Operationalizing the TedXSanDiego Brand

Last Saturday thought-leaders and change-makers converged on the Qualcomm Institute at Calit2 campus for a special day of sharing ideas, making new connections, and experiencing exciting possibilities.  It was the fourth TEDxSanDiego, an extraordinary day that certainly lived up to the standards set by the previous years (see my recaps here:  2012, 2011, and 2010.) 20131214_161452

It was also the culmination of the work a few of us undertook last year to clarify and focus the TEDxSanDiego brand.  I was fortunate to lead the steering committee through the effort and was so gratified to see our brand strategy be operationalized with such excellence.

You see, after having served on the program team for a couple of years, I wanted to apply to TEDxSanDiego the skills and approaches I usually use with clients who call on me to help them tackle their toughest brand challenges.  After all, the TEDxSD organization was undergoing significant change:  Jack Abbott, the heart and soul and license holder, had taken on two partners, we would be seeking out a new venue, and San Diego had become home to many other TEDx events (TEDxAFC, TEDx La Jolla, TEDxUCSD, etc.)

So we needed to be crystal clear about who we are, why we exist, and how we’re different from others – in essence we needed to articulate the TEDxSD brand platform, and ensure everyone who works on TEDxSD understands, embraces, and applies it in the millions of decisions that need to be made when putting on such an event.

After interviewing a range of stakeholders (staff, participants, speakers, partners, other TEDx organizers) and reviewing many background documents, I led the steering committee through the process of answering our “5 What’s”:

  • what we stand for – our brand essence
  • what we believe in – our defining values and attributes
  • what people we seek to engage – our target audiences
  • what distinguishes us – our key differentiators
  • what we offer – our overarching experience/value proposition

Jack explained our process saying, “Our determined pursuit to share new ideas worth spreading caused us to do some new thinking – or rather, re-thinking – about the TEDxSD experience itself.  We asked ourselves what we are trying to create and why, and we re-committed ourselves to our goal:  to help connect, illuminate, inspire and activate the TEDx community in San Diego and beyond to make a difference.

Then we created the TEDxSD Brand Book and began engaging all of the volunteers (over 100 of them) with the strategy.  I heard of how the brand platform shaped the presentation that was crafted to enroll partners (sponsors), how it drove the Salons that were held throughout the year, how Jack used it to prepare for interviews with the press, how it informed and inspired the program team as they curated and coached the speakers, and many more ways the brand platform was used.

Perhaps the most vivid, tangible demonstrations of the brand platform in action were seen on Saturday.

Because our target audiences include not only the curated group of participants who attend the event in person but also the broader audience of people who we reach through videos, online channels, etc., there was the LiveStream event simulcast and active Twitter interactions (in the end we hit 1.34MM impressions for the day.)

tedx twitter

Because one of our values is “taking risks,” we invited associate professor of Visual Arts at UC San Diego Benjamin Bratton to speak on “What’s Wrong with TED Talks.”  His comments were provocative and caused people to be more thoughtful about what we’re doing and why.


Because we said our value proposition included “transformational experiences,” the event featured many interactive experiences including a visit to the CALIT2 3-D CAVES (five-sided virtual reality rooms), a Deep Yoga Journey to Your Soul (led by 2012 speaker and yogi Bhava Ram), and A Reason to Survive (ARTS) chalk mural to which participants could add their creations.


There were so many more ways the TEDxSD brand was operationalized – and all of it led to a one-of-a-kind experience.

The starting point for TED and TEDx is the power of ideas – but as we all know, ideas must be acted upon to make a difference.  The same can be said about brand strategy.


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