Improving the Brand Experience

Improving the Brand Experience

Your brand is so much more than a logo and tagline. It’s a story that’s just waiting to be brought to life through your exhibits and events.

In this rebroadcast of Virtual Lunch in the Exhibit Marketers Café, Ian McGonnigal shares these insights on creating your brand experience:

  • What brand experience is and how to measure it
  • How event organizers and exhibitors can build more a memorable brand
  • Why you need to incorporate storytelling elements into exhibits and events
  • How to find the right events to tell your story

Here are links to items mentioned in the interview:

About Ian McGonnigal

Ian McGonnigal
Ian McGonnigal

Ian McGonnigal is a seasoned event and experiential marketing executive who started his career in marketing on the brand side for companies like Bose and GE. On the agency side, he’s developed and led strategy practices for agencies, exhibit houses and production companies, such as the George P. Johnson Company, Jack Morton Worldwide, and others ranging in size from 50 employees to well over 1000. A strategist by trade, and client services pro, Ian has served as trusted advisor for dozens of clients in technology, financial services, manufacturing, CPG, and other industries. His work has won numerous awards, including the Billboard Concert Marketing and Promotions Award. Follow him @ExperientialEx.


[00:00:00.500] - Marlys Arnold

You're listening to the Trade Show Insights podcast, Season 16, Episode five.

[00:00:19.240] - Marlys Arnold

I'm your host and exhibit marketing strategist, Marlys Arnold, bringing you tools to improve your exhibit results. On today's episode, brought to you by the Exhibit Marketers Cafe, we've got a rebroadcast of our virtual lunch where we're talking about how to create and enhance your brand experience.

[00:01:02.150] - Marlys Arnold

I have a special guest here, Ian McGonnigal and Ian is he's got a lot to say about experience and we're going to talk about both the virtual and the Face to Face World today.

[00:01:17.450] - Marlys Arnold

But I want to give him just a little bit of an introduction first. Ian McGonnigal is a seasoned event and experiential marketing executive who started his career in marketing on the brand side for companies like Bose and GE. On the agency side he's developed and led strategy practices for agencies, exhibit houses and production companies such as the George P. Johnson Company, Jack Morton Worldwide and others ranging in size from 50 employees to well over a thousand. A strategist by trade and client services pro Ian has served as a trusted advisor for dozens of clients in technology, financial services, manufacturing, CPG and other industries. His work is won numerous awards, including the Billboard Concert Marketing and Promotions Award. So, Ian, welcome to Virtual Lunch and thanks for joining the conversation.

[00:02:09.080] - Ian McGonnigal

Thanks, Marlys. Really appreciate it. Glad to be here.

[00:02:12.530] - Marlys Arnold

Well, I think the first thing we need to do in any discussion with about brand experience is let's kind of back up a little bit and just define what is brand experience. What are we talking about?

[00:02:24.560] - Ian McGonnigal

Well, it boils down to really one simple thing, and that's, quite frankly, how your brand behaves. And I know a lot of event and exhibit marketers, we think about brand experience, where we think about the word brand. And what immediately comes to mind is what kind of fonts are you using or what color is your brand and what's the spacing between the logo and the picture on the on the graphics you have in your booth.

[00:02:48.560] - Ian McGonnigal

So it's it's a little bit different than what we typically have considered as brand in the events and exhibit space. It really is how your brand behaves. And it's not just behavior at an event, but its behavior before, during, after the event and everything in between in a way that builds relationships with the audiences that you're really trying to engage and work with.

[00:03:12.560] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and that's true. And it can take a lot of different forms, too, because I know your article, and Alan's going to put that link up there, where you talked about how to audit your brand experience. There were some categories in there that I think most companies or most events don't really think about. So what are some of the aspects? What what needs to be measured or evaluated when it comes to brand experience?

[00:03:36.200] - Ian McGonnigal

Well, like I said, Marlys, it's really everything in it. And it starts with how your brand is perceived in the marketplace from the first touch. So when you think about how a customer or a consumer or a business or if you're a B2B enterprise, encounters your brand, what are the emotions and the thoughts that they have from that first point? Right. Did they observe you working with one of your current customers? Did they see an advertisement in a magazine or on a website or on television, depending on how big your company is?

[00:04:06.710] - Marlys Arnold


[00:04:07.760] - Ian McGonnigal

Did they experience you as a customer at some earlier point or different life that they have? So it really starts with that point and it goes from marketing to sales. So the sales experience is increasingly important to how you're delivering your product. And, you know, when they get the product, when they open it, when they implement it in their enterprise, what is that process like? What is the service experience? So if there is a problem, all of those different things play a role.

[00:04:36.790] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and I like that you bring in there about the customer service and the relationships, because I think that's a part and you and I were talking about this before we started the interview about how having, building that ongoing relationship is so important. And Rama says it's so nice to hear someone else with a greater reputation than I have saying what I've been saying for 20 plus years. And I agree.

[00:05:00.840] - Ian McGonnigal

... with the reputation your lying. (laughing)

[00:05:04.420] - Marlys Arnold

And I agree, though, it's like, you know, like you said, there's so many other aspects and it's so important that that brand becomes an ongoing relationship. And it's, you know, and it's not just like you said, it's not just the the graphical design. So how what are some of the things that event organizers and or exhibitors can do to really develop that brand? I know you've got some great articles that you've written on that as well.

[00:05:34.300] - Marlys Arnold

Well, there are all kinds of things that you can do. And first of all, it starts with understanding what your place in the relationship is as an event or an exhibit marketer, right. So understand the inputs and outputs of your if you're a show producer, if you're a brand, know where do you fit in the overall relationship? Is there something that's happened before this event? Are you bringing current customers there? Should you talk to your sales team about everything that these customers have gone through so far, or should you talk to your service team about some of the problems that are happening out there? So you're at least you're aware of what's going on.

[00:06:06.490] - Ian McGonnigal

But, you know, from a more tactical perspective, it's it can be everything from the the colors and the and the fonts and the graphics and everything you use in the booth at the simplest level to how you lay out the experience. So did you actually make room in your booth for attendees to go into it? Right. Or did you fill it with so much staff and in so many pieces of equipment and demonstrations that no one can be comfortable or on the other side of that, did you just make your booth into a lounge and all of a sudden there's no messaging and there's no way to really engage these these customers.

[00:06:38.710] - Ian McGonnigal

So there's always that that happy medium. And then, of course, things like sponsorship and what elements are you taking advantage of and how are you implementing them? And then if you zoom out a little bit, you know what events to go to in the first place and does it make sense? And what are your objectives and which audiences are you engaging and what is the story line, which is a really, really important piece. Right. How are you storytelling at your events or telling your story in digestible chunks or in chapters over the course of time? Because as we know, no one went to a trade show and bought a multi multi-million dollar program or product or service based on a sign at that trade show. Right. There were a series of touches, multiple people involved in that before, during and after the event. So you need to understand how that story translates across that continuum of relationship. And, you know, I like to use the example that no one ever got married on the first date while maybe they did, but it probably wasn't a very good relationship.

[00:07:37.180] - Ian McGonnigal

You need to disclose the right information for your customers at the right time in their journey and only they can define what their journey is. So you don't necessarily want to go really into depth on content on that first date. You want to understand what are their problems or their opportunities, how might you solve them and start to introduce them? Or if you have an event that's more of a user conference, it's about listening to their ideas and their challenges and how you can be a better support company for them and give them those opportunities.

[00:08:09.530] - Ian McGonnigal

So it really is about listening, understanding your audience, understanding your role in the broader relationship. And then, of course, you know how you're going to tell your story in a way that resonates with who they are at the point they are in their relationship with you.

[00:08:24.730] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and you just like brought up so many good points that I hope we get to most of them. But ...

[00:08:30.870] - Ian McGonnigal

Sorry, I ramble.

[00:08:30.870] - Marlys Arnold

No, no. I mean, it's just like and anybody who's followed me for any length of time knows that the whole experiential idea that's one of my favorite passions of what I love to teach exhibitors. But, you know, it is it's so important to create that experience. You know, the whole just you standing in the booth and waiting to talk to people, that doesn't create an experience. I could think back to shows that I went to, you know, 10, 12 years ago and somebody did a really, really cool experience in their booth. I could still remember that. I still remember what they did, how I felt, how cool it was, you know, all that kind of stuff. But that was because they took it to the next level and they created something memorable and something that I as an attendee could relate to. And I think that especially going forward, that is going to be so important because, you know, a lot of the ways that we've been doing trade shows, it's just that's not going to work.

[00:09:31.540] - Marlys Arnold

And of course, the whole experiential thing, you and I were talking earlier. We don't really know what that's going to look like, how interactive we can make things going forward, but let's zero in on the storytelling aspect, because I think that's really cool. And you had a good article on that, too.

[00:09:48.980] - Ian McGonnigal

So as I think about it overall, from from a storytelling perspective, it's, you know, think about your event and the surround activities like you're telling a story. There should be a protagonist, right? Who is the protagonist? Who's the hero, is your company the hero? Is your audience the hero? Is somebody else the hero. And then make sure you're thinking about that. Who is the antagonist? Right. So who is, it a problem the customer faces? Is it an industry problem? Some something we're all facing, is that the economy, is it the pandemic? What are we trying to defeat or conquer with the solutions or the products that we're offering to our our customers?

[00:10:25.340] - Ian McGonnigal

And how are we telling that story? Right. So what is the the plot? Right. What is the situation we find ourselves in? What is the marketplace doing? What are our competitors doing? And really make sure that that backdrop comes to life where it's appropriate and then tell your story in an interesting and meaningful way. Right. So one thing I've noticed about the evolution of trade shows, say, over the last 10 years, and we've all tried to do a really good job of how do we integrate digital into the booth, how do we integrate social media into this? And we don't always think about are we using technology for technology sake or is the technology and the creative experience we're developing actually additive to the story we're trying to tell? Or is it just something really cool we wanted to do that might even distract people from the story and the message you're trying to get across and having them engage with you? So it's really not just thinking about what your messag is, but how it's laid out. What are the protagonist, antagonists and what's the backdrop in which it happens?

[00:11:24.140] - Ian McGonnigal

And then what's the end of the story? What do you foresee the the customer or the attendee will want to do at the end of this? And how do you drive them toward that ending in a way that feels comfortable, that allows them that discovery, that allows them to digest your content in a way that's cool and innovative but doesn't distract from the story?

[00:11:44.530] - Marlys Arnold

And I love that idea, and I don't know that I've ever really thought I was an English major in college, and I don't know that I've ever really thought about designing the booth as far as a story with a protagonist and an antagonist and all those kinds of elements. But that is really clever because it's true. The more you can tell a story and thinking back again, a lot of those experiences, like one in particular that I can remember that was years and years ago, was a software company. And they had like a big, huge island booth. And they had laid it out in a way that you went in. It was the whole thing where, you know, you did the velvet rope thing and entered the booth and then you went to different basically stages within the booth.

[00:12:26.560] - Marlys Arnold

And so you actually were kind of watching, as you know. So here's somebody in an office using the software and they had a scenario. And so you just witness that. And then you went to watch them in the field and then you went to watch them. You know, I think there was three or four different scenarios, but it was very cool. And then, of course, at the end, this was back in the day when they gave out CD-ROMs. So they gave us the CD-ROM with the demo of the software on it, you know, but it was just the whole experience. We got to actually it was almost Disney like or something. You got to see how it was interacting in the real world. And so, like I said, that that was their way of telling a story and making it very memorable and very experiential. And I think there's a lot more potential for that with a lot of companies, you know, like probably most people would have never thought, oh, software, you can tell a story and make it experiential, but they did a very creative job with it. So what are some examples that you've seen as far as great storytelling, storytelling in the exhibit booth?

[00:13:26.560] - Ian McGonnigal

Well, I mean, you mentioned Disney and I'm a big fan of the Imagineers and the good work they do. In fact, you know, what I like about Disney is they get people to pay hundreds of dollars to go stand in line. Right. And they're experts at hiding the lines. So if you have ever been to Disneyland or even Disney World. You know, you find you're in this weird weaving line that has all kinds of entertaining things during the line. So by the time you get to the experience, you're not as frustrated. And they always deliver on what what the promise of the experience is and when I think about it. It's it's very sensory. Right. So one thing that I think exhibitors are starting to do is think beyond audio and visual, right.

[00:14:03.310] - Ian McGonnigal

So we typically experience booths based on what's on monitors or what the look and feel of the booth is or how it's laid out. We sometimes will think about audio, and I've seen some companies use those sound domes to project audio in certain places, even some using noise canceling. And recently I recently was probably five years ago, they had this whole idea of silent disco come out where we're starting to use some some different and innovative ways to to engage audiences.

[00:14:29.740] - Ian McGonnigal

One experience that I was at was a user conference a few years ago that PWC put on and it was all around the future of work. And what they did was they had five different scenarios of what the future of work would be for their clients. And in the main stage, they gave sort of an overview of what their white paper was and their thinking was. And then they had a series of vignettes around the room and in each vignette had a different chapter of what the future of work was. Right, one would be much more dystopian. And what would happen if capitalist society ruled another one would be much more Star Trek and that we all got to live together well, and we were very diverse culture and celebrating each other all the time. And they just had all these different vignettes and each vignette had a different look and feel based on what that future look like. It also had radio controlled headsets. So you heard the speakers only in those vignettes in the very open setting and at the end of each one of these little presentations that were hosted by actors which acted out what the future work look like, they'd have workshops for the attendees.

[00:15:33.760] - Ian McGonnigal

So the attendees would actually try to solve a problem within that future, within those guardrails, in those confines that had been set up.

[00:15:41.230] - Marlys Arnold


[00:15:41.230] - Ian McGonnigal

So they were able to really experience what the future of work was, which was really thought provoking. And every attendee got a chance to go to all of these different areas and see what those different futures were and how their decision making within those different guardrails would change what that future could become or would be frustrating in certain features. So it was a really interesting way to do it. So I think that that's one example that comes to mind. But others are doing so many, many really interesting things, everything from from smell to physical activities. I did some work years ago with a company that did experience outdoor experiential, so they started as it is a billboard company. And then they started doing these wonderful tasks, like when a James Bond movie came out, they created this entire obstacle course for attendees to run through and be on a spy mission with which was,

[00:16:35.670] - Marlys Arnold

oh, wow.

[00:16:36.640] - Ian McGonnigal

they actually lived in the story and were climbing walls and swimming through dunk tanks and. That sort of thing.

[00:16:44.500] - Marlys Arnold


[00:16:45.410] - Ian McGonnigal

It can be really, really extreme like that, or it could be as simple as a tunnel. And for IBM years ago we created a tunnel that told a story. And as you walk through this tunnel to get to the booth, there were different videos and sounds and smells that came about depending on what solution you were going through. So you were immersed in the entire solution story that IBM brought to their different customers, whether they were customers in technology or if they were in retail or if they were in life sciences. It immersed you in those environments as you walked down a tunnel. So you got a full feeling of the breadth and depth of what IBM brought to bear to the marketplace.

[00:17:26.240] - Marlys Arnold

You know, and again, that is so awesome because it is it's multisensory. It's it's very you feel like you've been transported somewhere and you're actually participating in something else. And I think there's going to be a lot of potential for doing things like that in the the booths of the future, I guess you could say. Even on a no contact level, you know, because a lot of things we're not going to be able to do maybe that we've done in the past. But a lot of the experiential things that you just mentioned of like the sounds and the smells and things like that are going to be totally doable, even if you can't use a key touch touchpad kiosk or something. I also want to just because for the the podcast where we are just doing just the interview part, so I want to re-mention the the AR experience and for anybody who might have joined us late, the AR experience video and I'll have a link in the show notes for the Pepsi Max bus stop, was so cool. I mean, it was just so clever.

[00:18:32.290] - Marlys Arnold

And I could definitely see that being used in a booth where people can actually see and feel like something's happening. That's really not. And I think that's just that's another example of something that people can experience in a whole different way. And, you know, with AR and VR technology going forward, I mean, the the field is wide open on what could be created there. But the other thing that you talked about that I want to come back to before we wrap up is how do exhibitors find the right event? What what are some of the criteria that they need? Because, again, going forward, you know, we may not be exhibiting at all the same events that we have in the past. Budgets have probably been trimmed and companies have to be more selective. So how does an exhibitor go about choosing where they should be?

[00:19:24.880] - Ian McGonnigal

That's a really good question. And, you know, it's not really simple, right? I'd love to say. Oh, you want to go to events that do this. It's going to differ based on several different factors. And we talked a little bit about what the customer or the attendee journey is at an event. Well, attendees also go through a journey across different events. Right. So you need to think about what is the right type of event or even if an event is the right tactic to use to engage an audience at whatever stage in the relationship they're at.

[00:19:51.700] - Ian McGonnigal

Right. So it needs to be attendee first. And the way I like to think about it is look at your sales cycle and you've got everything from awareness to loyalty and advocacy and everything in between. So the best way I can say to to figure out what the right events to attend are and to participate in are is understanding how each of your events aligns to the different stages of that sales cycle. Typically, trade shows, third party trade shows, line up to the top end of that sales funnel.

[00:20:17.590] - Ian McGonnigal

Right. For awareness, yes. Advertising is probably a much more effective tool. But when you get into consideration and preference and getting attendees to really start to have a meaningful conversation with your brand or your company, that's where trade shows play, play a role. User conferences are obviously toward the end of that. And then in between, you've got everything from small customer meetings to executive briefing centers that you want to bring to bear, depending on what sort of audience you're hosting and where they are in that journey.

[00:20:45.850] - Ian McGonnigal

And then from looking at trade shows, specifically, what you want to look for is first and foremost is going to be do they have the ability to attract a viable population of your target audience. So be careful about those lovely metrics that all of them show in their media kits that we attract decision makers. Well, I'm a decision maker. Everybody on this call is a decision maker. You really want to understand who are you trying to target and do they attract that audience? And then the second thing to sort of look at is do you have the ability to tell your story at the event? Right. Are you able to have the right size booth to showcase your products or solutions? Can you do hospitality outside of that? Are the sponsorship packages designed in a way that add value to you? So look for those opportunities to tell a story? And a third thing I'll mention is that the show producer credibility, right? Have they and can they deliver over and over again or is this a one trick pony sort of show that won't be around a year or more from now? So really think about those events that have staying power that attract a community over and over again.

[00:21:53.140] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and that's one of those things right now with the virtual events, we do wonder how many of those are one trick ponies. And but the other thing that I the phrase that I like that you had in that article about choosing the right mix, you said give every event a job. And I thought that was a really great way of phrasing it, like, yeah, give you know, what is your purpose? Does this event have a purpose? Does it match with what you're doing? So I think there's so much more that we can talk about here. And Silvana says, "it's so important to give your brand visibility."

[00:22:29.050] - Marlys Arnold

So and that's that's really what we're talking about with with creating an experience and doing experiential things. And I just want to put up again, this is one of your just one of your article links, but your website is And I highly recommend people go check that out because, you know, as as you've all seen today, he has a number of great articles and I didn't highlight them all. But Ian, any final thoughts as we wrap this up?

[00:23:00.310] - Ian McGonnigal

You know, the one thing I'll say is, you know, take a look at the blog. I'm happy to continue to post articles there. If you follow us on Twitter, ExperientialX on Twitter. And I'm always posting stuff that I find just like. Marlys does with with some of the cool articles she finds, so that's another source for you to start seeing some of the interesting things out there in the marketplace. But overall, think about your audiences first. Always right. And I think a lot of companies think about their brand first. But you need to start considering who is your audience and what do they want and need at what stage in their relationship. And if you start there with everything that you do nine times out of ten, you'll end up in the right place and you'll do it for a lot less money than you think. So, always focus on the audience first and then the rest of it will fall into place.

[00:23:45.040] - Marlys Arnold

Great advice, thank you, Ian. We appreciate so much you joining us for virtual lunch.

[00:23:51.080] - Ian McGonnigal

Great, bye, thanks everybody.

[00:23:58.450] - Marlys Arnold

You can find all the links mentioned during our interview in this episode, show notes at And if you'd like to join us for an upcoming virtual lunch, you'll find info on that at

[00:24:24.840] - Marlys Arnold

If you enjoyed today's episode and would like more, you can subscribe to the podcast and automatically receive future episodes on your chosen device. Simply search for Trade Show Insights in Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or virtually anywhere else that podcasts are found. Then click the subscribe button. Trade Show Insights is protected by the Creative Commons copyright license. You may feel free to share this recording with colleagues or embedded on your own blog as long as it's shared in its entirety and is not used for commercial purposes.

[00:24:59.600] - Marlys Arnold

To learn more, please see the link in the sidebar. The show notes at Well, that's it for this episode of Trade Show Insights. Be sure to check out our show notes and archives at You can also connect with me using the social media links or the contact page on the site. I'm Marlys Arnold. Thanks for listening and be sure to join us next time for more tools to improve your exhibit results.


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