I’ve been to a lot of amazing conferences in my 17 year career as a designer. As a student, I helped create the introductory video (in Macromind Director 1.5) for the very first AIGA “Y” Conference. I met Jeffrey Zeldman at a Thunderlizard Conference in 2000 where he gave a keynote address that changed the course of my career. And at 2001’s FlashForward conference I watched the legendary Hillman Curtis inspire me to use the tool for good, not evil (*cough*skip intro*cough*). But I have never been to any conference that is consistently as awesome as WordCamps.
I spent this last Saturday at WordCamp Los Angeles.
I woke up at 6am, drove for a total of seven hours (two up, five home…thanks for closing the 405 at 11pm Los Angeles!), and spent the day hanging with some of the best people I know, meeting amazing new folks, and cramming my brain full of information that ran the gamut from how to customize a child theme more efficiently using LESS and SASS to what it takes to work with high-profile clients like Disney (It’s a whole new world!). But the thing that kept pinging around my brain as I watched what Natalie MacLees, Alex Vasquez, Nathan Tyler and Ryan Cowles had brought to life in just three months was how the brand vision and values of WordPress are present in every aspect of the conference. And it got me thinking about one of the basic rules of branding—that while your brand is everything you say and everything you do, it’s also about everything your customers think and say about you.
What’s a WordCamp?
If you’re not familiar with the concept of a WordCamp, it’s pretty simple. They’re low-cost conferences (usually under $40 for two days PLUS lunch, a t-shirt, and an after party!) for everyone from the “I’m building my first WordPress website” newbie to the “I make six figures with my WordPress consulting business” professionals. And the truly amazing part is that everyone who takes part in pulling off the event is a volunteer. People in the community who want to give back take time away from their jobs and families to secure venues, design t-shirts, manage catering and share their expertise by speaking or working the Happiness Bar. They’re the embodiment of the collaborative community spirit of Open Source projects in general and WordPress in particular. There are some guidelines in place to protect the WordPress trademark and the GPL license, but as far as I know there’s no formal branding document that lays out how the vision and values of WordPress should be presented at WordCamps. And yet, somehow, they’ve been reflected in every one of the five WordCamps I’ve attended. (If I’m wrong, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about it!)
The Community Helps Build the WordCamp Brand
The thing is, everything I know and have embraced about the WordPress brand has come from interacting with users, not the Foundation. Early on, Brian Gardner schooled me on Twitter about “Capital P, dangit!“. I’ve learned about the spirit of WordPress co-opetition from Carrie Dils. Dre Armeda taught me that WordCamps (and WordCamp hashtags) are about sharing knowledge, not shameless self-promotion. And speaking at WordCamps has taught me the power of looking ahead of you by learning from people more advanced than you, but is equally about looking behind you to give a hand up to people who aren’t as experienced. WordPress has created an army of passionate brand advocates who volunteered to promote the WordPress brand at the 50 WordCamps that have taken place all over the world in 2013 alone (and it’s only September—even more camps are on the way!).
As I refresh the Creativity Included brand from a business that builds commercial Genesis child themes to a consultant who can help you clarify your brand, I can’t help but take these lessons I’ve learned from the WordPress community into consideration. Because after all, isn’t the goal of every company to find their tribe? To build relationships with amazing people who embrace your vision and values? To create passionate advocates who can’t wait to tell their friends and colleagues how amazing you are? I know that’s how I want to do business!