Over the years, I've attended several hundred corporate events, trade shows and conferences. Most of them were utterly forgettable but a handful--a small handful--stick in my memory.

For years, I wondered why this was so. What was the difference between those rare events that made everyone who attended say "WOW!" and the all too frequent events everyone mutter "meh"?

There's more than just audience experience involved here. Many companies spend major amounts of money on events. That's money wasted unless it creates some kind of value specifically an increase in brand equity.

Brand equity is the sum total of how your customers and potential customers feel about your company and its product. While calculating brand equity isn't an exact science, companies are allowed to claim estimates of brand equity as financial assets.

According to a recent study by Lia Zarantonello of the Catholic University of Lille and Bernd H. Schmitt of Columbia University, in order to actually build brand equity, events must:

"[Be] rich in sensorial stimulation by targeting consumers' hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste... the goal should be to stimulate all of them.

"Trigger positive emotions in consumers, such as joy, or happiness, or contentment.

"Stimulate consumers' intellect, for example by making consumers think in new and different ways about an issue or a topic.

"Allow consumers to act and interact with other people (i.e. other consumers or company representatives), and to have bodily experiences, for example through the help of new technologies."

As you probably guessed, the events that made everyone say "WOW!" had all of these elements; the events that made everyone say "meh" lacked those elements. The "WOW!" was the immediate reaction that expressed the increase in brand equity.

I strongly suspect that the "meh" events had an opposite effect. Insofar as I remember the companies that held them at all, it's to wonder whether their management was too cheap to do it right, or their marketing group too inept to pull it off, or both.

With that in mind, here are some pointers for making sure your event is "WOW!" rather than "meh!":

  1. Do something different. Think of all the boring corporate events you've attended over the years. Do you really want to attend another? Decide to something--anything--that will capture people's imagination.
  2. Don't crutch on the venue. Most hotels and conference centers will try to convince you that they can handle everything. In fact, they're only good at maximize their own profit by creating cookie-cutter experiences.
  3. Hire a professional. Trying to do a "WOW" event on your own is asking for trouble. To create the "WOW" everything must fit together perfectly. If one element goes sour, the entire event falters.
  4. Spend lavishly but wisely. I made this point previously. If you aren't willing to spend enough money to create a dramatic experience, don't bother. Again, an event planner who specializes in high-end corporate work can help set the right budget.
  5. Focus on publicity and attendance. Once you've handed responsibility for the event over the planner, put your energy into getting the word out to your customers that this event will be special and spectacular.