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Is Your National Meeting Delivering ROI?

BY CSA STAFF

By Steve Friedman, [email protected]

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:

Be strategic
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.

Emotionally engage
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.

Interactivity
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.

Authenticity
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.

Humor
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
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 protected].

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Dunn done at Best Buy

BY CSA STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS — After nearly 30 years, Brian Dunn has resigned as CEO and director of Best Buy. According to the company, Dunn’s decision to resign was mutually agreed upon with the company and was not the result of any disagreement with himself and Best Buy. Director G. Mike Mikan has been named interim CEO to lead the company while a search for a new CEO is underway. Richard Schulze, the founder of Best Buy, continues to serve as chairman.

“I have enjoyed every one of my 28 years with this company, and I leave it today in position for a strong future. I am proud of my fellow employees and I wish them the best,” said Dunn.

Mikan, who will remain on the board while serving as interim CEO, has been a Best Buy director since April 2008. He formerly served as EVP and CFO of UnitedHealth Group and CEO of Optum, a healthcare services company and affiliate of UnitedHealth. Mikan has strong financial and operational expertise, as well as public company leadership experience.

A search committee of the board of directors has been created consisting of the founder and members of the nominating, corporate governance and policy committee. The committee will oversee the process for the identification and selection of the next CEO.

Whomever assumes the CEO role will have to contend with a struggling company that recently announced plans to close 50 of its signature big-box stores and posted a fourth quarter loss of $1.7 billion.

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Off Target?

BY Jeff Green

If you’re like me and watch more TV than you should, you’ve probably seen the unusual new Target commercials with the hot air balloon. These “Color Changes Everything” spots feature a troupe of lively individuals landing in a hot air balloon (which, when seen from above, sports a gigantic version of the distinctive Target bullseye logo) and cavorting through an urban setting in acrobatic fashion, magically transforming the clothing, accessories and household goods of the people they encounter into stuff that is brighter, hipper and generally cooler and more fun. One of the most striking things about the ad is the fact that the entire sequence is set to the soundtrack of a jaunty song, with lyrics entirely in French!

I have to admit, this ad missed the mark a little bit with me — mainly because it left me more puzzled than excited — and made me wonder if it missed the mark with others as well. I’m guessing the point of it was to show that the range of products at Target has the potential to make bland things more interesting and that the things you buy at Target can make your world a little brighter. The energy, activity and bright colors seem clearly aimed at reinforcing the notion that hip and chic are key elements of the Target brand. But, can they afford for people to guess what their message is?

The choice of music — the French children’s song, Alouette — is also questionable. Because I was curious and I don’t speak French, I looked up the lyrics and found out the song is about plucking a lark — nothing to do with shopping. I suppose on one level, the upbeat melody of the song fit the playful and fast-paced theme of the commercial. Or, perhaps, it was a not-so-subtle wink at their perceived status as the most stylish and sophisticated of the big discount retailers. I know many of their “cult followers” who refer to them as the very French-sounding “Tar-zhay.” Perhaps the European flair to this commercial was intended to reinforce that fanciful image.

But did it work? I’m not sure. The song — and the ad as a whole — is obviously an unusual choice, and I worry that it might backfire for them. Any time you do something so esoteric and unusual, you run a risk. While I commend Target for being bold with their advertising decisions, I think it’s possible they’ve gotten a little too complicated and obtuse with this spot. Right now, I don’t think retailers can afford to be risky and edgy with their commercial messaging. I think, as we become a more digital society, consumers’ attention spans will become shorter and shorter. If you get too creative and less direct, I’m not sure you’ll see the results. If their goal was to entertain existing customers who are already committed to shopping at Target, then perhaps it works. But, if they’re trying to gain new customers, pulling from those other less stylish discounters, then I think they failed. It’s not likely to resonate with most discount shoppers.

In contrast, we know J.C. Penney is trying to appeal to shoppers who either haven’t shopped there in awhile or have never shopped there. Their ads, featuring Ellen DeGeneres, are clear evidence that you can be funny and quirky while still keeping things simple and delivering the brand messaging quickly and succinctly to a specific audience. I think it’s fair to ask, will the new Target commercials actually drive more traffic to the store, in turn, driving up sales? Will it bring in new customers who don’t normally shop there? Or will it just be an eccentric oddity that gets dismissed?

And yet, for all of my skepticism, think about this: If the point of this ad was to simply generate buzz and to get people thinking and talking about the Target brand…then, maybe the “Color Changes Everything” spot actually worked. After all, I just wrote an entire column about it!

What do you think? Did this commercial resonate with you? Do you think it was risky? Please make a public comment below or feel free to e-mail me privately at [email protected].


Click here for past columns by Jeff Green.

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