TED’s giant red letters. Coachella’s dramatic desert vistas. South by Southwest’s assertive arrow. All events have a brand identity, but some are much more memorable than others. The most memorable event brand identity evokes the experience, and an event’s identity can make or break its brand as much or more than the actual experience. “What’s a brand identity,” you ask? “My event has a logo and people like it. Isn’t that enough?” Good question! Let’s define a few terms before diving in:

Brand vs. Identity

Your event’s brand is much more than, say, its logo or color palette. It’s what someone feels when they think about your event—the overall impression in their mind, their gut reaction. “Branding” is a complex process that positions and differentiates your event among other events.

Your event’s identity is how you consistently present your brand, both visually (logo, color palette, typography, imagery, photography) and verbally (copy language, messaging, voice and tone). This post doesn’t cover the generalities of branding or the specifics of logo design—it’s about identity, which is subordinate to branding (indeed it’s only one aspect of the overall brand). However, good identity is absolutely critical to a successful brand.

Well-designed event identity is important because it helps define the experience at an event’s three moments of truth: before, during, and after. What happens at each of those stages will define your event for everyone (and their friends, their colleagues, or anyone they talk to) so it’s important that you define it first. You want to launch a successful event, not launch a thousand facepalms. Compelling, comprehensive, and communicative brand identity can help with that. Here’s how:

On-site identity collateral by Scout New Orleans and Solomon Group at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week 2017.

Before the Event

Event production is a massive undertaking, but don’t let your event brand identity get neglected or lost in the shuffle. Start with what questions to answer, like “why should people go?” Every event must justify attendance, whether it’s CES or Comic-Con or the ADA New Dentist Conference. Once someone has decided to go, how easy will it be to get there? What should they expect when they arrive?

Identity will help convey that. Engaging event identity helps stoke interest and boost attendance as the event approaches: reflecting the brand’s promise (a great experience), fostering word-of-mouth (social sharing, testimonials), and driving conversions (registration, ticket sales).

Identity can promise a great experience by defining that experience with visual cues and supporting those visuals with descriptive copy. What will your attendees learn at this event? Who will they become afterward? Photography or imagery (such as from previous events) can represent answers to those questions.

Colors evoking the emotions of the experience (cool for precision or tradition, warm for innovation, neon for excitement) can also help define that experience. Detailed textual examples (program descriptions or guest speaker bios) can support both types of visual identity when it makes that promise.

Substance Sets Up Sales

Identity can also foster word-of-mouth by defining which representations of the brand promise are shareable. Got a killer photo or video of happy, enraptured attendees from last year? Plaster that thing all over your collateral and social feed. Have a substantial, measured testimonial from one of those happy people? Get something that quantifies it—not just “I had a great time and learned a lot,” but rather “thanks to the helpful workshops, I got five new strategies I’m ready to use in my day-to-day operations.”

Or maybe you have some impressive numbers from a satisfaction survey captured during or immediately after your last conference, like “91% of attendees said they made the kind of connections they were looking for.” Give your social proof the royal treatment with well-paired typefaces and tasteful, easy-to-read layouts.

Identity can close the sale by making registration easy and intuitive. That royal treatment you just gave those effusive testimonials? That’s called visual hierarchy—design that directs the user along a specific path toward a single goal. Contrasting colors, like black text on a white background, make for easy skimming and quick comprehension. Properly stratified typography (progressively darkening color shades or descending weights of headers, subheads, body copy, etc.) will do the same for more substantial content.

Buttons with clear calls to action and brand-affirming language remind potential attendees what they’re really buying: “Yes, I want to spend five days in paradise while becoming a better buggy whip salesperson,” or “No, I dislike pleasure and would rather see my sales numbers stay as they are.” Compel those clicks and sell those tickets!

On-site identity collateral by Mother Design at the 2016 AIGA Design Conference in Las Vegas.

During the Event

Your attendees are coming and they are excited! When the big day arrives, will you be ready? Are the check-in desks stocked with the right informational materials? Are the helpful volunteers easily noticeable? Identity will help answer those questions, both on location (printed or digital signage) and on demand (mobile app or website).

Consistent event brand identity helps attendees get where they need to be while the event happens: illustrating their surroundings and how to navigate them (easy wayfinding), as well as previewing what will happen when they arrive at each destination (reliable and informative reference tools).

Identity can illustrate and help negotiate surroundings by ensuring all signage is understandable. Wayfinding should be immediately legible, especially from a distance. Similar principles apply from the registration process: high-contrast colors (three to five at most in any palette) and large type for both headlines and subheads to ensure speedy and maximum comprehension.

“Wayfinding” also includes your staff or volunteers! Dress them in event-branded clothing so attendees know who to ask for help. Want to reduce friction in the panicked day of your out-of-town attendees running on little sleep (and possibly hungover, depending on the conference)? Decking your halls in big, clear, unmistakably-identified signage gives attendees less to think about, simplifies their day, removes their frustration, and helps your general session start on time.

Professionalism is Power

Quick aside here about photography, since compelling imagery strengthens event identity at every stage of an event. We can’t emphasize this enough: hire a professional photographer to document your event! How often have you looked back at conference photos and found a lot of poorly-lit rooms full of tired-looking people?

Okay, so maybe conferences are often poorly-lit rooms full of tired-looking people, but a great photographer knows how to make the most of it (and of your evening after-parties!), so you have enticing images that your attendees want to share. Seriously, it’s important—for example, compare my snapshots above from AIGA’s design conference to the fabulous pro-shot work done at the same event by Frank Aymami. Pro photography is a huge help to make the conference as appealing as possible for next year’s potential attendees.

Identity can make reference tools more reliable and informative, reducing trouble for both attendees and organizers—fewer problems, fewer questions, fewer lost guests. Your event’s badges, programs, calendars, venue maps, transportations schedules, and more should both reflect the visual identity and make it work for presenting lots of details in an easily consumable form.

This is more than signage or video; your event’s custom app or website may need to gracefully compromise the identity a bit (maybe don’t use that unique, custom font or that huge photo from the print program or thirty colors per screen) for the sake of download time. Beauty and reliability aren’t mutually exclusive, so your event identity should be flexible enough to accommodate that.

On-site identity collateral by Scout New Orleans and Solomon Group at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week 2017.

After the Event

You did it! You pulled it off! Now what? Did your attendees enjoy the experience? Did they learn something? Did they meet amazing people? Give them a space to share that! You can only do so much after the fact, so make it count. Trust us, that post-event collapse into exhaustion will feel a lot better if you know the event’s identity can help in the aftermath.

Premium, consistent brand identity makes your event more memorable, helping cement great experiences and turning attendees into advocates: offering spaces for storytelling (branded social sharing), emotional connection (authentic souvenirs), and incentives to return next time (iterative refreshes).

Identity can stimulate storytelling by defining a space to share and allowing attendees to take ownership of that space. Social media makes sharing easy, but those massively popular third-party tools are still third-party tools with their own brand identity. You’ll be using them anyway, so make sure your event’s presence on those channels is unmistakably identified.

Take the opportunity to present more substantial engagement opportunities as your attendees travel home. Brand your social channels, your post-event surveys, your endorsement requests, and more with your event identity—because your event’s brand isn’t what you say it is—it’s what others say it is. Give your attendees time and space to tell the world about their great experience.

The Emotion is the Experience

Identity can help create authentic emotional connections between your attendees and their event experience. Tying your event’s branded souvenirs to the event’s location—the host city, venue, organization, local current events, or all of the above—is the easiest way to distinguish it from the avalanche of disposable giveaways polluting events everywhere.

Goodie bags are conference staples, but don’t just give away useless swag that will collect dust or get tossed out. Branded apparel can be a safe bet, but emotional souvenirs—photo booths, video backdrops, Snapchat filters—are an even better way to keep and share memories, especially if your identity is tastefully included.

Finally, identity can help deliver compelling reasons to return next time. Does your event repeat on a regular basis? Document everything and get as many testimonials from current attendees as possible. Make sure your physical and digital promotional materials have unique identity for next year’s event, but within your existing brand.

Consider thoughtfully swapping out your identity’s components each year so that (for example) your permanent logo doesn’t become stale or dated. Refreshing event identity is a process in itself, however. Don’t simply make a new logo every year; different color palettes, typography, or auxiliary imagery can help subtly refresh future identity.

Slow-mo video booth for the 2016 AIGA Leadership Retreat in Raleigh by Griffin Wing Productions

Mastering the Moments of Truth

Event production is hard work, and event professionals work hard, whether they’re planning a simple mixer or weeklong conference. Unfortunately, sometimes critical things like brand identity drown in the ocean of logistics involved with producing events. Mastering those three moments of truth before, during, and after your event won’t happen immediately, but it will happen sooner if you have the right help.

Working with a single creative firm for all your event brand identity collateral keeps engagement, consistency and memorability ship-shape for the entire cruise. Tight Ship’s team delivers compelling visual identity across multiple media to help ensure event attendees anticipate a fun experience before going, enjoy a great time during, and share their memorable stories after each event. Get a look at what we can do for you by contacting us for an exclusive portfolio.