And the winner is….


The fall technology conference season is over for me and while it was packed, one stood out as delivering the best overall content.

doubledutchIf you’re a UK game show viewer then you know there comes the point where the drums roll, the scary music fades in as the show host declares: “and the winner is…” followed by an excruciating pause while the camera cuts from anxious face to anxious face. It’s fantastic theater but thoroughly embarrassing for the losers. In that time honored tradition, I’m going to share my personal experience of the fall conference season and only at the end will I declare a winner. Yes, I know – cruel.

This year has been very busy and the fall season was packed with little room for reflection. Even now, I am ‘back ordered’ with customer stories I recorded nearly two months ago. Since I don’t count myself as a ‘normal’ media person, I don’t turn up for the keynotes, dutifully record the words of the CEO/CMO, yap with execs and then disappear.

Like most of my peers I want to meet customers first and foremost, I want time to walk the halls, I want those serendipitous conversations that have almost always turned up nuggets that in turn lead to more nuance in the understanding of what’s going on. That now means the average ‘dwell’ time for me at any event is three days. Factor in travel, getting stuff done etc and it’s a week’s work. Some shows, like Dreamforce, TechEd and Oracle OpenWorld are mega events where one person cannot possibly cover the whole thing. Even when we field a team of four at some events, we are faced with making sacrifices.

Some colleagues were literally running from show to show and there was one week where I ‘could’ have been at three shows in the same week and in the same town. In the end, I chose not to attempt that level of coverage. It would have ended up lame. But bear in mind this all has to fit in with doing my piece of ‘running the show,’ plus numerous other conversations with customers, partners and clients. Breathless?  You bet.

Here is my list of the events I attended this fall with brief commentary on each:

  1. VMWorld – a tough event given the changes that are swirling around the company but as a surprise, I met with Formation Data Systems which was well worthwhile.
  2. Workday Rising – always a favorite and this year didn’t disappoint.
  3. I Love APIs – this was my first time attending this delightful gig where the variety of customer stories was truly amazing.
  4. Dreamforce – I wasn’t there in person but I kept in close touch with the content organization from a distance over the week driven by a solid team on the ground. We did this one differently, showcasing numerous stories over the whole event. It’s a format that worked well and which we will refine for next year.
  5. SAP TechEd – Jon and I shot some great video, possibly the best we’ve done in a couple of years at a show where it’s all about developers.
  6. Oracle OpenWorld – we went mob handed for this one and came away with a great variety of stories. We kind of followed the format we found worked at Dreamforce and it worked for this show as well. It helps that the keynotes were among the best we’ve heard in years.
  7. Oktane – another new event for me with some delightful customer stories. I’m still catching up!!
  8. Episerver Ascend – good to catch up with a CMO chum I’ve known for years. Once again there were great stories with plenty of variety to maintain interest.
  9. Future Stack – yet another new event that provided insights into businesses both large and small as they embark on digital transformation projects.
  10. AppSphere – similar to Future Stack albeit a different, more enterprisey crowd but again, a solid selection of stories that allowed me to build upon the experiences I’d had at similar events earlier in the season.

Each of these shows delivered and I was not disappointed by any of them. The mega events are always the toughest. Everyone is vying for time with executives that gets increasingly difficult as the years pass. The smaller shows turned up gems that were well worth the attending.

And the winner is?

(Drum roll here folks)…..

Ascend. And here’s why.

Most shows these days have dedicated mobile applications. These are primarily aimed at acting as schedulers which help in keeping the paperwork down and keep people running from appointment to appointment. That’s pretty much all they do.

This year, the smaller vendors invested in DoubleDutch which can provide a more immersive experience including a significant social element. Episerver took this one important step forward, using game mechanics to include scavenger hunts and rewards for people who Tweeted, took photos, provided commentary and session ratings/feedback.

In the past, back channel teams at our end have restricted ourselves to invite only Twitter and Skype group messaging as a way of both communicating what we see while ensuring that we keep on the same page in understanding what’s happening.

DoubleDutch, as used by Episerver, took that an important several steps further, focusing on the needs of conference attendees. I enjoyed that experience although I thought the concentration of selfies was a bit naff while the commentary around some of the sessions could have been better. Even so, Ascend stood head and shoulders above the rest in providing an additional experience that added value for attendees.

Other vendors also used DoubleDutch but missed the app’s potential. In short, they didn’t build a campaign around the event that would encourage widespread use of the app. In that sense, they shortchanged themselves.

Recommendations for 2016

DoubleDutch is onto something but it needs to be carefully executed for companies and attendees to extract maximum value. The folk at Episerver did a stand out job of developing an app that caught both the mood and the imagination of a proportion of attendees. It was interesting to see for example that their leaderboard was not stuffed with marketing people from the company but real customers and partners. The really cool thing is that Episerver demonstrated that with the right tools, customers will do a lot of the company’s at-event promiton work for it.

However, once the event is over, the application loses value pretty quickly. I’d like to learn how companies capture the engagement that took place for follow up in the months following these events. It is clear for example that some customer representatives love what they get from their supplier. These are prime candidates for advocacy marketing, an emerging trend that Jon has talked about from conversations with Influitive. It is a topic we noodle upon a LOT in our team conversations.

From my perspective, these apps provide a drop dead easy way to discover a vendor’s most ardent fans. These people are really important for reasons already outlined but also because they tend to be the most knowledgable and willing to share experience both good and not so good.

Onwards to 2016.