Conference

Why I Want To Attend Spark.me 2019

Spark.me is a yearly conference taking place on the rugged and beautiful coast of Montenegro. It has become one of the most carefully curated business and internet conferences in Southeast Europe. Over the years, it has attracted a growing following of attendees and industry leading speakers in the fields of branding, marketing, business development, innovation, and startup ecosystems.

The obvious reasons for attending Spark.me in 2019: 

Networking: Spark brings together professionals from across the spectrum from different industries. A conference this diverse in attendees and speakers allows you to meet new friends, possible new business partners or clients. It gives you as the attendee an opportunity to succeed in growing your business and network. 

Education: Spark provides a unique learning experience. Since the goal of the conference is not to be the biggest, the organizing team designs an experience geared toward learning and developing skills. 

Location: The location of the conference in the past has been amazing. Located just outside of Budva, the conference was held on the sunny coast of Montenegro. This year, the conference is receiving an upgrade by moving to the Bay of Kotor specifically Porto Montenegro in Tivat. The picturesque location serves as the perfect backdrop for a convergence of industry leading minds.

These are the oft repeated reasons for attending Spark.me, and they do factor heavily into why I attended in the past, and will do so this year again.

(You can still pick up tickets for Spark.me happening May 25-26.)

However, there are a few more reasons. These are usually what I tell people to really sell them on the experience. 

The real reasons to attend the Spark.me conference…

Spark.me is a carefully curated experience.

The time and energy that the organizing team puts into not merely running through a checklist to make sure the conference happens, but carefully crafts an experience is evident. The planning happens almost year round. The speakers who are chosen are particularly selected. The stage is thought through from an audience’s perspective. The ambiance is geared toward those attending. Spark.me is not only a conference, but a designed experience. 

Secret sauce of the organizers…. They care!

The event is put together by a community which cares about the larger community. The beauty of the Spark.me conference is in the details and attention paid to little things leading up to the conference, during it, and afterwards. 

If you pay attention to social media, you will notice different members of the team connecting with potential attendees and answering questions. During the event, the organizing team give recognition for special days (including birthdays) of attendees and create an experience even for the speakers. They notice the small things because they care. 

The opportunities to meet the right people. 

While we all know that a major reason to go to any conference is for the opportunity to network. However, the Spark.me offers the opportunity to make sure you are meeting the right people. With a conference planned so closely around the experience it provides, it easily attracts like minded people not only from the immediate Balkan region but from across the globe. In 2018, Spark drew 580 people from 28 countries. This type of diversity in a close setting brings the right people together to make change happen, encourage new ideas, and perfect existing initiatives. 

Lastly…

For Startups, Spark.me brings the opportunity to pitch and learn from investor coupled with the opportunity to win a trip to be seen in the TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 Startup Alley, on October 2-4, 2019.

I’m looking forward to Spark.me and seeing a community that has welcomed me over the last 5 years. Watching this conference grow from relatively early stages in 2015 until today has been exciting. I look forward to seeing what speakers, the conference will bring to the stage. I can’t wait to see friends that make yearly pilgrimage. And I look forward to making new connections that will undoubtedly last through the coming years. 

If you do visit Spark.me in May, check out some of these tips on what to do during this time of year.

Brand Building Lessons from Spark.ME

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

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.)