It used to be that if you were hosting a corporate meeting or association conference, it was understood it needed a theme. Who can forget the classics?
- Right Team, Right Time Right Now.
- The Power of One.
- Focus on the Future.
- Better than Ever Together.
- Mission Possible.
The theme sets the tone, in what planners hope is a memorable manner, and also provides a creative platform for visuals, staging, parties and other activities. The meeting theme has historically been the critical starting point for all marketing around the meeting, and many companies have paid top dollar for the winning concept — sometimes over $2,000.
Today the meeting theme is more of a source of derision — especially by attendees — than a source of inspiration, if it is noticed at all. A recent television ad spot for a national hotel chain poked fun at the meeting theme game as two speakers discovered that the meeting theme was not “Breaking New Boundaries” nor “Wind Beneath Our Wings,” but instead was “Breaking Wind.” They delightedly tell each other, “Well this will make the presentations more interesting.”
The meeting industry has changed, and this ad spot simply reflects this change. What has happened is that meetings and conferences have become much more content-rich, educational and value-driven. Themes and “show” are often seen as window-dressing instead of motivational or inspirational.
Paradoxically, this does not mean that a theme is no longer needed. The trend, however, is to brand the meetings themselves. For example, annual events becomes “Insight Conference” or “Connections.” In this way, the event’s purpose is the draw. It does not eliminate the opportunity for themed parties or scenic and graphic imagery. But it puts the emphasis on the event’s purpose — where it belongs.
Audiences remember annual event names and look for them, whereas they quickly forget the “theme du jour” and see them simply as “fluff.” Remembered conference names actually translate to higher attendance. In fact, one software company saw an astounding 33 percent increase in attendance once they scrapped the annual theme and switched to an event branding strategy.
So, should you theme your event? Absolutely. Consider theming your event at every iteration, or consider implementing a more global branding of the event itself. If you choose the branding approach, you will save yourself time and money and potentially increase attendee engagement. This is the most current trend in event theming, and one that has proven to connect effectively with target audiences.