“Competition in the dental meetings world is fierce,” says Mills, “probably more than in any other discipline. But we are fortunate in that our council [volunteer board] is willing to change.”

Mills knew that she and her team would need hard data to bring about such broad and swift change. This data had to guide the evolution of the annual meeting, and ultimately its success.

Having discovered that the council members couldn’t come up with one word or phrase to identify or associate with the ADA annual meeting, while they could with most of the other dental meetings they attended, Mills wanted to explore members’ perceptions of the meeting, and how those perceptions affected their decision to attend—or not attend—regardless of location. She also needed to learn more about ADA’s evolving attendee base. What did they want out of an annual meeting?

She turned to FreemanXP, Freeman’s creative agency arm with whom she had worked with in the past, to help her set a redesign and rebranding strategy. With FreemanXP, she led an in-depth strategic process to create a three-year plan to evolve the overall brand and elevate the attendee experience.

Creation of that strategic plan took 18 months, says Dustin Sparks, vice president, experience design, lead creative for Freeman and FreemanXP with ADA.

Working alongside the ADA, the Freeman Enterprise (expo, AV, creative) went into action to create a fully integrated concept that started with an audience analysis to determine a new name, logo, and branding for the annual meeting that would resonate with the target audience. “We selected a sample group to survey, and the results showed some surprising data,” says Mills. Among those findings: respondents had an extraordinarily strong connection with ADA, the mothership.

The one theme that stuck out? “We rotate our meeting all over the country, so the fact that we are national, we are American, and that ADA itself has such a strong brand, resonated,” says Mills. “We leveraged that to help us arrive at our new name: ADA: America’s Dental Meeting.”

The survey also revealed far more about the personae of potential attendees, adds Sparks. “We discovered that the younger members wanted more technology and hands-on learning experiences, so we were able to incorporate technology into the hands-on sessions. Everything we survey is based on behavior, and the information we collect is much broader than behavior related to attending meetings. We want to understand how people want to be communicated with, how they want to interact with information, so we can create different learning experiences for different attendees,” Sparks states.

“You get a kind of perspective around peoples’ perceptions, and from there we create a mapping process, understanding what your desired attendees believe or don’t believe about you and your meeting. We manage toward gaps we find, elements the meeting doesn’t offer, recognizing the type of attendee we want to attract. We do a competitive analysis of other meetings. Ultimately we create a sweet spot, mutually successful for the attendees, the exhibitors, and the organizer.”

Freeman used the data as a jumping-off point to transform the event’s entire look, feel, and design with new signage and promotional materials. “We redesigned and rebranded our event,” says Mills, “and decided to do a soft rollout on site at our 2013 meeting in New Orleans.”

The strategic plan will be fully rolled out by the October 2014 meeting, and over the next two years. “We are gathering more and more behaviorial data to do more targeted tie-ins on site as well as more individualized and personalized marketing before the meeting,” Mills says.