How to Make Conference Ribbons Serve a Larger Purpose

Author: Don Neal       

Don Neal

Don Neal

No doubt conference ribbons — those multi-colored, horizontal, adhesive strips with printed descriptors that attendees select from a dispenser or tray and attach to their name badges — have a place at your events. Some events feature as many as 100 descriptions: Volunteer. Student. Public Policy Committee. Nurse Practitioner. Board Member. The list is endless.

Here’s why these ribbons, and, more importantly, the motivation to wear them, represents such a big opportunity.

One of our core human needs is to feel significant. Paradoxically, this means both being part of something and being unique — fitting in while standing out. Conference ribbons are the perfect way to do this by allowing event attendees to signal to others who they are. It’s a way to display what differentiates them from others and at the same time, what “tribe” they belong to.

Ribbons are usually offered in a tactical, self-service way. We add them to the registration desk, and it’s up to attendees to select from a bunch
of standard categories we’ve already created.

But they have the potential to be so much more. Think about going beyond the usual designations of “Chair,” “Board Member,” “Speaker,” etc., and explore a variety of other options. Try things like: “Experimenter,” “Curious,” “Design Maven,” or whatever else you can think of that would resonate with your particular community.

Here are three approaches to consider that turn this old-fashioned event tactic into a more engaging experience for your participants.

  • Invite attendees to champion a ribbon or become the “pack leader” of that ribbon’s community at the end of your next annual event. For the next 12 months, the leader of each ribbon’s community builds that community within their network. This brings more people to your event, and a predefined group with similar interests is more likely to have a better experience.
  • Create a space. Give your ribbon communities a home base. Use round tables on the expo floor with stanchions and signs for that community, and offer open breakout rooms for the larger communities. One of the top takeaways of your event for these communities will be the opportunity to interact with their fellow ribbon bearers.
  • Get the word out and use the ribbons in your promotional marketing. Advertise that your annual meeting or trade show is a community of communities, and invite your audience to pre-select their ribbon during the initial online registration process.

There are many opportunities to create special ways to recognize these communities and plan activities around them on site: a special registration area for the Top 10 ribbon communities, different community receptions, micro-awards ceremonies, dinner meet-ups, and general session seating organized by community.

These ideas are a great way to begin an audience segmentation strategy by having your audience self-select the community of their choice.

What ribbon would best identify you at your favorite event?

Don Neal is founder and CEO of marketing, strategy, and experience agency 360 Live Media.

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