Creating an identity for your event

Written by  Tuesday, 22 March 2016

We hear so much about brand identity these days that it has become one of those meaningless business mantras – a catch all phrase that, by trying to encompass everything, ends up actually meaning very little.   

In fact, behind the marketing department jargon and the designer’s sales pitch there is something really key here that is worth pausing on right at the very beginning of planning an event.

Let’s be clear it’s not the logo or the colours or the typeface and starting there misses the point. Those decisions communicate your identity but they don’t create it.

You do that.

In short you need to be crystal clear about

  • What your event will do
  • Why you are doing it
  • Who the event is aimed at
  • How they will feel or think about it
  • Where and when it will take place

That’s it. Nothing fancy. Who, What, Where, When, How and Why.

Now where did we hear that before?

But if you have good, thought-through answers to these questions, much of what then follows will become quite clear. Many otherwise fraught decisions will make themselves.

1. Let’s start with the WHY.

An event doesn’t exist in its own right – it is a vehicle for some wider objective: the press launch party that gets media attention, the staff conference that builds a team spirit, the gallery opening that brings key influencers into a show before it gets crowded, the village fete that binds a community together, the charity auction that raises money, the food fair that creates a business opportunity for artisan makers.

There may be more than one objective of course and each objective might have more than one reason some of which might be distinctly un-business-like: a client recently told me he was holding a corporate fundraising event “because it’s the right thing to do”. All of that is just fine so long as they’ve been identified and shared. Anything that remains hidden at this stage will surely trip you up later in the process.

Once you’ve got all; this out in the open you have effectively identified your event values and the beginnings of its personality. These are the core of any brand.

2. Now comes the WHAT

To put it simply, what can you design that will best achieve the objectives you have identified? This is the stage at which it is useful to keep in mind the concept of the busy fool – and avoid becoming one! Always, what is the simplest and most straightforward way of achieving your objectives? You are going to be quite busy enough before this is over without unnecessary complexity.

As straightforward a story as possible is what will communicate best through design, publicity, writing, social media and press work. Sum it up in a key phrase or a key sentence. If you can do that, you’ve really bottomed out the why and the what.

Somewhere in the relationship between what you are doing and why you are doing it is your special something, the thing that makes your event unique, the thing that will make your story sparkle. A really effective event USP does not have to be about novelty but it is very often about your event’s personality, its values, its history, its DNA.

3. So WHO is the intended audience of all of this?

Be as clear as you can who your event is aimed at and link that back to the why and the what. At this point it might be worth considering that you are reaching your real target audience through another group. This is often the case when an event is designed for children because when children come and take part, so do their parents and their grandparents. We can all learn from Children in Need.

Now a reality check: does your intended audience want to do what you have planned for them? How do you know? If in doubt – ask some of them. That’s what social media is for.

The more you know about your audience and how it behaves the better. Ask yourself key questions such as which supermarket/department store, for example, they are likely to use and then check out how those companies communicate.

Even B2B events can use this technique – you can of course replace the idea of the store with a business buying decision common in the sector and do the same analysis but the retail option can also be useful. The key decision makers in your target businesses buy groceries too.

4. How will people think and feel about your event?

There are two sides to this question:

  • how do you want them to feel and
  • how do they actually feel.

The difference between those two positions is the job of your marketing plan – we’ll blog about this at a later date. 

Once you’re clear about how you want people to think about the event you can start to draw up lists of words that will help you convey that impression and your designers can use this to think about their work too. Try to compose a sentence that you’d like people to be thinking as they walk away from your event. That sentence is the basis of your marketing plan.

These four steps have given you everything you need to create a brand identity. They can be used to develop a brief for anyone you now go on to work with: designer, your social media team, your web developers, your PR team and anyone else who is going to help your tell your story – including your staff.

With a good clear brief, there is a much greater chance that you feel your team “get” you and your event. The time you have invested in these four steps will save you endless hours of frustration and expensive amendments. In addition the practical decisions of the where and the when should be much more straightforward. 

Perhaps even more importantly, you now have a set of criteria you can use to measure how successful your event is.

Kate Holt

Kate Holt has organised events in both the public, private, not for profit and voluntary sectors for many years. She is currently the Managing Director of event creation and management company Happening up North.