Post-event communication is critical to sustaining the passion and motivation created at the conference. While it’s impossible to achieve the energy levels reached at the event, touchpoints following the meeting contribute to leveraging your return on investment. Effectiveness is greatly increased through targeted, relevant messaging used before and after the event. Annual events with key stakeholders can be leveraged through year-round marketing communications campaigns.
Bringing it all together
We compete in an emotion-driven economy. People, whether they are customers or employees, are naturally predisposed to make decisions based on their level of emotional engagement. It is the key to productivity and sustainable profitability, because an emotionally engaged internal audience produces exceptional outcomes. Major retailers invest big dollars in HR, marketing, sales, training – each producing messaging and media. Successful retailers understand that an integrated strategy produces the greatest ROI, and having your conference as part of that integration with a strategic, emotionally engaged focus is investing in one of your most important assets – your people.
Steve Friedman is co-founder and president of Creative Producers Group, a full-service creative, event production and marketing communications agency, specializing in large-scale corporate meeting and special event production. He can be reached at email@example.com.