Next Level: Designing Events with “Why” in Mind

Next Level: Designing Events with “Why” in Mind

Design (with a Capital D, more on that later) plays a key role in the success of any event. To learn more, we interviewed Kevin Polonofsky, Principal and Creative Director at REVERED, an agency dedicated to helping brands, businesses, and institutions create impact with evidence-based design.

Kevin’s design career began with a BFA in advertising and graphic design, but has since spanned 18 years (including 10 years leading REVERED) of helping clients turn ideas into engaging brand experiences through multiple marketing touchpoints.

WorkTrip: What advice do you have to offer when it comes to designing events that align with your brand(s)?

Kevin: I recommend starting with the simple Simon Sinek thought process – why, how and what. That is always a great place to start, and it opens up a lot of interesting avenues and ideas.

I would start doing it the easy way, then do it the hard way. The easy way is asking yourself a few questions, such as:

  • What are we trying to do?
  • What are we trying to sell?
  • How are we going to deliver that?
  • How are we going to communicate that at this event?
  • Why are we here, and why are we different?

Going through these questions should help you come up with some great ideas to serve as starting points, but don’t implement anything just yet.

Now, look at things from a different perspective. Ask yourself more questions, including: 

  • Why are we truly here?
  • Why does that matter?
  • How are we going to deliver that?
  • What am I asking for even goers to do?
  • Is that what my CMO is asking for, or driving towards?
  • Does this align with my KPIs or the goals I have set for myself, for the brand, and the company?

If the answer to that last one is no, go back to the why again. Eventually, you will start circling around your why. Once you have that, put it in the middle of a white board or sticky pad, then write a bunch of ideas on sticky notes in a circle around it. Now, all of a sudden, you have ideas and concepts you can communicate and implement.

WorkTrip: What advice do you have for event marketers looking to work with agency partners like REVERED?

Kevin: Branding agencies, marketing firms, etc. – these are all fun, interesting buzz words. But the bottom line is that we are all designers, we are all thinkers to some extent.

What I mean by design is Design with a capital D, not lower-case graphic design. Design (with a capital D) is all about problem solving. If you want to work with a firm to really impact a situation, give them a real problem, a real challenge they can help you solve. You will find that you have creative agencies stumbling over themselves to come up with cool, creative ideas. And, you will find yourself starting to fill up that white board with even more ideas.

But remember that ideas alone aren’t enough – do your research and take an evidence-based approach (learn more below).

WorkTrip: Your agency has been around for 10 years. What changes have you seen over the years, when it comes to branding/marketing for events?

Kevin: It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing. There are so many opportunities today that we didn’t have a few years ago. I encourage event planners to step away from what they have always done, or a checklist of things that have to be done, and be open to new ideas. You are better off starting with an idea than starting with execution. If you start with execution, you are not setting yourself up for success. If you start with an idea, you are more likely to think outside your 10 x 10 box and design something that helps you rise above the rest.

Technology has obviously changed a lot, and there are all kinds of creative things you can do with technology today. With the iPhone (and other devices) for example, there is so much you can do at your fingertips. When people are at an event, they are connected to everyone and everything through that one little device. How can you incorporate that device into your execution with text messages, mobile websites, virtual reality, videos, gamification, etc.?  

People really need to think beyond creating something that is shoved in a bag. The more you shove in a bag, the more you are shoved in a bag. Think outside the bag!

WorkTrip: What are some examples of how you’ve helped bring your clients’ brands to life at events?

Kevin: We had one client in the health/pharma industry. They were unveiling new products, new processes for testing, and new branding and positioning. Basically, they had a lot to say, but needed to get people to their booth first – so they could begin a conversation. We needed to find a way to catch people’s attention and drive them to the booth. Thinking outside the box, we created a booth that would hold an airstream and started cooking up Texas BBQ. It was attention-getting and memorable. People started asking “where is the airstream?” They may not have been obvious at first, but there were actually a lot of ties back to the products, the company, the new brand, and their value proposition – i.e. we have been around for a while, but are re-inventing ourselves with something sleek, new and disruptive.

We had another client in the music industry, who wanted a targeted approach, something impactful that could reach a wide audience. To do this we sponsored the Wi-Fi at the event. When people logged in, they were welcomed by a branded landing page that said “Provided by your friends at booth XYZ, enjoy the free Wi-Fi. And while you’re browsing, check out some of the below playlists you might enjoy.” It was designed to introduce them to our client’s product, while creating a positive and memorable experience.

WorkTrip: Do you have any advice on enabling collaboration or engagement (with customers, marketing, execs, sales, etc.) for events?

Kevin: I think it is really important for people to understand that every opportunity is a chance to lead, and that it doesn’t matter where you are in the organization. Again, this is a great time to go back to why, how and what. If you don’t clearly understand the why, you cannot do the how. If you are trying to figure out the how – in between the what and the why – other people are probably trying to figure that out too. You can help build that bridge. If people see you coming to the table with ideas, you are empowering others to do the same.

WorkTrip: Do you have any other advice on how to be more creative when it comes to events, or how to step outside your comfort zone?

Kevin: New ideas and strategies can be a bit scary. But most of the time, you need to be disruptive. If you are uncomfortable with it, great – you might be getting somewhere. Present it to your boss, BUT do not present something crazy with no rationale. It has to be evidence-based, and you have to present it in terms of solutions. Be prepared to walk them through the concept and the ideas, but also be prepared to walk them through how it works and what kind of return on investment they can expect. Run some preliminary numbers, or even put together a little package they can present to their higher-ups.

WorkTrip: Are there any considerations or strategies you recommend when designing materials specifically to be used at an event? 

Kevin: Exceptionally, some things boil up to larger strategies. We need to think about human behavior. For example, know that whatever space you ask someone to enter into (in the US) they are likely to walk in and go to the right. I don’t know the why behind it but there is evidence that supports it.

You need to think about designing for both distance and close proximity. Getting someone to your booth doesn’t start at the booth itself. Remember that your most important point should be seen 30 feet away, and your logo may not be the most important thing to see. You run the risk of looking like everyone else’s giant logo hanging in the air, so think about using other images or messages to reach people and lure them into your booth.

I encourage everyone to follow the CRAP principles from The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams (not that Robin Williams). Everyone should take these principles and apply them to events. CRAP stands for Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity.

Contrast: When it comes to your booth, do you have contrast? Can you see it from 30 feet away? Now is not the time to be subtle. Stop using watermarks, gray type on black, etc.

Repetition: Repeat the most important message at least three times – use repetition with images, messages, colors, etc. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Alignment: Make sure that your concept aligns with your value proposition, that your messages align with your images, etc.

Proximity: We have talked about engaging with attendees from a distance, but think about how to engage with them in close proximity. If you have a sign that says “you can win this free iPad” don’t move it away from the iPad. Use proximity to make connections for people.

If you would like to learn more about how Kevin and his team have helped client design events, check out their work at http://www.revered-agency.com/work/.

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