To brand or not to brand? App is the question

To brand or not to brand? App is the question

At our very first event back in 2010, the NZ CIO Summit a new verb — to Gizmo — looked set to enter the English language.  Sitting next to a couple of delegates in the event cafe on Day 2, one of the real highlights of our first deployment was watching one of them demonstrating the ShowGizmo app to the other.

‘It’s wonderful,’ he said. ‘You can use the search to find stuff — just Gizmo it!’  His companion looked suitably impressed.

So did the Showmanator!  ‘Move over Google,’ she thought, her over-active imagination supplying images of our ‘Gizmo’ as the international search engine of choice … for a nano-second … then reality gatecrashed the dream and the images dissolved as quickly as sugar in boiling water. Of course, ShowGizmo’s search function only allows people to search for stuff within the parameters of a particular event, not across the entire Internet.

But with me here, there is a point. Received wisdom from the advertising industry has it that if a brand becomes the generic name for, or synonymous with, a general class of product or service, it devalues the brand.  However if you ask the people who hoover instead of vacuuming, xerox instead of photocopying. Who recognize catseyes on the road, wrap flowers in cellophane, swallow aspirin if they’ve drunk too much mulled wine from their thermos flask, fasten their clothes with zips, sign letters with biros and photoshop images of their nearest and dearest what they think, it would be a different story.

All of these examples started life as brands that belonged to well known organisations. But such has been the quantum of the shift that users may neither know, nor care that there once was a specific product involved. All they care about is being able to define an activity in a way that others will understand.

So what has that got to do with the events industry?  Well, for one thing it’s an industry that is very strong on event brands.  I’m thinking Crufts, Farnborough, International Confex, AIME, GIBTM etc. Event brands are valuable and distinctive and focusing on building the brand is clearly important. Most event producers therefore aspire to pushing their brands across everything related to their events, including their event apps. But is this genuinely the right approach?

Coming back to the opening scenario. Clearly the probability of ShowGizmo becoming a brand verb any time soon is low — it would be a high roller that would put money on event attendees wandering the halcyon halls of their chosen trade show ‘gizmoing’ away to their hearts content. But the concept of one event app to rule them all should not necessarily be discarded lightly. While there are clearly events where the brand predominates and an own brand app with functionality that is event specific is right answer, there are also legions of events where brand recognition for the app tool itself and all the familiarity of use that brings is going to provide a better experience. ‘Great, they’re using ShowGizmo! Think I’ve still got the last version on my phone – how easy is that!’

Most of us use Excel or PowerPoint over and over again. We don’t use My Organisation Spread Sheet or Presentation packages. Love them or hate them, when we use these Microsoft products, we have the same experience wherever we are in the world and whatever content we choose to load. We can add our own imagery and make choices about what is displayed, put our own stamp on whatever we produce using them. We share the end products with others to inform/engage them in our project/proposal/business idea. In most cases the recipients know how to open and review files in these universal formats.

Therefore, why not a universal event app? They’re simply enablers for communications and engagement. Does every one actually need to be different? Of course the one app to rule them all needs to provide a great user experience. Building unique, branded apps for events is the current flavor du jour and that comes at a premium. However, like any new technology — thinking flat screen TVs, iPads and the eye watering prices only a couple of years ago — there is often a high entry price which drops exponentially over the following years. The early adopters — God bless them — embrace the new and fork out the wads of cash required to get the products to market. Then comes a gradual move from high end to commodity as more people start using the product and costs reduce dramatically. The degree to which this is the case varies from product to product.

Event apps, currently a high end product, are likely to become commoditized over the next few years. At that point most users will be happy to download the Excels of the app world. Might even be ShowGizmo … you heard it first here!

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