3 branding lessons for trade shows and events: With thanks to John Lewis, Waitrose and their partners

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Posted by , 7th September 2018

Thinking about the John Lewis rebrand prompted these 3 lessons on "event branding" that could be useful to exhibitors and those organising corporate events

This week department store group John Lewis, which includes the Waitrose supermarket chain, decided to rebrand. They are now called respectively, John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners.

You will I’m sure have your own views on whether or not this has been a good idea. Or perhaps, you are not in the slightest bit interested.

Personally, I don’t think it is a great idea. I don’t think it will help achieve a significant upturn in the fortunes of either business.

Maybe it’s not designed to. Or again, maybe it will.

I’m no retail expert, so I’m not going to act like one and pontificate about a well-established business’s marketing decisions.

However, I am a regular client of both chains and so I am interested in what are they doing to stay current and to be places where I would like to continue shopping in the future.

Thinking about this much-covered rebrand prompted me to recount three lessons on “event branding” that I have learned over the years that I think could be helpful to you.

I started to learn about using trade shows to build brand awareness back in the far-flung 1980’s

When I started working as a salesperson in a trade show organising business, I quickly learned that apart from exhibiting to collect sales leads, many exhibitors used shows to create awareness. Or as many of them stated back then, “to build and raise profile.”

Today’s salesperson is much more likely to hear the word “brand” used in a sales conversation as in “we are exhibiting to raise the profile of our brand.” Either way, the meaning is still the same as it was way back when.

My introduction to brand building at trade shows

Back in the far distant 1980’s, exhibitors didn’t talk about “brands” as often as they do now. But, they were very aware of the benefits that could be gained from having their company or product name displayed as strongly and as often as possible around exhibition halls and adjacent space.

Exhibitors recognised then, as they do now, that trade shows offer a great opportunity for creating brand impact and awareness with the people and businesses that they would most like to be doing business with.

Lesson 1: Exhibitions and events enable exhibitors to show people who may have never heard or dealt with them before, who they are

Think about this fact, it’s pretty exciting.

Companies who don’t know your business from Adam, who have never seen or heard of you before, can in few minutes at a trade show learn what you stand for. They can learn about your values. They can learn about the way that you do business. And of course, they can learn about the products or services that you supply.

From zero to hero in minutes. It’s a big and powerful opportunity and you can achieve all of this from the floor of an exhibition hall. Don’t let familiarity with events dull this recognition within you. It’s one of the biggest assets that trade exhibitions offer.

Lesson 2: Tell your story

When you exhibit you get the chance to tell your story. Why your business does what it does. Why your clients like the way you do things. These are the elements that will resonate not with all visitors but those who get and like what you do.

Events enable you to tell that story and you don’t need a big stand in order to tell it successfully.

On your stand

Graphics and screens; your products and your stand team are all potential conveyors of your story. Make it interesting and something that is exciting and appealing to those people you want to attract.

Don’t let your stand and presence be a book that people want to put down because it doesn’t hold their interest.

For in-depth details of how to achieve this with graphics, read this article.

Your stand team

One of the greatest strengths of John Lewis/Waitrose are the people that work there.

They are so knowledgeable about their products and they go to great lengths to ensure that you are happy with your purchases. The service element they provide is huge.

That’s what you want your stand team to be like. Friendly but businesslike. Strong on details and great ambassadors for your business.

Lesson 3: The importance of brand consistency

There’s nothing like a trade show or a corporate event to highlight the inconsistency in a client’s branding. Many a printer has had their print deadlines laid waste by clients who have to track down the current version of their company logo or brand imagery.

This is one obvious element of brand consistency. To build brand awareness, people need to keep seeing the same brand imagery and messaging wherever it appears.

Some of the clients I have worked with have been so hot on this aspect of the event programme they even factor in things like how their logo will change colour when sunlight hits their stand or banner at different times of the day. That kept me on my toes!

To avoid branding headaches close to an event, get things sorted out internally way in advance. Get sign-off from your boss or marketing department for any displays that you plan to use. Show clearly how and where your brand identity will be displayed.

The bigger the organisation is that you work for, the greater the chance for “brand” problems and last minute headaches to arise. Head them off wherever you possibly can.

Consistently good stand staff

But what about having staff ready to start work as soon as the show opens and going right up till it closes? If you don’t have people ready and willing to meet and greet show visitors at these times, you are risking lost sales. And it doesn’t look good for your brand either.

And let’s not get started on disinterested salespeople on stands either. They should be outlawed. I’ve had two bad experiences at two different shows this week alone where I was attending as a buyer. Seriously, it’s maddening but also ….a sales opportunity for the training I offer (there’s always an upside..).

Choose to have your stand team consistently good or great by instilling in them the values you expect them to bring when they work at a show. They are your brand ambassadors for better or worse. Strive for better!

Here’s to success for John Lewis, Waitrose, and their excellent teams. I hope that they benefit from their rebrand. I like what they do and hope they continue successfully for years to come.

And here’s to your success the next time you exhibit or organise an event. Tell your story. Be consistent, win new hearts and minds for your business. And please, only bring your best event team.

PS. Actually, I really like shopping at John Lewis and Waitrose

I know already that the people who work in both parts of the John Lewis/Waitrose businesses are “partners.” That’s why the service you receive from staff is so good. Especially when compared with many other rival stores.

The extended warranties that you receive are a big reassurance when buying big ticket items too.

There are so many positives that could be built on and hopefully, these will also receive attention in future marketing campaigns. As a JL & P customer, I hope so.

And, they didn’t need a rebrand to tell me these things but maybe they are not trying to convince people like me. If it’s people like my children that they hope to influence, they are going to need to be more direct. But that’s another story.

Posted in Event branding  /  Experiential  /  Stand graphics  /  Visibility & Impact

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