In marketing and tech circles, there’s always been a lot of hype around events. Check out the numbers:
While there’s a wide variety of event types, conferences are the big player in the event industry and, as we’ve observed firsthand, design plays a fundamental role in making a marketing or tech conference successful.
There are two common mistakes companies usually make when putting together a conference. They either go all-in and spend their money on the event design, or they don’t do enough and their event is easily forgotten. Here’s a list of tips to help you plan your event, followed by a look at how five of the top marketing and tech conferences in the world use design to elevate their events.
Why should people choose you? You can be sure you’re not the only conference targeting your audience. So let’s take a look at some of the main aspects of conference event planning and see why design is fundamental to engagement and differentiation.
Those “wow” conferences everyone keeps talking about long after they’re over don’t just happen. They start with a clear vision and are the result of thorough planning and excellent execution.
Before putting pen to paper to brainstorm ideas, decide on the scope of the event and set clear SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goals. You have to understand your goals to reach them.
Your audience is here for the experience. To do that, your audience needs their pain points addressed first. Before going above and beyond to give your conference that extra pizazz, make sure attendees get what they need – a fast, intuitive, smooth experience both online and offline. You have to nail online ticket purchasing; the ability to find event details like location, schedule and a venue map online; and quick entry into the venue without huge lines or overcrowding.
Once you’ve taken care of all your attendees' pain points, it’s time to look at their wants. That can be things like:
The final step to winning your audience over is making them love your event, so they will come back next year. Storytelling, creating a community and delivering an unexpected experience through creative design, entertainment and quality all contribute to positive after-event feelings. Conferences like TED, C2 Montreal and SXSW are excellent examples, as they offer attendees the elevated experience they’re looking for and get them involved beyond simply attending.
You can’t have a successful large-scale event like a conference with a weak brand. Do that and you’re going to fall in a big pile of forgettable and bland. You want people to keep talking long after the last speaker leaves the stage, so they need to remember who you are and what you’re about.
To create strong event branding, think about your organization’s brand identity, but with a little something extra. When people think of your event, they will immediately associate it with certain colors, fonts and other design elements, but also with its personality, atmosphere and aesthetics.
Minimize the gap between online and offline through a consistent, cohesive brand image by delivering a 360° experience where the online (event website, landing pages, event email marketing, event app) and offline (banners, posters, stage, swag, flyers) complement each other and blend harmoniously. According to an SDL study, 60% of millennials expect a consistent experience from brands across mediums. Let’s break some of those pieces down a bit:
When creating the website design, keep in mind the colors, fonts, logo and theme — they need to be consistent with the brand. The event website is usually the first touchpoint a potential attendee will have with you, so it has to be memorable but not overwhelming. The Web Summit homepage (below) is a good example. Aim for simplicity and minimalism in design and keep the message concise. Videos can add dynamism and effectively capture the event’s vibe, while a countdown can help build up anticipation.
Compelling copy and a swift, intuitive registration process are essential to creating an efficient event registration landing page. However, design plays a vital role too. Relevant, straightforward content and design create a sense of urgency. Include clear CTAs and intuitively lead visitors to the next step in the registration process to help increase the conversion rate. A conversion-centric design, like the SXSW registration page below includes well-placed CTAs, a minimalist style, and cleverly contrasted colors and is optimized for every device.
40% of marketers believe email marketing is the most effective event promotion channel. Email design is an essential component that can make or break the success of an email marketing campaign. Good email design maintains a consistent color scheme, emphasizes event logo and CTA buttons and includes little text. Check out how simply Inbound communicated with potential attendees below. Videos and GIFs are excellent examples of dynamic content you can incorporate to keep readers interested.
Source: Inbound 2019 App
An effective event app design needs to represent the brand and offer attendees a personalized experience. Custom icons can offer your app a cohesive look and match the brand identity. Clutter is a turn-off in an event app design.
Building a consistent experience for your attendees applies onsite too — after all, that’s where the magic happens. We’re talking posters, flyers, banners, the stage, free branded giveaways and everything in between. Your event should tell a good story, so all these elements need to be part of the same puzzle and maintain a consistent aesthetic between your online and in-person branding efforts. Your attendees expect to be dazzled, so you need to offer them an astounding experience.
With the audience top of mind and a clear understanding of your event brand, design can also be a way of escaping the “been there, done that” feel that annual conferences can sometimes leave. A strong event narrative starts the moment your audience reads about your conference for the first time and continues long after the closing speaker calls it a wrap.
Let’s take a look at five of the most influential marketing and tech conferences to see how they nail event design every single time:
Date: September 3-6, 2019
Location: Boston, MA
Inbound is one of the top annual marketing conferences out there. Even though it is hosted by Hubspot, the conference has a brand identity of its own. Inbound’s brand is strong, easily recognizable and gets better by the year.
Why we love it: From top-notch speakers to a sleek mobile app and the iconic #INBOUND backdrop, each asset feels part of the same universe. Their online and offline design elements are very much in tune; it’s like watching all the digital elements (fonts, colors, theme) catch life and transpose into a dazzling experience at the live event.
Source: Wearable Technologies
Date: January 7-10, 2020
Location: Las Vegas, NV
CES is where thriving consumer technology businesses gather. It is owned and produced by Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and had over 175K attendees and 1K speakers in 2019.
Why we love it: They managed to take their brand identity from the online universe and transport it into the real world, with branding elements everywhere throughout the venue. They also made the most of technology, creating energy in the room with lots of screens.
Date: November 4-7, 2019
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Web Summit is one of the biggest annual technology conferences, bringing together Fortune 500 companies, groundbreaking startups and world-class speakers to Lisbon.
Why we love it: Web Summit has a varied audience. With over 16 types of attendees interested in their events, they built a universal brand associated that doesn’t lean on cultural references. Still, each event creates a new and unique experience for the attendees. They’ve evolved from an event where design was based mostly on the logo to a much clearer, easier-to-use identity system, as they realized people know where they are and there’s no need to keep telling them. They always listen to feedback and come back with improved design elements the year after.
Date: March 13-22, 2020
Location: Austin, TX
South by Southwest (SXSW) is a massive conference and festival event where film, music, culture, technology and other interactive industries come together. It lasts 10 days and includes networking, learning and discovery.
Why we love it: We’ve loved watching the evolution of their logo design and the overall transformation of the conference’s visual expression over the years. It has evolved from a colorful, complex logo trying to contain all three main attractions to a more simplistic logo with a clean typography. It’s now easier to understand and use in different circumstances. The new logo also has a more modern feel with a somewhat condensed, sans serif font that offers full flexibility in its usage. It’s easily recognizable and gives the event and the atmosphere a chance to take center stage.
Date: July 6-8, 2020
Location: Seattle, WA
MozCon is not your average marketing conference. With a mix of top-notch speakers and relevant content, it has created an incredible community of friendly, enthusiastic, forward-thinking professionals.
Why we love it: MozCon has a powerful event identity defined through their simplicity. Their minimalistic aesthetic is visible online and offline with a cohesive branding system of fonts, colors, lines and brand personality.
Putting together a successful conference starts and ends with the attendee experience in mind: creating an awesome event that people will choose instead of the other ones out there; crafting a strong brand identity, yet reinventing yourself every year, so the attendee doesn’t get bored eventually. It all starts with a robust yet versatile event brand identity and understanding the role design plays in taking an event from easily forgettable to unmissable.
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