When it comes to building lasting customer relationships, it’s hard to argue the incredible value of face-to-face interaction. A quick study published in Harvard Business Review shows that personal interaction was 34 more times effective than email and other research shows it is 100 times more effective than a phone call. That is why it is no surprise that user conferences are so successful and a terrific marketing strategy for many companies. But how successful a user conference is can hinge largely on how well-thought out and organized the event it. It requires creativity to make it not only useful but fun and engaging for the attendees.
Seeing as a user conference is connected to your company or brand name, there’s no doubt you want to make it as memorable as possible. We’re going to talk about what a user conference is, the potential benefits to your company, the steps required to plan such an event, and how to make it exciting, fun, and memorable for everyone involved.
What is a user conference?
Some might think that a trade show and user conference are interchangeable, but there is a big difference. A trade show helps a company meet potential clients and set up a more visible position in their industry. A user conference can include these benefits, but in this case, it is about customers and prospects meeting each other as well—peer-to-peer networking.
In a sentence, a user conference is basically a marketing campaign that is heavily focused on people who are already using the product. It helps users get a deeper knowledge of your product and share their knowledge and expertise with each other. It helps showcase a product or products and how users can get the most benefit out of them. It also showcases your company’s talented members as well as your company culture and brand.
User conferences are not just a random social session among users, they also include informative speakers, question and answer sessions, interactive sessions, and most importantly entertaining activities.
So, is a user conference right for your company? Some feel that a user conference can be a “rite of passage” of sorts for a company. It’s true that some companies (like tech companies) might find this type of event more beneficial than others, but there is also room for flexibility and creativity. Many companies can adapt the format to fit what their company is offering and organize it in a way that meets their company’s and user’s needs.
What are the goals of a user conference?
The overall goal is for users and prospective users to be inspired to engage with your brand, company, or product. Naturally, you will want what they see at the conference to reflect the company’s clear vision of what you are offering and the benefits to them personally. A user conference is a way to put your best foot forward by curating an event that optimizes a user’s experience with your company.
A user conference is not only an excellent forum for customers to engage with you, but it also encourages them to engage with each other. This is something every growing business wants to happen. Customers are the lifeblood of your company and brand, so helping them build strong relationships with each other strengthens the network that supports your business.
Seeing as many users who attend a conference are already quite familiar with a product, a company can use this event as a prime opportunity to educate their users on the nuances of the product, helping them maximize usability and usefulness. The goal here is to create happy customers who loyally support and advocate your brand or product.
What are the benefits of a user conference?
That incredibly valuable face-to-face time mentioned above? It has a whole host of benefits for your business. Instead of just seeing a product or brand, you are letting users see the faces behind the company. Developing an easy rapport with your users makes the company feel more approachable instead cold and removed from their needs and feedback. It helps strengthen professional relationships with your customers which in turn increases their loyalty to you.
For businesses, gaining customers is only the beginning of the battle—keeping them and keeping them happy is crucial and it is a large part of what a user conference is about. Besides the obvious benefit of retaining clients and customers, when consumers are happy with a product and feel loyalty to a company, they are going to talk about it. That word-mouth-marketing can reach a larger audience, especially in this age of blogging and social media. Such a great boost for your brand awareness.
When you have the loyalty of “power users”, those who know the product well, their word-of-mouth creates something beyond just brand awareness—they are helping to set you up as an industry leader and authority in your field. This level up is similar to going from a mom and pop store to growing into a nationally franchised retailer.
When you have all those product experts—company staff and users alike—in one place, innovation is bound to happen. Knowledge sharing and honest feedback from experienced users can help serve as a think tank of sorts, leading to anything from revolutionary changes to minor adjustments that can improve your product.
Planning a user conference
Planning a user conference may seem overwhelming, especially if you’ve never planned a large event, but as with any event planning (like a wedding), breaking the planning down to one step at a time feels far more manageable. What needs to be done?
- First, outline the goals you would like to accomplish and plan according to those goals.
- Get a budget together and utilize any free resources available (like donated space). It’s easy to account for the bigger components, but don’t forget to factor in the smaller details like printed material, promotional items or giveaways, equipment, and fun extras. Create a spreadsheet to keep things organized and in front of you with the click of a button.
- Who is on the invite list? You want to have a rough idea regarding the number of participants you might expect in order to find the right sized location.
- Pick a practical location. Ideally, you want the location to be easily accessible to as many people as possible, increasing your chances of getting invitees to respond “yes”. An exotic location like a tropical resort, even if it is within grasp of your budget, might seem like it would be an appealing place to invite users, but the payoff might not be as great.
- Make a list of vendors that you want at the conference and begin communications. Once you’ve booked vendors, hammer out the details of the contract and what you can expect of each other. Don’t forget to review cancellation policies and other relevant information before signing contracts.
- Speakers are going to be the main attraction and you want to find ones who will best fit in with your objectives and budget (you can’t expect professional speakers to work free of charge). If you’re not sure where to look, start networking to find out which speakers have inspired others. You can also check out websites and review demo videos to find out who has the potential to be a good fit.
- Outline your agenda or conference schedule. Your entire event won’t consist solely of speakers, so mix up your schedule to intersperse networking time, workshops, activities, and of course time to eat.
- Those workshops, activities, and even meals or snacks require advanced planning and preparation. Use creativity to make these important components memorable and beneficial to attendees as well as helping to achieve your goals. You can also delegate different events so that each person can focus all their energy into one component to make it truly incredible.
- If you want people to come to your event, they will have to know about it. It’s not just enough to post the date and time, you want to market your event well so that it looks professional and highly appealing. You can also start email and “word-of-mouth” campaigns as well as having online registration for easy sign-up.
What are some things to avoid when planning a user conference?
- You’re there to showcase your entire company, so don’t limit the staff you have at the event to just marketing or sales team members. Each department has their own insights and perspectives to share with users including product managers, developers, customer service agents, and even those involved in financial aspects of the company.
- Don’t do a repeat performance of previous years. If you held a previous user conference, it might have been a smashing success. That doesn’t mean users want to hear the same thing year after year. Your users don’t want to spend their time, money, and effort on stale information. Keep things fresh, even if you have to challenge yourself to do it.
- Don’t skip the small details. You might not think they get noticed or even matter, but they do. Making your event a memorable VIP experience for all requires little touches that can have a huge impact.
- Don’t be the only one to dictate conference content. It’s not only important to get feedback from your other team members but listen to users as well. By paying attention to your users, you will be able to more closely target what they want to hear and talk about—important because after all, the conference is really about them.
- Don’t avoid or shut down unhappy customers. This might seem counterintuitive, but everyone deserves an opportunity to speak about their experience with your product, even if it’s not something you want to hear. In fact, letting those that are not fully satisfied can have a positive outcome, helping to reveal issues you might not even know existed. Find out what is bothering your consumers, detect trending issues, and work to devise fixes.
- Don’t wait until the day of to make sure everything is in place. Communicate in advance with staff, participants, vendors to confirm that all is going smoothly and as planned. If it’s not, advance communication will give you time to make any necessary changes with less stress.
- Make sure you don’t skimp on the interactive activities. Keep finding different ways to engage with your users.
How can I add elements to my user conference?
Most likely you want your user conference to have a professional air, but professional shouldn’t be synonymous with boring. You want the event to be memorable? This where creativity and those little details can really come into play. We won’t discuss a completely comprehensive list of ways to add fun, exciting elements to your user conference, but some ideas that can be used for inspiration. Feel free to take them and run with it.
- Even users that take notes many miss some information or there might be information that they don’t deem necessary for them. Allow users to request customized information packets that hit on their specific needs or include information they specifically ask about.
- Everyone loves free stuff. Have promotional items or free giveaways printed with the name and logo of your business and conference. You can also make us “swag bags” filled with promotional items or other things connected to your event.
- Include some icebreaker-type activities. Mingling with strangers might be tough for even the most extroverted, so small group workshops with fun icebreakers (like 2 lies, one truth or problem-solving icebreakers) can help everyone feel more at ease networking with each other later on.
- Set the tone with a cool or inspiring video. It can be something that you and your team make yourselves or you can look to YouTube and other video sharing sites for inspiration.
- Hire a professional emcee. You might not have thought you needed one, but a funny or dynamic emcee can have a huge impact on audience mood and energy levels. Don’t underestimate the value they can bring to your event.
- Help everyone get their blood moving by offering mini-wellness programs before the event or between speakers. Hire a fitness expert to lead easy, appropriate workouts or walks, especially in the morning. It not only helps wake up brains to receive information, but it can also be helpful in retaining information.
- Just about everyone will remember great food, so give your users meals or snacks they won’t forget. Skip dry sandwiches, heavy, food-coma inducing foods, or super unhealthy snacks. If you’re feeling extra creative, do a food theme (like foods of a certain color) that correlates to your event or product.
- Get creative with Q&A sessions. As a fun example, at a recent user conference, Content Marketing World created a Hollywood Squares setup and had each of the keynote speakers sit in a square. They hired a comedy writer to “host”, asking participants relevant questions in a fun, engaging way.
- Make the stage visually appealing. Content Marketing also set the stage for their event, literally. They did a “Content Strikes Back” theme—a play on Star Wars—and created an awesome sci-fi inspired stage that became an incredible backdrop for user photos.
- Entertain your guests with live music. Let’s face it, no matter how incredibly interesting the speakers and information, sitting and listening all day can be tough. Having live music before, after, or strategically interspersed throughout the day can infuse energy into a room and keep those brain cells awake and active. Music has also been shown to strengthen learning and information retention, making it a win-win-win.
If your company has a product or a suite of products that have experienced or skilled users, a user conference might be an incredible marketing tool for you. It lets users maximize the usefulness of your product, it introduces them to the people behind the products they use, and it helps forge strong professional relationships between the company and users. In the end, you’ll increase the happiness of your users. Happy customers are loyal customers.