Design Strategy for Event Marketers

by Laura Magnuson

Design thinking isn’t necessarily a new concept, but it’s one that event professionals are employing more regularly to power their organizational strategies. This fusion of design thinking and business strategy, called design strategy, is defining how we relate to our members/attendees, lay out our show floor and incorporate technology into our brand experiences. As the art director for mdg, here’s how I use design strategy in pre-show promotions to help my event clients gain a competitive advantage and create meaningful connections with target audiences.

STEP ONE: Think outside-in versus inside-out
It’s all too easy to allow the features of our events to drive our messaging approach – creating a story arc that goes from “Registration Is Open” to “Keynote Speaker Announced” to “Innovative Solutions Debuting at Expo” to “Last Chance to Pre-register.” Often, these messages are supported visually with photo after photo from last year’s event. This is what we call “inside-out” marketing. My advice to event marketers is to turn this approach on its head. This means getting to know your target audiences, through primary and secondary research, as well as quantitative and qualitative data and analytics. What makes them tick? What’s driving their industry right now? What’s keeping them up at night? How have they interacted with your event in the past? When and how did they register? Start here and then develop your messaging strategies, tactical plans and creative approach to align with what you discover.

STEP TWO: Think laterally
Simply put, it’s important to keep a finger on the pulse of industries outside of your own for inspiration and fresh ideas. Often, an ad campaign for a car company, beauty product or trade show in a completely unrelated space uses a design approach, messaging tactic or call to action that, when adapted, could also work for your campaign. Thinking laterally often uncovers bigger and better solutions; when we step outside of our trade show marketing bubble, we allow ourselves to see new possibilities—especially in social media, video marketing and other mediums that facilitate more personal and/or emotional connections.

STEP 3: Think like your target audience
It’s important to gauge how your audience will react to a particular design or message. Surveys, prototyping and focus groups help you understand how your target market interprets and internalizes your event brand. This will ultimately produce greater understanding about why certain opinions are held and a vision for developing new strategies and creative executions. If you don’t have a big budget for extensive market research, enlist committee members or a few bellwether exhibitors or power buyers to help test new design or messaging ideas. Their insights and thoughts can provide a wealth of information.

Essentially, design thinking integrates research, analytics and psychographic profiling with creativity, imagination, vision and courage. It’s an approach that should impact content, sales, operations and customer service as much as it does marketing. Event professionals who can successfully employ design thinking will be more likely to make meaningful connections with their audiences and build markets and market share.

Contact Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes today to learn how to enhance your event’s design strategy.