XDP Reveals the Not-So-Secret Sauce to Branding

During day one of ASAE’s Xperience Design Project event, association professionals were shown why branding is in the hands of every employee and encouraged to strive for the “impossible.”

The secret to branding your association and its conferences is that there is no secret; everything is branding and marketing.

“We are marketing, we are selling, we are branding our association, our events, when we don’t think we are,” said Scott Stratten, president of UnMarketing and author of UnBranding, during ASAE’s Xperience Design Project event on Thursday morning. “We are marketing for next year’s event during the current year. The experience is what sells next year.”

Stratten spoke along with Broadway performer Alton Fitzgerald White, and both shared insights on the importance of every employee in defining how people view an association.

Stratten noted that brand is about more than a logo, but what people think and feel about an organization. “Psychologists say when we see a logo, we do one of two things: we think of the most recent experience with the brand or what we’ve heard; and the most extreme experience with the brand or what we’ve heard,” he said.

To illustrate this point, he showed the Ritz-Carlton logo and asked the audience what came to mind, eliciting responses like “luxury” and “expensive.”

“We don’t see a literal logo, we see experience,” Stratten said. “When I see the logo, I think of the last time I stayed in Philly, which was awesome, and I think of Joshie.”

Stratten explained that Joshie was a stuffed giraffe an Arizona family accidentally left in a Florida Ritz-Carlton. The family realized after they were home, and the father told his son who’d lost the toy that Joshie had decided to stay for an extended vacation. When the father called and explained what happened, the hotel told him Joshie was found in the laundry and would be sent home. Joshie arrived home with several photos of his extended vacation. Images included Joshie getting a massage, lounging poolside, and working security. The package also included Joshie’s laminated security badge.

“Do you see how your view of a brand can shift and change through a story?” Stratten asked. “We all want word of mouth, but we forget the one thing that makes it happen, which is doing things worth talking about. End of story. People share emotions. When you evoke emotions, that’s how it spreads, that’s how it works.”

The part for associations to pay attention is why this story happened, Stratten said, noting that most things lost in hotels remain lost. “My favorite part of the story is not even the story itself. It’s the authors of the story: it’s a laundry worker and a front desk clerk,” he said. “We are always marketing. We are always branding.”

Stratten’s point about the importance that every staffer plays in establishing brand was echoed in White’s address, which focused on the importance of people bringing their best to their work and caring for themselves in the process.

“Everyone in this room is a leader, whether you’re planning an event, planning a meeting,” White said. “Like it or not, we are all teachers, we are all educators. I believe that people are best affected by what we do, not so much by what we say, but what we consistently do.”

White, who’s appeared in multiple Broadway musicals and played Mufasa in The Lion King, interspersed song throughout his talk. He sang lines from his favorite song, “The Impossible Dream,” and said everyone has the power to achieve the “impossible.”

“I want to talk a minute about seemingly impossible dreams that come true,” White said. “I know they happen for us every single day of our lives, but sometimes we don’t acknowledge them.”

As an example, White mentioned being late for an important meeting and knowing every light needs to be green to get there on time. “You jump in your car, every light is in your favor, and you get there early. That is a miracle. Do we take a moment to acknowledge we got what we asked for? Or do we go, ‘I’m here, what’s next?’”

White said it is important to be grateful for the small feats of overcoming impossible, let go of the what ifs, and take care of yourself.

“If you add up those little-bitty everyday things, they can change your life, simply by acknowledging them,” he said. “How many of us put our self-care near the bottom of the list? If you’re full, anything you’ve touched gets the benefit of what you’ve already given yourself.”

“UnBranding” author and UnMarketing president Scott Stratten. (Chris Williams/Zoeica Images)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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