Newbie Networking: Branding from Cocktails to Contracts

The Power of Brand in the Context of Relationship-building

Cape Town, as per usual every February, dazzled over eleven thousand international and local visitors with the seasonal standard of glorious sunshine and late evening sunsets, little wind, and a plethora of high-end catered designer venues, as well as office-bars-with-a-view soirees to choose.  Every business in the sector worth its salt (or earning its salt) aims to show off its best selves over these few days, most often with an ‘off-site’ party post-the-punishing schedule of talks, meetings, and booths at the main conference event. Relationships that will turn into millions (US$) are fostered over expensive drinks while DJs play sunset-friendly tunes well into the night every single night of the Indaba. People ‘mingle’ aggressively, business cards ever at the ready, with an eye always on that key opportunity to unlock business futures.

Drink in hand on a velvet bench next to the defanged cactus serving as décor, I began a conversation about ‘what I do’ with a business-card-wielding foreigner.

The question arose: ‘In a world where big business has traditionally been done over dinner, or drinks, or on the golf course (and where, for most industrial and affiliated sectors, it is still being done), what is the role of branding and advertising?’

Establishing credibility and trust

On the name tags at the one-panel talk were two lines in black ink: Name in large font and company name in small. Delegates approaching each other surreptitiously eyed the tags, silently and speedily establishing: 1. If they had heard of them; and 2. If they were someone they needed to know. Whereupon card exchange and conversation could commence.

Within this context, your ‘name’ has preceded you, or, at least, you hope it has! Have they heard of your company? Is someone they know partnering with your company already? What did they say about you? Has your company been in the media lately? What feelings and associations does it bring up?  

These questions can often largely be answered by good brand strategy and creative executions that have been placed where your delegate has seen them enough times to create a positive correlation strong enough for the small font name on your lapel to compel them to speak to you.

Creating recognition and differentiation

‘Oops!’, someone corrected my misnaming a law firm. How embarrassing. But in a world where everyone is Wang, Smith, Ali and Associates or (very) similar (inevitably shortened to initialisms), I’d have to have been an ‘insider’ to know who specialises in what and associate their acronym accordingly. That’s what brand-building can do for you.

By establishing a consistent narrative – visually and thematically – in all your comms, your name and image will communicate what you stand for, what value you bring, and how you can be of service to the business. In the process of creating the brand, the job to be done is to clarify the company’s unique attributes, offerings, value, and approach, and then to communicate it in a way that is memorable and that stands out against competitors (and believe me, they won’t be messing up your name again!)

Facilitating initial contact and supporting relationship-building

Networking is absolutely the territory of the natural extrovert, which isn’t everyone, hence the frequent inclusion of the world’s favourite social lubricant at events. Because now, you’ve shaken hands and exchanged cards, what do you say?

Well-executed brand building can serve as a conversation starter. It not only equips the delegate with relevant talking points aligned with their own business that simultaneously recognise the overt and covert business needs of the potential contact but also generates interest and curiosity in their conversational counterparts, thanks to purposefully placed strategic and thought-provoking content.

Driving follow-up and nurturing

Today the delegates start to pack their bags and head home (the smart ones have booked ‘weekend getaways’ at glorious spots all over our magnificent country to recover from 4 nights of hobnobbing). There are thousands of purses, wallets, phone cases, and laptop bags full of potential relationships waiting to be ‘got-back-to’ on the other side.

This again is where brand-related marketing and comms come into play. Tailored follow-ups such as personalised messages with thoughtful targeted content and valuable useful tools can maintain momentum, deepen the initial connection, and ultimately move prospects down the engagement funnel from ‘lovely to meet you’ to ‘can we do business?’

All of which brings me back to the emerald velvet settee, drink nearly done, a stack of cards depleted, the sun nearly set, as the music gets louder. As conversations in at least 10 different languages flow around me, I am reminded that branding isn’t merely about logos, taglines, and colour palettes, but about establishing credibility, creating recognition, and fostering meaningful connections that endure beyond these balmy February nights for many profitable years. In the landscape of business networking, where handshakes lead to contracts and small talk paves the way for million-dollar deals, branding and advertising serve as the thematic North Star, illuminating a practical path to success and ensuring that every encounter leaves an enduring positive impression. Cheers to the journey and may the brand narrative be ever in your business’s favour.

 Written by Lisa Cohn, Senior B2B Strategist at Demographica.

You may also like…