Cincinnati, the “brand capital of the world,” recently served as the backdrop for Brandemonium, a week-long, experiential, brand-focused conference and festival. Vya was fortunate to have a front row seat to this first-ever international brand event, which took place right here in our own back yard.
Brandemonium Co-Founders Bill Donabedian and Kevin Canafax have an ambitious vision for the event. In a recent Adweek article, Donabedian said, “A common theme is people are looking for experiences from brands, not interruptions. Brandemonium wants to explore this and create an environment that fosters this. Several years from now, we want Brandemonium to be a fluid experience, one that blurs the lines between the conference and festival.”
Based on our observations, they are off to a strong start. Brandemonium was as much a celebration of brands as it was a conference. The festival portion featured a number of free “brand manifestations” designed to engage and entertain the public, like the Totes Float installation, which transformed a space between two buildings using hundreds of colorful umbrellas intertwined with lights. There were also performances, pop-up shops, takeovers, lounges and afterparties – all powered by participating brands, including the introduction by Hofbrauhaus Newport, of a special Brandemonium Bier that was tapped during a happy hour event for attendees and only available from Oct. 11-14.
While there was lots of fun and entertainment to be had, importantly, the conference delivered an incredible lineup of speakers who offered a valuable glimpse into strategies for winning in the changing brand marketing environment. Following are some of our top takeaways from the Brandemonium stage.
Create Powerful Brand Experiences
Helen Limpitlaw, director of brand communications, and Jennifer Bridie, senior manager of marketing strategy for Southwest Airlines, kicked off the conference with a keynote discussion of the linkage between their company values and brand experience. They believe putting employees first ensures that customers are treated right.
We also heard from keynoter Kirk Perry, president of brand solutions for Google who talked about how consumers expect magical experiences. His advice, BPA – blow people away and they will spread the word about you.
Eliminate Human Interaction, But Don’t Lose Your Human Essence
At the conference, we learned about how brands are embracing technology to automate activities that result in greater efficiencies while creating effective brand experiences. Among these was the Hilton Honors app which allows you to choose your room, enables digital check in, and serves as your digital room key. No human interaction is necessary.
Google’s Perry talked about how consumers expect seamless assistance. He underscored this point with a video of Scott Galloway of L2inc, who talked about how voice technology and voice search as a technology “is going to shake brands to their core.” Non-branded product searches are increasing and Galloway predicts voice search will only accelerate this.
In their dual keynote, Jim Stengel, President and CEO of The Jim Stengel Company and Alex Tosolini, SVP, new business development for Kroger, presented 5 Principles to Build an Amazing Brand in 2017. They echoed some of the points from Perry’s presentation, like the need to deliver personalized real-time experiences while eliminating friction. They described how we are moving from tech for a few to tech for all, which means every company needs to be a technology company.
One example they provided was of restaurants where you can order and get your food without interacting with a human. This echoes the example of the Hilton Honors app noted above. Tosolini also shared Kroger’s experience that people will self-checkout at the grocery store, even if it takes longer, so they can control the experience.
While the integration of technology and automation is key to developing frictionless consumer experiences, presenters also emphasized that great brands have consistent execution, and people like brands that are “human.” So be careful not to get caught up in a tech for tech’s sake approach.
Brand Transformation – Find a New Norm
Kathleen Hall, CVP of brand, advertising and research for Microsoft, talked about brand transformation and the power of authenticity in storytelling. Having an authentic brand matters in the sales process. The brand transformation process requires that you find your core, be brave, stand for something and break away from the status quo. In other words, Hall advises, find a new norm. She described how Microsoft discovered that it was not about their product, it was about people and the amazing things they could do with their product. This point was echoed by Ryan Brazelton of Interbrand. He said it’s not about the product, “it’s all about the reason.”
Delight the Smallest Possible Audience
Keynoter Seth Godin is always a highly anticipated speaker, and he did not disappoint at Brandemonium. He advised attendees to seek the smallest possible market that can sustain you, and treat different people differently. Deliver something unique so you are the one with no substitute. If you delight the smallest possible audience, the audience will grow.
Doug Zarkin, VP and CMO of Pearle Vision, talked about how consumer trust is built through a series of small moments. Brands need to embark on a relentless pursuit of consistency.
Shift Marketing Resources Away from Routine Administration To More Strategic Activities
Olga Yurovski, CEO of Shopperations, echoed some of what we have been discussing recently on the Vya blog about how administrative functions are robbing marketing staff of time and focus. Yurovski told attendees that shopper marketers are spending 49 percent of their time on back-office administrative activities. Corporations are spending millions in digital enterprise transformation, yet the majority of marketing plans are done in Excel and PowerPoint. She said it's time for marketing to conquer complexity and waste.
Experiencing Cincinnati in a Whole New Light
The timing of the Brandemonium conference corresponded with Blink Cincinnati, a separate experiential event in which the city was alive with the arts. This four-day event, which took place Oct. 12-15, featured large-scale projection mapping installations, murals, urban artscapes, media light and interactive art, spanning 20 city blocks. The pictures from the event cannot adequately capture the full sensory experience, but they can offer a glimpse of what Blink was all about.
Blink Cincinnati and Brandemonium were both billed as inaugural events. Given the success they each enjoyed, it’s highly likely they’ll each be back for year 2. So, whether you call Cincinnati your home or you’re from somewhere else, looking for the next big thing in brand marketing, you’ll have the chance to experience all that the brand capital of the world has to offer again next year. Sign me up!