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Bring on the goose bumps

I have just returned from a meeting at Twickenham Stadium. The content of the meeting was normal enough – a status update re the hospitality staff we’re providing for their Autumn Internationals – but the occasion will still stand out. And that’s down to the goose bumps I felt when I walked inside the world’s largest dedicated rugby union venue, the home of English rugby for the last 100 years.

I have just returned from a meeting at Twickenham Stadium. The content of the meeting was normal enough – a status update re the hospitality staff we’re providing for their Autumn Internationals – but the occasion will still stand out. And that’s down to the goose bumps I felt when I walked inside the world’s largest dedicated rugby union venue, the home of English rugby for the last 100 years.

This has led me to reflect on environments, and the power they have to inspire or dispirit those inside.

It’s certainly a concept that Silicon Valley has bought into. From Facebook’s nine-acre rooftop park to Apple’s Spaceship Campus or the futuristic Googleplex, these brands have invested heavily in creating spectacular environments for their employees. And right now, it feels like a sensible move – while the brands continue to lose their shine with law makers and the public alike, staff appear resolutely starry eyed about their employers’ ‘save the world’ intentions.

Look to the other end of the spectrum and you find the political party conferences. Labour members are currently disagreeing with each other at the Liverpool ACC, and the Tories will no doubt be doing the same thing next week at the Birmingham ICC. Of course I’m not suggesting that a more inspiring environment would solve the woes of Brexit. But it just might help create a stronger sense of unity, and a greater determination to form a shared mission.

This is not a criticism of the ACC or ICC – two impressive conference venues that function excellently and tick many logistical boxes. And with my events background I understand how difficult it is to move 13,000 people around a venue efficiently.But where’s the standout? Where’s the ‘let’s do something different’? These are extraordinary times where politics has changed substantially over the last 10 years, radically over the last two. But party conference environments have remained unchanged for decades. Blank canvasses perhaps, but ones that seem to remain blank, bar some party colour and a slogan or two.

We all remember Theresa May’s disastrous conference last year as she coughed and spluttered through her speech, while Boris Johnson feigned concern for the cameras. But the real comedy moment came when the letter F dropped to the floor, the Tory promise to ‘build a country that works for everyone’ literally falling apart in real time.

Of course it’s going to be hilarious when you have nothing else to look at. Of course the press is going to jump on such an incident’s ‘hidden meaning’ when your only obvious brand positioning is the slogan itself. Political parties might have accepted the role of branding, but it feels like they haven’t yet mastered the concept of immersive branding – of making sure that every touchpoint reflects their mission.

Even the most progressive brands have had to adapt their marketing strategies over the last few years to support an ever more complex consumer journey. So it’s no real surprise that our political parties – steeped in tradition and perhaps rather skeptical about branding in general – are lagging behind.

But it doesn’t take a branding specialist to know that a guest with goose bumps will be more open to your message, so perhaps a new format for next year’s conference would be a good place to start.
 
unsplash-logoThomas Charters

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