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A PURPOSE!? What is your point?

What are you achieving with your event? For your organisation? And for your audience?

The elements of iconic events.


In our study inside the most successful events, we found 7 common characteristics, that allowed them to achieve what they have. By adopting these elements you can enhance your event, to achieve the influence – the attention, the action and engagement that you desire.

Purpose is at the heart of Iconic events.


‘the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists’

Events should exist for a purpose, for a reason. Perhaps to create a connection, or ideally a call to action. We always find the greater the purpose, the greater the event.

To create successful events this must be a shared purpose, by the creators AND the audience. The purpose of both sides must meet. The Event must be the platform to share this purpose. The Event must exist for a reason that aligns with the Audience and the Organisations goals. This is often forgotten!

“A leader finds others who share their passion and provides the tools for the tribe to connect and communicate” – Seth Godin

What is your event needing to achieve? Does that match the goals of your audience? Of your organisation??

When Tom Keily established the World’s largest adventure sport series, XTERRA, the first question they answered was, what is this for?

Tom was a guest on our Event Show podcast and he spoke of this primary need – to have a goal. Xterra was originally created to raise the profile of a Hawaiian resort, and, to connect with an adventure seeking tribe. Xterra achieved this connection, and their goal. They now have hundreds of events across the world. Connecting the global purpose of a like-minded tribe who seek to ‘LIVE MORE’, combined with having specific local aims for each event.

What is your shared purpose?

Whether it is a global Movement or a meeting, a World Cup Final or local fundraiser, major Festival or just for fun, the event must have a defined, and shared, reason to exist.

AN EXAMPLE – The Marathon & Purpose

Recognised globally as a ultimate test of human endurance, marathons have held legendary status across history. From the Greek soldier Pheidippides, who ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, he shared a purpose with his commanders and people – the need to run the distance and deliver his message of victory. And in today’s world Marathons are still organised and run with a purpose. They are a perfect example of the power of purpose, a stand out success story within the global events industry. In the US alone, the running boom saw a rise from just 25,000 marathoners in 1976, to now over half a million finishers each year.

And this success is largely due to the shared purpose. Organisers and participants may share an interest in running, in being active, but the powerful reason, is in providing a recognisable challenge, and perhaps a higher purpose, a means of self fulfilment. A sense of achievement, even perhaps a greater appreciation of ourselves and our capabilities. It is for this purpose marathons have appealed to many around the world, with increasing scale.


Spencer Imbrock

A value of tapping into purpose, is the engagement it creates. Between you as the event owner, and your audience. And we know the more engagement we have, the greater influence we have. And that, allows us to achieve our goals.


The higher the engagement the greater the influence on behaviour and attitudes. The greater influence, the higher the impact. Whether for participation, fundraising, or sales objectives, or commercial, social and economic goals.

A STORY – the Marathon Monks & the ultimate purpose

In Kyoto, Japan there is a mountain littered with unmarked graves. Those graves mark the final resting place of the Tendai Buddhist monks who have failed to complete a quest known as the Kaihogyo.

And much like any marathon, the Kaihogyo marathon is much more than about the running itself. The monks believe that enlightenment can be achieved during your current life, but only through extreme self–denial. For these Monks, the ultimate act of self–denial — and the route to enlightenment — is the physical challenge of the Kaihogyo marathon.

The Kaihogyo is a 1,000 day challenge that takes place over 7 years. The first year a monk must run 30 km for 100 days. One after the other. Same again the next year, and the year after. Then in the 4thyear they double it. 200 days. Same again the next please. Then… the monk must go 9 days without food, water, or rest (reportedly two monks stand beside him at all times to ensure that he does not fall asleep). In year 6 the monks raise it to 60 km / day for 100 days. The last year, the monk must run 84 km per day for 100 straight days.

And then… they must run 30 km per day for the final 100 days.

The sheer volume of running is incredible, of course, but there is one final challenge that makes The Kaihogyo unlike any other feat…

According to the fascinating story told by James Clear, during the first year of running, the monk is allowed to withdraw from the Kaihogyo. However, from Day 101 onwards, there is no withdrawal. The monk must either complete the Kaihogyo … or take his own life.

In the last 400+ years, only 46 men have completed the challenge. Many others can be found by their unmarked graves on the hills of Mount Hiei.

The Kaihogyo exists for a purpose. A quest for enlightenment.

It is clear that events can provide a platform to embrace purpose.

But, when enlightenment is not enough.

Whilst not to diminish what the Kaihogyo provides, the Monks marathon does not aim to influence the world at scale. Although the Monks marathon exhibits the ultimate in purpose, its is obviously not for everyone. Not to be shared en masse.

For events to reach iconic status, of even be commercially successful, 5 features must exist – they must be …. profitable, impactful, valuable, achievable, and sustainable.

AN EXAMPLE. The Marathon Majors

World Marathon Majors are iconic events. The Majors comprises of six annual races for the cities of Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City (plus the World Champs & Olympic Games Marathon).

Formed as an umbrella brand to capture an elite championship, they have a commercial goal, however at their core they share a purpose with the masses. They all provide a platform to fulfil a personal challenge.

And this shared purpose has value.

The Marathon Majors attract around a quarter million participants and several million spectators. The economic impact for the New York Marathon sits in some estimates at around $415M each year. Boston at least $181M.  Yes there is a a purpose of generating significant commercial gains, for profile and economic impact for their cities. That’s great. But critically, to achieve this, the organisers share a purpose with each participant. They provide a platform, an opportunity with a significant sense of purpose. A shared reason, a bond among participants, and their supporters.

These big city marathons are more profitable than the rest, more valuable in what they offer, at scale.

These purpose filled events have enjoyed huge growth across the world. Over 500,000 people participated in a marathon last year in the US alone. And while this trend has levelled off in some markets, we are seeing this purpose translate in new markets – 22 marathon races were held in China in 2011. There is now over 400. This sense of purpose is a powerful thing.

Event people know the power of a shared purpose.

So how do we bring more Purpose to your event?


We can create purpose as we invent or reinvent your event, in our the Experience Design Playbook.

We MATCH the event experience with the purpose of your organisation, and your audience.

You can download it here… for free.

And please contact me about our Playbook Sprints and Workshops for your team.


Iconic Events Canvas Andrew O’Loughlin

Like people, each of the seven elements are powerful on their own, but they create the most effect when they are brought together.

Have a play with the free ‘Iconic Events Canvas’. Helping you to create your own iconic event.

These 7 elements will provide a powerful catalyst to achieve your desired goal.

We want to provide you a path to create a journey that achieves your purpose. Moments in time that will inspire a group of people into action. By mixing Purpose with other elements of AweCommunitas, and being Shareable, they are highly successful events.

These learnings are ideas about elements you can use to bring your ideas to life. To invent (or reinvent) your event.

And, please contact us to do some ‘Experience Design’ thinking.

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