21 Oct 2013

Last week I attended the IMEX America Conference (www.imexamerica.com) in Las Vegas, which is one of the largest Meetings, Events and Incentive industry conferences in North America.  There were over 8,000 attendees present looking to make important business connections, meet new potential suppliers, network with one another and/or to take part in educational sessions.  The conference uses a Hosted Buyer model, where attendees who have purchasing power can be hosted by the conference, courtesy of the many industry suppliers and sponsors present.

My purposes for attending were:  industry education, networking with colleagues, and to visit a few suppliers at the trade show.  I did not participate as a hosted buyer because over time the focus of my business has moved away from purchasing and logistical planning of events to speaker/content management and consulting services.  Thus, although I did visit a few suppliers, I didn’t feel I had the buying power necessary to warrant being a hosted buyer (nor to support 8 appointments each day of the conference).My colleagues who did attend as a hosted buyers felt the conference was exceptional and that they came away with value.

I, too, came away with value but mine came out of my participation in the education provided by MPI – Meeting Professionals International (www.mpiweb.org). I’ve been a member of MPI for 20 years, and have always valued the opportunity to learnwith and from my colleagues as I’ve grown and developed my business.  One educational session at IMEX exceeded my expectations!

As mentioned in the title of this blog, my big take-away was about my BRAND – specifically the Pick My Brain logo/image and what my business card reflects to others.  A session facilitated by Shawna Suckow, Founder of SPIN (www.spinplanners.com) proved to be a great wake-up call for me, and left me with more questions than answers!  Attendees were asked to participate in the following exercise:

1) Each attendee was asked to hand in one business card
2) Cards from one table were then taken from one table and given to another.
3) Cards were distributed to each person (1 per person) and reviewed.  Each person was to look at it and give a one-word (or short) summary of the impression with which the card left them.
4) Cards were then passed to the next person for the same kind of review, until all at cards at the table had been reviewed.
5) Attendees were urged to not look at what others said, but to review from their own first impression.
6) Cards were then gathered and returned to original owners for feedback.

I can say that when I handed in my card, I felt confident.  I’ve always loved my brand, my card, and felt that it would be well received.   Once I began reviewing the cards of others, I realized how difficult it is to both offer a simple critique or impression, but also how hard it is to discern what a company does or is trying to say just by their business card.  (I have a ton of cards in my office for which I cannot name the service or product, let alone remember the person.)   I also recognized that I am a visual person who looks to color, shape, and design before the words or language. (Of course, this is what informed my own card design).  This meant I had to look harder to see what info was actually there.

When my card was returned to me, I was quite surprised. Although I received two comments (“Cool Image” and  “Fun”) that supported my view that my brand is creative, interesting and bold, the majority of reviewers saw things differently.  Here is the feedback they offered:  “Unsure”, “Not Clear”, “Alien”, “Thinker of What ?”, “Consultant or Expert of What?”, “No Idea What It Means”.

Wow.  Although I felt that I wanted to defend my brand strongly (and Shawna warned us that we would feel attacked when the “truth” came out), I realized quickly how I have been viewing my company and brand through a filter.  When we create our brands, the first person we want to please is ourselves — after all, this is how we are presenting ourselves to the world.  I also realized that very seldom, if ever, do I give out my business card without speaking to someone personally.  These conversations allow me to share what Pick My Brain Consulting is and does, before giving them the card — thus I hadn’t ever had much rebuttal.   But having people who have not met me or haven’t heard of me or my company  provide feedback was priceless. And this is because our brands MUST speak to people outside of our circles.  Yes, we must love them and feel they represent us well, but if our brand doesn’t communicate who we are, or what our company does, it is for naught.

Think about it:  Nike, Coke, Wells Fargo — even the Golden Arches– are so recognizable and say something specific to us – whether we are customers or not.  For those in the meetings industry: Can you name and recognize the brands of our industry leaders?  Can you identify one hotel brand over another, and beyond that — do you know what sets them apart from the others?  Some images are recognizable, but others — not so much. I think small business owners have to work even harder to create brands that tell our stories.  And maybe the hardest part is defining the story in clear, simple terms.  Entrepreneurs often are masters of many talents, and we enjoy doing so many different things.  But to brand successfully a business must know its target market and create a unique image & message that says clearly and  concisely what it does best.  Long after the in-person impression has gone, the business card or website might be the only reminder.

Although I love my company name (it’s memorable, catchy, and interesting), I acknowledge that my business card really says nothing about who Pick My Brain is or the services we offer.  And so, it’s time for me to take my own advice.  Time to get clear about what it is I want to be selling, what services I want to promote, and the audience I most want to serve.  Look for a re-fresh to come!

Have you had branding challenges?  Do you struggle with telling your story in a clear and compelling way?  Share it here!

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