Just over a month ago, I was gearing up for my first-ever venture into the world’s largest software industry conference – Dreamforce. I’d heard stories over the years from friends, colleagues and repeat attendees but had succumb to the common mindset that if you’ve been to one conference, you’ve been to them all. When the time came this year, I was overwhelmed by curiosity and decided to go.

I’m glad I did.

Unlike many events, this one lived up to the hype. It’s impossible to accurately describe the electric atmosphere and sense that anything is possible when you step through the doors of the Moscone Center for day one of the four day conference. Sure there’s lots of glitz and glam as well as the allure of big name artists like Stevie Wonder, Foo Fighters and International sensation Yoshiki, coupled with free food trucks, but it’s so much deeper than that.

In just 13 years, Dreamforce has gone from a small event at a hotel in San Francisco’s Union Square to become the Super Bowl of the business world with more than 150,000 attendees and packing 700,000 square feet of exhibit space. The extraordinary growth along with the fact that the event is covered by nearly every news outlet across the country, got me thinking about what’s in the company’s “secret sauce.”

The first part of the answer came from none other than Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who hit the nail on the head when he said that the culture created inside the walls of any company isn't just important, "it's everything." I realized that this event is so successful because of the Salesforce culture and how it’s reflected by everyone from the CEO to the wait staff.

But the second part of the answer was more of an “aha moment” when I realized midway through a session (there are more than 1500 total) that I was not just surrounded by other marketers and salespeople. I was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of brand advocates. In today’s world brand advocates are your most loyal, engaged, enthusiastic, and valuable customers. In other words, they’re everything. You may spend millions of dollars on elaborate marketing campaigns, but there is nothing more powerful than a recommendation from a brand advocate.

While Salesforce is perhaps the penultimate example of the power of brand advocates, there are plenty of lesser-known brands who are getting it right. Below are two examples along with their “secret sauce”:

• Patagonia – The eco-friendly outdoor apparel company realized that its customer needed more than just points and discounts from a loyalty program. In conjunction with eBay, it implemented the Common Threads Initiative in late 2011 to help customers resell their highly durable Patagonia clothing online via Patagonia's website. The program builds on Patagonia's brand of sustainability and creating a high-quality product. More importantly it aligns with the company’s target audience by providing a value they know customers really care about.

• PrAna – This sustainable clothing brand is one of our firm’s newest clients. I was impressed from the very beginning by the commitment of their customer base. They have an amazing Influencers program where brand loyalist and advocates receive special pricing as well as sneak peeks at new collections, product releases stores. In return Influencers are asked simply to represent and share the values of the company: Live fully, play long, and travel well.

Salesforce, along with the brands above, practices what it preaches. Salesforce has created an incredible brand experience with Dreamforce. The event really zeros in on sales and marketing professionals; reaching and appealing to its target personas on both the B2B level and the personal “out-side of work” level. Through Dreamforce Salesforce hammers home its core messages, reassuring attendees and keeping them as true believers and brand advocates.