Meeting pros need to think more like their colleagues down the hall in the marketing department if they want meetings that deliver results. That’s the bottom-line message from a new report from American Express Meetings & Events called, “Focus on the Why: How Branding Principles Can Guide Your Event Design.”
The report takes readers through a three-step process aimed at refocusing their priories from the logistical side of meeting planning to the goals and visceral experience of the event. In the same way marketers work to define the emotions that a brand can evoke, meetings planners need to know what they want their attendees to react and feel.
In step one, the report says, meeting professionals should identify both the measurable and intangible goals for the event. These could be anything from improving product knowledge to building customer loyalty to increasing sales by a certain percentage. Once the ideal outcomes and behavior changes are clear, they should be narrowing that down to one or two priorities around which the meeting can be designed.
In step two, meeting organizers need to establish how the attendees feel now, and how they want them to feel when the event is over. The report recommends pre-event surveys and an understanding of attendee personas to get a better feel for attendees’ needs and how they experience meetings. To build a consensus about the feelings an event should evoke, the authors suggest gathering stakeholders for exercises that use “mood boards” (visual collages of color, style, and emotion) and “word sheets.” In the word sheet activity, stakeholders work alone then in groups to narrow down a list of evocative words they feel best describe how they want attendees to feel.
Step three goes back to the more logistical, or what the report terms “functional,” aspects of an event—invitations, registration, onsite experience, and post-event engagement—but all informed by the “why” of the meeting that has been uncovered in steps one and two.
Finding time for pre-event strategic planning is a challenge, the report’s authors admit, but argue that the outcome is worth the effort. “Adding work upfront may feel impossible at first,” the report says. “Consider starting with a few key events to find out what process works best for your organization. Ultimately, approaching your events more strategically will yield a better experience for your participants and better outcomes for your business.”