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Brand Building Lessons Learned At Spark.Me Conference

Brand building; Spark.me; MattLambert

On my birthday in 2015, I found myself walking on stage at the Spark.me Conference in Budva, Montenegro. A few months prior, I had applied to be an official blogger (I also had purchased a ticket because I didn’t expect to be accepted as a blogger) at a conference I had never attended and only learned about the prior year. I had met some of the organizers over the preceding months, yet there I was receiving a cake and being wished “Happy Birthday!” in spectacular fashion.

I fell in love with a brand because I realized quickly, the people behind it CARE.

What is the Spark.me Conference?

The conference describes itself as “one of the most carefully curated business/internet conferences in Southeast Europe.”

Spark.me has been organized each year since 2013 as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility program of Domain.ME.

While it may not be the biggest conference, I am certain it is one of the most intimate conferences allowing the participants close access and networking opportunities with leaders, pioneers, and top thinkers in the realms of marketing, tech, startups, and entrepreneurship.

(You may also find an astronaut or cyborg roaming around…)

Since I love this brand(-ed event), here are a few brand building lessons I learned over the 4 years of attending the conference.

Be personable.

“We can’t love a logo. We love a person.” Mark Schaefer

Spark.me 2018 conference. Day 1. Budva. Hotel Mediteran. Montenegro. Fotograf Sergej Zabijako, +382 68 129392, Portfolio: www.photosergey.me Portal Crna Gora for Me: https://www.cg4.me https://www.facebook.com/Sergej.Zabijako, Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sergej_zabijako_photographer YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/PromoMontenegro Channel VR360: http://www.Montenegro360.video #Montenegro #Spark #SparkMe #Sparkdotme #Spark2018 #CrnaGora #photoSergejZabijako #PromoMontenegro #Черногория © photography Sergej Zabijako, © Promo-Montenegro, 2018

Brand building is founded on connection and relationships with our audience. We tell stories that allow people to love and trust our brands. Mark Schaefer, a globally recognized top marketing strategist and speaker, spoke in 2018 about the need for brands to become more personable to succeed in their marketing. Mark spoke about the decline of mass marketing content centered around the digital identity of a company.

Instead, brands must focus on the community that they are building. Brands must give their customers and audience a story to tell and an experience to share. User generated content and community shared content are some of the best brand building resources out there. It is up to businesses and companies to activate the potential of their audience.

Set yourself apart.

“What are you known for?” Mark Schaefer

During Mark’s talk in 2018, he spoke a bit on personal branding, but hit points that I believe can extend into our businesses. In fact, it is an age old branding lesson. The need to be known for something. The need to differentiate.

Whether it is a personal brand we are building or our business brand, we need to carefully consider what we want to be known for. Is it already saturated with content, or is there a market to saturate? We find our niche, and focus there with persistence to make our brand known.

Look Inside.

“It’s a lot easier to change what you say about yourself than changing yourself.” Denise Lee Yohn

Self assessment can be difficult for anyone especially businesses and organizations that see something going wrong, but not sure what it is. Denise Lee Yohn, a brand building expert, recognized that strong, healthy brands are strong and healthy internally first.

“Good brands start from within.”  Denise Lee Yohn

The priority of businesses in developing the far reaching brand must be building something special and strong within their own ranks prior to looking outward. Creating hero stories for the employees creates a greater opportunity for hero stories for the customers. In fact, brands have a strong reach because they have strong employee engagement with their brand.

Start at the core.

“Brand values = meaning” Peter Kim

In 2017, Peter Kim, VP of Digital Consumer Engagement at The LEGO Group, spoke about the story and essence of the LEGO brand, and more importantly how great brands make things awesome. They do this by pursuing brand values which bring meaning into the lives of the employee and consumer.

Much like Denise’s reminder that amazing brands begin from within, Peter emphasized that amazing brands are so because of their values and the meaning those values bring. “In the case of the LEGO Group, their mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. Everything they do goes back to children and how to support the children.”

Collaborate with your community.

Timo Vuorensola, a Finnish filmmaker well known for films such as Iron Sky and Iron Sky: The Coming Race, has also become known for his achievements in crowdsourcing and crowdfunding his work. During his talk, he discussed both areas heavily and how he was able to leverage the help of the community that bought into his ideas to create something special.

For brands, the ability to not only engage them as an audience, but then go deeper by collaborating with them moves them into actually being a community. Communities much like families are not necessarily born but forged over time.

As a brand how do you collaborate with your community to create greater success and draw them deeper into your brand story?

Be mindful of the process.

“Show up! Follow up! Close!” Steli Efti

To say Steli Efti is high energy is an understatement, but with that energy he can deliver so much value in such a short time. He has been launching companies and building brands since the age of 17. He is currently the CEO of Close.io.

In 2015, Steli forced his audience to think about the basics. He challenged those around him by acknowledging the solutions to their problems are known, but not convenient. In the end, solutions are left undone.

One challenge brands face is consistency and follow through. Steli points out that when startups and brands show up, follow up, and deliver, they will win. It’s a day to day process, but it forces consistency by the brand. In today’s media savvy world that disseminates information quickly, being inconsistent once can kill the brand.

Spark.me 2019

This year the organizing team has already made some exciting announcements! 2018 saw the conference surpass new heights in participants and interest. This year the conference will move to a larger venue in Porto Montenegro in Tivat!

The Spark.me conference is not only about the keynotes and speakers. It also includes being a part of a transformative and engaging community. Tickets have gone on sale. I recommend grabbing your friends, team, or business partners and become a part of the community in 2019!

Experience Spark.me and experience Montenegro!

(For tips about what to explore in Montenegro in May check out my post here. And let me know you’re coming.)

5 Takeaways From Day 1 of #SparkMe

#SparkMe Day one

Spark.me day one has come to a close, and I cannot help but feel as though I left a family gathering. One of those where there is a greeting, a time to catch up and say hello to everyone. A bit of chaos because the crazy uncle just burst through the door. (Thank you, Jon Burkhart!) And then a time of storytelling and intimacy that takes you deep into the evening and leaving full.

An experience just occurred. An experience that rivals previous years as the best, and by the numbers, was the best. The room was packed from beginning to end. The energy filled the room and ebbed and flowed at times throughout the day. creating a symphony that, if all gos well, will crescendo and be brought a close in style tomorrow. But we will see…

For now, here are 5 takeaways from day one. I cannot say these were the most interesting points made or most radical, that honor goes to a recognized cyborg, but more on that later.

SparkMe Day 1. Budva, Montenegro

1. Become a person. – Mark Schaefer

Mark Schaefer delivered on the topic of personal branding and the art of becoming known. Over and over again, he pushed the crowd to think about what they were doing and was it viable as a business // brand, or were they pursuing a hobby. He quipped at one moment, “A passion without a plan is just a hobby.”

However, at the center of the talk, which really set the stage for others, was his point of “Become a person”. In the brand and message that we seek to create, how we operate, and the interactions we create, people should feel and know that hey are communicating with a person. A person that cares not only about the product they hope to sell, but a person that seeks a real connection with the customer.

Spark.me 2018 conference. Day 1. Budva. Hotel Mediteran. Montenegro. Fotograf Sergej Zabijako, +382 68 129392, Portfolio: www.photosergey.me Portal Crna Gora for Me: https://www.cg4.me https://www.facebook.com/Sergej.Zabijako, Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sergej_zabijako_photographer YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/PromoMontenegro Channel VR360: http://www.Montenegro360.video #Montenegro #Spark #SparkMe #Sparkdotme #Spark2018 #CrnaGora #photoSergejZabijako #PromoMontenegro #Черногория © photography Sergej Zabijako, © Promo-Montenegro, 2018

2. Have good questions and use your imagination to answer them. – Jon Burkhart 

This was the second year, Jon has been a speaker at Spark.me, but when he comes it is so much more than a gig. He seems to approach everything as an opportunity to connect and begin asking questions. He does it with an overwhelming amount of energy. His self proclaimed “child-like” is like that of the uncle every kid loves. The one who will get on the floor and piss of every other adult in the room just for laughs.

And faithful to the approach, Jon encourages his audience to ask questions. Question everything, and do not stop at the first answer. Think imaginatively to find the solution. Ask the craziest questions of all regarding topics that will likely end up in the FBI knocking on your door, and create solutions. Create content from such a framework that brings an audience together in laughter, or creates a new audience that is unexpected. No matter the purpose, ask good questions to spur creativity in your work.

3. Stereotypes will be broken when influencers speak out against them. – Xenia Tchoumi

Xenia is an influencer leveraging her past as a first runner up in Miss Switzerland and education to build a campaign empire. While she spoke of her achievements and how she was able to scale her work, she highlighted the important roles that influencers have as voices for equality.

She spoke about breaking stereotypes across industries and creating equal work environments. What surprised me most, was where she leveled responsibility. For Xenia, the responsibility lies with influencers and marketers across industries that have built their platforms. When someone succeeds and creates a voice of influence, it should be used to silence the stereotypes holding others back. In this way, true communities that care for one another are created, supportive, and begin to flourish.

Spark.me 2018 conference. Day 1. Budva. Hotel Mediteran. Montenegro. Fotograf Sergej Zabijako, +382 68 129392, Portfolio: www.photosergey.me Portal Crna Gora for Me: https://www.cg4.me https://www.facebook.com/Sergej.Zabijako, Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sergej_zabijako_photographer YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/PromoMontenegro Channel VR360: http://www.Montenegro360.video #Montenegro #Spark #SparkMe #Sparkdotme #Spark2018 #CrnaGora #photoSergejZabijako #PromoMontenegro #Черногория © photography Sergej Zabijako, © Promo-Montenegro, 2018

4. We should not only have empathy with our customers, but with our employees.  – Kerry O’Shea Gorgone

We are always taught about the importance of taking care of the customer, meet their needs, and go the extra mile for them. “The customer is always right,” has been the mantra for longer than I can remember.

However, what happens when the care for the customer exceeds the care for the employee? Or a work environment that focuses criticism of the employee goes beyond truly understanding the needs of the employee for growth and development. I remember working for a lady who taught me quite a bit about trusting the employee, caring for them, and seeing them grow so the business grows. Demonstrating care and understanding for our employees and teams will have a positive impact on the business as a whole.

Spark.me 2018 conference. Day 1. Budva. Hotel Mediteran. Montenegro. Fotograf Sergej Zabijako, +382 68 129392, Portfolio: www.photosergey.me Portal Crna Gora for Me: https://www.cg4.me https://www.facebook.com/Sergej.Zabijako, Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sergej_zabijako_photographer YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/PromoMontenegro Channel VR360: http://www.Montenegro360.video #Montenegro #Spark #SparkMe #Sparkdotme #Spark2018 #CrnaGora #photoSergejZabijako #PromoMontenegro #Черногория © photography Sergej Zabijako, © Promo-Montenegro, 2018

5. Once something finishes, take what you learned and accept this new stage in life. – Mike Massimino

One of my favorite quotes from the whole conference will be this one. Thee importance of accepting the time something ends and something new begins. The whole point of these transitions and changes is to apply what we learned previously and continue to grow. Every experience we face, even when it comes to an unexpected end, is a time to learn and explore.

In another memorable moment, Mike spoke about the value of passion, following your dreams, and perseverance. He was honest in his assessment that all we can do is try. We cannot always control the outcomes, but we can try. This may be the most important thing we ever do. Just make the attempt.

#SparkMe 2018 exceed all expectations which is getting more difficult to do. I told one of the organizers, Natasha, that to imagine such diversity in speakers, it is hard to fathom the cohesiveness which it achieved on this first day.

Looking forward to Day 2.

All photos are Sergej Zabojako, https://www.cg4.me/index.php/me/foto-galereja/event/106003431699157444447@6561106624492577377

 

 

A Marketer, An Astronaut, And A Cyborg Walk Into A Bar: Preparing for Spark.Me 2018

preparing for a conference

Tomorrow begins Spark.me, a conference dedicated to curating one of the best businesses and internet conferences in Southeast Europe. And final preparations are being done to make the most of this unique opportunity to connect with leaders from wide ranging fields. I feel like this year will be one of the more diverse set of speakers. Marketing kingpins, an astronaut, and cyborgs. CYBORGS!!!

The night before a conference brings final preparations and checks to make sure everything is in place, every chord has been packed, electronic devices have been charged, and depending on departure time and destination asking over and over, “Did I forget anything?”

With so much going on and such diversity, here’s a checklist to help prepare the night before coming to Spark.me or any other conference where you are sure to engage unique and respected individuals that offer a new dimension of understanding of the world around us.

  1. Logistics

This is the boring stuff. Checking flight information, confirmation numbers, and times are all important to making sure your conference experience does not get derailed before it starts. I traveled recently with someone who was on edge at every hiccup, however, many of the bumps in the road were discussed in the travel notes sent out prior to departure. Do a last minute check and read over the information you have.

Pro tip: If you are unfamiliar with your destination, check local Facebook groups, expat groups, and travel groups about the area. Ask ahead and figure out best modes of transportation for getting between cities and to the venue.

If you are coming for Spark.Me, feel free to find me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, and ask! Or if you are visiting Montenegro for any reason. J

  1. Supplies

Make a quick check of your supplies. Nothing is worse than getting to a conference and realizing something was left behind. Especially a necessary piece of equipment. Set it all out the night before and get organized. Create a checklist and go through it. Power chords. Power supplies, Cameras. Nerf Balls to hit John Burkhart in the face?

  1. Do some homework

It should have already been done, but if not stay up late tonight and do some research on the speakers and attendees of the conference. Doing a little research will make the conference experience more beneficial in the long run. Begin interacting and connecting with speakers and attendees prior to the conference. Visit the Spark.me Facebook page to meet others before, during, and after the conference. Utilize these tools.

  1. Create a plan

Begin setting a plan for those you want to reach the most. Look over the schedule, and make notes of the speakers that you know will be interesting and fit your field the most. See if there will be any attendees that might present a good networking opportunity. Write down names and set plans to meet up. Some conferences are dedicated to making these networking opportunities happen naturally. Spark.me is one that does this well. However, it always requires a little work to reach out and set the time. Be intentional with the time that is spent at the conference. Do not let it go to the waste. Maximize your experience.

Conferences are an excellent opportunity to connect with those me may not meet in any other circumstance. You may get to speak to a marketing guru who spurs your strategy forward. Or you may talk to a cyborg that forces a change in perspective and how you experience the world around you. Making the right preparations will help open these opportunities and keep your experience on track.

Why I Want To Attend Spark.Me 2018

Spark.me 2018; matt lambert

Spark.me 2018 is quickly approaching and will hit the coast of Montenegro before we know it, May 25-27. Spark is an annual conference dedicated to bringing world class, speakers, professionals, and leaders from around the globe to Budva, Montenegro for the region’s best marketing and innovation conference. As a little insight, Mark Schaeffer and Kerry O’Shea Gorgone have already been named as speakers for this year.

2018 will be my 4th year attending the conference. Many of my friends have already harassed me for starting to plug the conference and asking them to visit Montenegro in May. They all ask, “Why?” Why Spark.Me again? So I have compiled a list of reasons of why I will go to Spark.Me 2018.

Take part in the workshops

WORKSHOPS! WORKSHOPS! WORKSHOPS!

This year will be the first Spark.Me to host a day of workshops. The day prior to the conference will be set aside to learn firsthand from a variety of industry professionals who have been dedicated to your craft. While the list has not been released yet, It seems like a no brainer that the workshops will be informative, practical, and transformative for your career. One workshop may make you even change your career.

Receive and bring value

One of the best reasons to attend a conference, especially when it is dedicated to your field of work or interest, is the value that can be received or given. Many people enjoy going to conferences because it is a good experience, however, they do not understand the immense value  that can come from interacting with top tier marketing strategists. For a startup, it could be meeting investors that provide valuable insight into the growth of your business.

Create a new community

I have met people at previous Spark conferences that seemed to spur a new community gathered around a similar interest. When ideas and innovators come together, magic happens creating new buzz and excitement around shared interests. When new communities are formed, new ideas begin to spread and take root. This has been true in my experience, and I look forward to seeing it happen again.

Increase your network

Every year, this is one of my favorite reasons to attend Spark.Me. I can always look back and remember the amount of inspiring people that I was fortunate to meet. From sharing coffee together in the mornings to cruising the Motor Bay together after the conference, my network grows every year. Follow the bloggers and their journeys connecting whenever I visit their cities. I try to keep up with the speakers who occasionally make it back to the region. Each year new connections are made. New partnerships are formed. The web of relationships grows further.

Expand your vision

Last year toward the end of his talk, I hit Jon Burkhart in the face. He did not expand his vision. But in the course of a wild presentation, he demonstrated to the audience how being “ballsy” or curious, can transform your marketing by getting outside your routine or comfort zone to grab the attention of your audience. This is how a conference should challenge the attendees. If you are not walking away rethinking your process or how to make adjustments, you have been at the wrong conference.

Spark.Me is the right one.