Ignite: 5 Lessons from Microsoft's Consolidated Event

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Earlier this year, Sparks Chairman, Jeff Harrow mentioned several trends for 2015. One of the trends noted was event consolidation. Many brands are combining multiple, smaller events into a single brand experience designed to impact multiple audiences.


A good example of this trend is Microsoft's newest annual event, Ignite. With over 20,000 attendees and over a thousand breakout sessions, Ignite is an event with scale in mind. Combining six existing events (Sharepoint, TechEd, Project, Lync, Exchange, and MMS), the first Ignite took place in Chicago, May 4-8 but sold out four weeks before.


So why did one of the largest event marketing teams decide to consolidate?


1. Event Strategy Follows Corporate Strategy


Under CEO Steve Ballmer, Microsoft underwent a major corporate transformation - focused on encompassing all of its services and products under one unified brand. Instead of separate product groups and specific marketing teams, Microsoft adopted a “one company strategy". This change towards "We are Microsoft" instead of Office, Windows or Xbox groups led to a change in brand positioning that impacted all communications channels.


The event consolidation of previous silo events exemplified this transformed Microsoft brand strategy.


2. Larger Event Means Larger Audience


Smaller events tend to be more specific which can limit the size of the audience. But with an event like Ignite, Microsoft was able to bring together attendees who might have interests that span across the company's offerings or see it as an easier sell for travel and financial reasons.


3. Expanded Networking Possibilities


With a larger audience that combines different interests, the networking possibilities naturally grow. Sound daunting? In order to fix potential networking overload, Microsoft scaled the size back by using mash-up lunches segmented by specific audiences. With seating areas color coded to different industries, geographic locations, and Microsoft products, attendees were able to network with individuals with similar insights, issues and experience.


4. Increased Brand Impact


By consolidating events into one giant all-encompassing experience at North America's largest convention center, Microsoft raised the bar on its wow factor. Attendees entered McCormick Place and were immediately impressed by the sheer size and scale of the event even before going deeper into the venue. First impressions set the tone for an immersive, Microsoft brand experience.


5. With Event Scale Comes Content Scale


Smaller events convey smaller amounts of information but when scaled up to a 1,000+ session, holistic brand experience, there's plenty of content to go around. All of Ignite's sessions were also available post-event for live streaming and online consumption. This allowed both attendees and non-attendees to engage with the content and the brand, long after the event.


Given all of the benefits, event consolidation is an easy choice to make but far from easy to execute. On the attendee side, it requires careful consideration of alumni audiences from past events. They’ll still be looking for the same support and community from the smaller events, so ensuring that they don’t feel alienated in the much larger event, is key. On the staff side, proper event consolidation requires a thorough brand strategy and a team that's willing to collaborate on a much deeper level.


Posted by Kristy Elisano | Request as a Speaker

Caffeine dependent Jersey girl. Northeast powder hound. Inspired by creative risk takers and underdogs. VP Marketing, Doodle owner and cocreator of my daughter.