Every once in a while, our hosts Will and Brandt love to bring guests to the Event Tech Podcast and have them talk about an exciting technology or software they’ve developed. In September 2020, for example, we had the opportunity to learn more about virtual engagement strategies with Sketch Effect. And today, the techie duo welcomes a very special guest who developed a brand management tool and mostly works with consulting firms and banks. However, brand compliance is an integral part of building long-lasting relationships with clients in all industries, the events industry included.
James Hirchak is the president and co-founder of Astute Review, a company that helps companies ensure their brand compliance by offering two computer software solutions: a PowerPoint automation tool and a real-time brand monitoring tool. Will and Brandt brought him on the Event Tech Podcast to explain what these tools do and how they can be used by event professionals.
Astute Review: An Introduction
James jumps straight in and gives us the rundown of Astute Review. “We’ve got two products at Astute Review. One is a PowerPoint automation tool that you can think of like Grammarly, but for presentation formatting. We automate the process of reviewing your presentations to make sure they look great and are brand consistent or brand-compliant, saving you a boatload of time and sanity along the way,” he says.
The second one is a brand management tool. How did it come to be? “As we struggled with the launch process and going into the market, we also learned some things. One of which was that there’s this huge disconnect between sales and marketing. Marketing teams put out all these beautiful and great presentations, word docs, pitch decks, but unfortunately, maintaining brand consistency is really tough. We’ve since developed a real-time brand management tool that can analyze files across an organization wherever they’re stored and locate where people are diminishing the value of your brand by using old logos colors, the wrong catchphrases, et cetera. Therefore, you can either police it or use it for training purposes,” he explains.
How Does It Work?
“Can you kind of step us through what the typical process is?” asks Brandt.
“You have a team or an organization that is either recently gone through a rebranding or has people located throughout the country or not working as closely together. Regardless of the quality of your templates or processes in place, stuff just inevitably gets screwed up when either you’re working with groups of people or importing things from location A to location B,” James replies. “So that’s where we’re finding the best use case.”
“We’re primarily working with consulting firms, banks, and sales and marketing professionals,” he adds. “Either companies that are looking to take their brand consistency to that next level or those that are looking to ensure compliance with a new brand that they just spent a boatload of money on in terms of rolling out within an organization.”
“The way our process works is we’ve evolved from a ‘plug and play’ solution that anyone can use to going more the bespoke and customized approach. At the end of the day, every company, even if you’re within the same industry, cares about different things. So, we sit down with customers, talk to them about what they care about as an organization or as an individual. Then, we tee this software up to make sure it checks for exactly what you care about to limit false positives and make sure that everything that’s leaving the company looks and feels the way that you want it to feel. We sit down with a marketing rep for 30 minutes, get a copy of their deck, and then provide a recommendation as to what you want us to turn off or add to the review tool for yourself,” James says.
Brand Management: Most Common Practices
We’ve so far established that consistency is key when it comes to brand management. Will is curious to know what type of consistencies do they create at Astute Review.
“It does vary customer by customer, but what we see the most of is the boring stuff that people are consciously or subconsciously judging you on,” James replies. “It has to do with texts, the spacing, the formatting, the size, indentation, and the color of the text. Because when you’re collaborating with individuals or pulling stuff from emails or the web, that’s what gets thrown off the quickest. That inconsistency subconsciously impacts the way people are judging individuals. Especially in the consulting world; that’s where we get the most feedback. They say: ‘I spent so much time making sure everything’s aligned and indented the same way. And now, you automate that for me.’”
Brand management tools can be the marketing team’s best friend. “As we push more towards marketing, we’re getting a lot of positive feedback around color consistency,” James adds. “Let’s say you’re that sales rep that is dangerous enough to create their own presentations, but maybe not that power user in terms of presentation, building, and design. Some colors might look close enough or good enough for some folks, but for the marketing team and for the people that are really focused on brand integrity, that drives them crazy. We’re making sure that everything is in line with the exact standards that you care about from a color perspective.”
Brand Management Tools In The Events Industry
Brandt thinks that this conversation about brand management tools and brand consistency very much applies to the events industry. “There are many brands out there that are incredibly fussy about colors at events and that even bleeds into the AV world.” He gives a concrete example. “There was a brand that would send their own projectionists out on-site to make sure that the color in the presentation was the right color red from their branding. Not only does the presentation itself need to have the right color, but it also needs to be properly color matched at the projector level.”
“In the events industry, we frequently get wrapped up in large meetings: the conferences and the expos,” he adds. “Sometimes, we forget about the thousands of small meetings that are going on all the time. Meetings where it’s under 10 people, but companies will spend thousands of dollars putting those decks together. So for example, this is the sales deck that we’re going to use for 2021 that you need to roll it out to all 7,000 of our salespeople and make sure that it’s consistent across all of them. This then leads to the second product. Having the ability to then say that we’ve just rebranded. We don’t want to have to redo all of those 7,000 PowerPoint decks. We want to just drill through, swap out the logos, change it to the new font and make it go. Brand management tools would be enormously valuable.”
Astute Review’s Real-Time Brand Management Tool
Next up, James explains how their real-time brand management tool came to be. “My CTO called me up and said: ‘I just realized that we can review files across an organization wherever they’re saved without anybody having to learn a tool for big picture brand stuff and big picture litigation stuff.’ That really piqued my interest. He told me we can actually build a solution to analyze content within a file securely, without opening it up, for missing logos, colors, fonts, and any words that you want or don’t want in the documentation.”
“Essentially, what we’ve built is a solution that embeds itself wherever you store files,” he explains. “We learned through acquisition experiences that adoption of these platforms is tough. Big companies spend a million dollars a year to have a good digital asset management tool or sales enablement tool in place. The marketing team is all about it because they’re really focused on their brand, but the problem is that sales professionals might not adopt it as well or as often as the marketing people. There’s a disconnect between marketing and sales. So, we asked ourselves: what if we can embed a solution wherever people are working. That way, they don’t need to learn anything new. We give them real-time analytics as to where the brand is being diminished.”
“Right now, we’re going to market with a very broad solution,” he adds. “We can prevent emails that contain files with old logos from being sent. It’ll ping you with a warning. We can also use it as a training or real-time monitoring tool where the brand management, marketing, or communications team can see where in the organization are teams diminishing the value of your brand – all in a very secure and confidential way.”
Better Presentations At Events
James talks a little bit about the potential utility of the brand management tool in the world of events. “The trade shows that I went to were typically only annual or semi-annual. As you lead up to your big annual trade show, you can send us a template. We talk to somebody in marketing and we tee this up to meet your specific needs for that trade show,” he says.
“You don’t need an annual contract for that. Maybe it’s a two-month contract. So you deploy to all the speakers at your company or the guest speakers that will be attending the conversation and say: ‘Here’s the template and the software. Before you send the final version to us, you just have to run the software on it. Hopefully, it can make keynote presentations a little bit better. I know those are the ones that get the most scrutiny and most review from folks within an organization. But it’s really those breakout sessions where it’s hopefully going to make things look more polished, consistent, and professional across that event,” he adds.
Conclusion: James’ Favorite Technology
Before they wrap the episode up, Will asks James to name one piece of technology that he’s excited about.
“It’s not something that gets me excited, but it’s something that’s really important. I’ve been using a lot of password management solutions lately because we worked with a lot of contractors,” he says. “I’m not putting on the tinfoil hat quite yet, but there are so many data privacy breaches taking place. You’re reading about them in the news daily: hacks and ransoms. These password management tools go a long way in terms of protecting our information from getting into the wrong hands.”
“Will and I shout that from the rooftops at every available opportunity,” says Brandt. “As event providers or event professionals, the data that we are responsible for is gold. There are names, addresses, spouses, flight details, limo details. All of this could be so easily used to craft a spear-phishing email that looks completely legitimate.”
But perhaps that’s a topic for another time. Stay tuned for more amazing content, brought to you by Endless Events every single week!