I’m currently in Baltimore, Maryland, attending the Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting. In addition to accepting One+’s gold award for magazine general excellence from the organizers, I’m attending many of the event’s professional development sessions.
One of the most interesting sessions was the opening keynote “Why We Buy, Why We Brand” presented by Debbie Millman. It was a fascinating anthropological investigation about, well, branding.
Millman started by taking the audience down the branding history road. A couple of interesting trivia bits included that the word brand comes from “brond,” which is in the epic poem Beowulf from 1010 A.D. Also, the world’s first trademark was for Bass Pale Ale, a beer. Humanity, of course, has its priorities straight.
We were then presented by the various waves of branding. The first wave (1875-1920) of brands guaranteed quality and consistency, with package goods equalling signified premiums and expectations of safety.
Branding’s second wave (1920-1965) brought on anthropomorphization. Metaphor was injected into a brand. This wave was popular, and still is, because people love puzzles, they love figuring out what a logo or image means for a brand. For example, the Morton Salt girl is walking in the rain trailing salt behind her. The slogan is “When It Rains It Pours.” Trying to figure out why Morton says that is part of the fun (Morton figured out a way to cause salt to pour from a container even in humid weather is the answer). Another reason this wave is popular is because people can relate to and project onto characters. The next time you’re in a grocery store check out children’s cereal boxes. All of the characters eyes will be looking down toward the children who are looking up to them.
The third wave (1965-1985) was all about self-expressive statements, that a brand could provide status. If you’re a Mad Men fan, you’ll see this wave in the pitches that Don and Peggy present to clients for Jaguar and Heinz.
Wave four (1985-2000) was the experience era, with experiential marketing a popular tactic.
Now we’re in the fifth wave of branding. Humans are at their happiest when they feel attachment to other people. However, one-in-three current households are comprised of one person (compared to one-in-10 in 1950). Because of this, our brains have found new ways to connect to others. In the current wave we’re in, brands act as connectors.
Your event, your meeting, is a brand. Its sole purpose is connections. This could mean connections to content to new business to new friends. If you’re not thinking of your event in this way, if you’re not even thinking of yourself this way as a meeting professional, then you’re behind the times.
Sure, it’s fine to have a status symbol attached to your event’s brand. Or maybe your brand’s event creates an experience. But without that final piece, the connection, your event will come up sorely lacking. Who wants to attend an event where they don’t bring back any new ideas, business, or friends? No one that I know.