Scaling Impact

How to Scale A User Conference for Greater Impact

How to Scale A User Conference for Greater Impact

Five tips to evolve your customer event into a brand movement.
When scaling user conferences or customer events, event leaders should think beyond traditional growth goals.

Some of the most successful user conferences, like Dreamforce, AWS re:Invent, and Adobe Summit, have scaled over the years by catalyzing brand movements. These brands have reimagined the user experience by placing attendees directly in the driver's seat and empowering them to become part of a community. 

These brand communities are made of followers and fans who attend the event every year, share the highlights of their experience, and, in turn, influence others to attend. So, how can event leaders tap into this approach to create user conferences fueled by community and focused on growth?

Let’s explore Opus Agency’s top five tactics for scaling user conferences to catalyze brand movements. 

1. Attendees in the Center

Recent innovations and cultural shifts have fueled the rise of the stakeholder mindset. These stakeholders, including consumers, employees, and the community, are holding brands accountable for their decisions more than ever. 

Stakeholders expect to invest — their time, focus, energy, personal brand reputations, and money — and they expect a return on their investment. They want a say in the brand's evolution and expect to be seen, heard, and valued by brands.

The next generations of successfully scaled customer experiences will embrace this fundamental shift, putting attendees directly in the driver’s seat. World Economic Forum uses an in-the-round format for discussions. By taking what would be a conventional panel approach and putting speakers in the center of the room, the content is transformed into a community moment.

A few other ways to design events for the stakeholder mindset are:

  • Hands-on training and product demos
  • Choose-your-own-adventure agendas
  • Crowd-sourced interviews for speaker sessions

2. Catalyzed Communities

Activating a community is one of the most important aspects of scaling a user conference. Brand communities empower attendees to interact, share ideas, build relationships, and become lifelong brand fans. 

Dreamforce uses its Trailblazer community to promote the event on social media to create FOMO year-round while fostering a sense of belonging among users, developers, and partners. Dreamforce also boosts its community spirit through mascots and swag, notably the iconic Dreamforce hoodies. Characters like Astro Nomical and Einstein are integral to the event's identity.

Adobe has year-round initiatives to maintain audience engagement through workshops, webinars, and networking events. These community-centered approaches have played significant roles in the success of these conferences. 

Other ways to design a community-first user experience include:

  • 1:1 “brain dates” to help stakeholders find their people
  • Cohorts based on attendees’ personalities, hobbies, learning styles, networking preferences, and more
  • Creative networking and giveback activations
  • Pins and badges for attendees to showcase their passions

3. Iconic, Hackable Brand

“Brand hacking” (positive) refers to creating unconventional ways to engage with a brand and amplify its message. It involves taking complex communication objectives and creating unique solutions—from the basic and tactical to more complicated and strategic.  

TED’s red circle, for instance, has become iconic for the brand—partly because of the amazing presentations that have emerged from them and partly because the community has adopted it and uses it throughout their global TEDx events.

Dreamforce’s campground aesthetic also leans into this strategy, merging design, repeatability, and reach to create instantly recognizable event elements. Without seeing logos, their target audiences immediately associate visuals with their events.

To make our events iconic and hackable, we must create something consistent that our communities can make their own.

User experiences are primed for brand hacking as they gather highly engaged attendees. In addition to iconic visuals, some examples of brand hacking at a user conference are:

  • Interactive brand installations
  • Co-creation workshops and hackathons
  • Branded gamification or augmented reality experiences
  • Beloved mascots and can’t-miss swag

4. Rituals and Traditions

Rituals and traditions anchor the shared experience—something familiar and special that cements the experience for attendees. With the repeatability and scale of user conferences, there are great opportunities to stand out with traditions and rituals that define the experience for attendees. 

AWS re:Invent hosted an annual chicken wing eating contest, a challenge rooted in AWS’ earliest years. Whenever a new hire would start, the team would all go out for wings together. Soon, the developer community picked up on this and brought the tradition into their events. For over a decade, this community-led activity was a beloved ritual for AWS developers worldwide.

Amplified by attendees’ desire to reignite connections, it is a golden time for introducing—and reintroducing—the rituals that define expectations

Rituals and traditions should be highly personal and reflect your company's culture and values. When we design events, we should ask: how can we bring this tradition into our events? When we, as event leaders, take something created by the community and pull it into our events, we show our community that they are stakeholders in the event. 

Some examples to get started are:

  • Talent shows, contests, and karaoke 
  • Highly anticipated annual editions of swag
  • Group runs or community service projects

5. Imprintable Spaces

Empowering attendees to participate is a significant part of scaling impact for user conferences. More than ever, attendees want opportunities to make a lasting impression on events as a testament to their experience.

In this new era of stakeholder mindsets—attendees moving from passive to active—how do we provide the sense of imprintable space and influenceable journeys? Here are some ideas for getting started:

  • Imprint wall for attendees to sign their name or leave short messages
  • Digital mosaic welcome wall where attendees snap a selfie upon entering the event space
  • Co-created art installation, LEGO build, or Lite-Brite wall 

Big Idea

Fueled by community and scaled for success, user conferences drive impact for all stakeholders. By embracing next-gen strategies, customer events go beyond annual gatherings and evolve into transformative experiences that turn moments into movements

Ready to catalyze your next brand movement? Drop us a line.

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