Many of the most successful tech companies understand that a user conference can have a hugely positive impact on many different areas of a business. It provides the marketing team with an opportunity to form closer relationships with potential customers, it provides the product team with create customer feedback, and it shows the broad community being served that the company in question really cares about empowering people to succeed.
As marketers, it can be challenging to actually find good examples of user conference, and to understand why exactly the conference(s) in question is considered successful.
This article provides marketers and event planners with ten examples of successful user conferences as a way to provide inspiration should you choose to plan one for your company.
1. Dreamforce is an annual user conference from the world’s largest cloud ecosystem, Salesforce. In addition to providing a great agenda of speakers and workshops for its 135,000 registered attendees, the San Francisco event provides lots of opportunities for delegates to lighten up and socialize in ways that are not strictly speaking networking. In 2015, its 10th edition, a sidebar called Dreamfest featured entertainment by Gary Clark Jr., The Killers and the Foo Fighters. The concert raised $10 million for the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Additionally, Stevie Wonder serenaded conference attendees right before the keynote address by CEO Marc Benioff.
Take Away: Provide end-of-day or unique opportunities for attendees to blow off steam and socialize. Sure, it will make everyone feel great, but this kind of programming could also raise your event’s profile and make it more memorable.
2. Java One is Oracle’s premier gathering of Java programmers and takes place each September in San Francisco. In addition to attracting more than 50,000 participants each year, the conference recently made a commitment to sustainability by making each detail of the event as “green” as possible. From planet-conscious menu, to food donation options, to carbon footprint reduction tactics. Outlined in an annual Event Sustainability Report, Oracle’s plan is activated across every aspect of Java One.
Take Away: Demonstrate that delivering a great event and delivering an environmentally and socially responsible event are not mutually exclusive.
3. PowerUp Conference The recently wrapped conference presented by Opower, serves global utility providers. In a recent blog post, the organizer outlines a few factors that made the event successful. Number one on the list of things they focus on is the event attendee experience. As writer Roderick Morris notes, “We surveyed our customers and spent considerable time in 1:1 interviews, understanding exactly what our clients wanted to get out of the experience.”
Once programming is done, figure out how to survey attendees, delegates, presenters and the production team. Events can be so exhausting that post-mortems are tempting to forgo – but it’s an essential mechanism for making all aspects of the event experience as great as they can be.
Take Away: User experience is supremely important when it comes to events. Show your attendees the best treatment possible in even the smallest points of engagement.
4. Epicor Insights Customer Conference brings together over 4,000 users of the company’s ERP and retail software every April. Customer attendees enjoy dedicated education tracks focused on their specific products and solutions, and get opportunities to network across products and industries. In addition to hands-on interactive labs with Epicor product experts, the conference organizes one-on-one meetings with company executives and senior managers. Basically the entire corporation is available to sit down and take questions or suggestions.
Takeaway: Don’t miss the chance to tap the incredible resource of meeting the members of your customer base in person. Everything from product launches to troubleshooting to talent recruitment and resource sharing should be on the table and openly available. Use the conference as a goal line for developers to aim for each year. And max out the opportunity for market research at the same time.
5. Max, the Creativity Conference takes place November 2 – 4 in San Diego and is aimed at creatives who use the Creative Cloud software collection. One of the great things about Max (and more and more conferences are doing this) is their comprehensive archiving of each year’s event. All of the keynotes (including talks from filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and renowned illustrator Maira Kalman in 2015) and many of the sessions themselves are posted online almost as soon as the conference wraps. This makes it easy for attendees to share and re-visit content and for potential attendees to see what all the fuss was about.
Takeaway: Look online to extend the lifecycle of a user conference. You could post on-demand presentations from the conference, or additional material, or even create online-only special events like product showcases and demonstrations.
6. Agilysys Inspire Conference, this event took place February 22-24 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and showcased the company’s roster of next-generation hospitality software solutions and service. The event featured interactive educational sessions designed to help customers build lasting connections in order to drive guest recruitment, increase wallet share and reduce operating costs. Attendees were also given an opportunity to network with industry peers, learn about Agilysysys' vision for the future, and share information about how to achieve success using solutions for property management, point-of-sale, inventory and procurement, transaction payment and document management. Most notably, the conference included a Partner Pavilion to showcase products that integrate with Agilys systems as a demonstration of the power of end-to-end hospitality solutions.
Takeaway: Even if you are limiting your conference to users, think holistically about attendee experience with your product or service. Extending programming to include sponsors and collaborators in your field, as Agilys did, goes the extra mile.
7. ICON User Conference Infusionsoft is an e-mail marketing and sales platform for small businesses. Their annual ICON User Conference, the 10th edition, took place this year March 2-4 in Phoenix. Like many other savvy user conferences, ICON tacked on a full day of training for attendees before the official agenda kicked off. That way customers new to Infusionsoft’s platforms and products could learn and fine-tune skills in order to then have the richest conference experience possible. The day ended with a trip to Infusionsoft’s headquarters for a tour and meet-and-greet.
Takeaway: Training is serious added value. It can also be used to bring brand new customers up-to-speed so that they can get the maximum amount of value out of the conference. Increasingly, an extended unofficial agenda of workshops and technical training can pre-date a conference by one, two or even three days. That way conference programming can offer more depth and detail.
8. eMetrics Summit is a series of conferences for data analysts. The event convenes in cities such as Chicago (June 20-23) and New York (October 24-27), and also in European centers such as Berlin (November 8-9) and Milan (November 10). In the ‘Why Attend’ section of their website, the conference provides resources for rationalizing attendance at the event and provides tips for obtaining approvals and funding from the powers that be. They even supply letter templates tailored to each conference location.
Takeaway: Providing tools for “convincing the boss” to send attendees to a conference is both helpful and thoughtful. These elements can take the form of suggested text or a bullet list of practical points, testimonials, or those amazingly useful templates for emails and letters.
9. Finance Logix is an invitation only conference. The financial planning software company brings together a careful mix of 80 to 100 attendees. The result is a forum, where, by the end, everyone gets to know everybody else and has a chance to learn from each other. By contrast Microsoft Ignite (one of four major Microsoft conferences held annually) is designed especially for Internet technology specialists using Microsoft products and will take place this year in Atlanta from September 26-30. With 23,000 attendees, all activity is inevitably driven by the logistics of processing, gathering, feeding and moving a small town of bodies. For some, the message can get lost in the shuffle at larger events.
Takeaway: Pay attention to appropriateness of scale. Market leader Microsoft probably has little choice but to go big. But more intimate, invite-only or single-track conferences may be able to share and embed knowledge more deeply. You might also want to consider alternatives such as user group meet-ups, smaller and more frequent mini-conferences, or roadshow events.