This year's Spring event season has been a mixed bag but then all events are of variable quality. When the lockdown occurred most firms we spoke with had no idea what or how they would respond, largely in part because the marketing people had little or no experience of switching over to an all digital format. From our perspective, some were awful and much worse than we anticipated, others were so-so and a few were surprisingly good - at least as far as they could go.
The MindFuel approach
I was particularly interested in the IFS hosted MindFuel event for several reasons. First, we agreed to support the event through a series of stories (a few of which are still to come) and promotion through our email newsletter product. We also participated directly in a couple of live sessions and provided a degree of advisory along the way. Second, having committed to supporting the event, I wanted to sense check with the company along the way to see how/if the event was meeting their objectives and expectations. Finally, I wanted to get a sense of direction for this type of event.
Early on, IFS determined that it was not looking at MindFuel as a prime lead generator. That was sensible because it meant the degree to which the company needed to create a fresh take on the 'talking head' webinar which people like myself usually find deadly dull was minimized. Darren Roos, IFS CEO was adamant that MindFuel should be viewed as a form of drip feed education that talked more broadly about industry specific topics. This is an approach that analysts like myself have been waiting for from vendors for years. In that regard IFS made the right decision to primarily focus on industry tracks.
Unusually, IFS was clear from the get go that while they would naturally showcase their own customers, they wanted to hear from non-customers and people who might not necessarily be directly associated with the firm. That was where the live sessions I ran and those undertaken by Mark Chillingworth came in. It was also where Paul Esherwood, editor of ERP Today came in.
In any other vendor marketer's mind, this would represent a minefield. Why would any vendor be prepared to showcase other vendors' customers let alone allow unscripted media people into the digital event tent?
There is a certain logic to this when it comes to industry topics. No single vendor 'owns' any industry. Brian Sommer will tell you that these are highly fragmented markets. On the other hand, there are plenty of industry specific forums where like minded executives share among their peers to discover common solutions, surface industry topics and the like. It was in that context that the sessions went ahead and, I'd argue succeeded.
IFS also took the important step of ensuring that each industry was represented by customer stories. We have curated some of them in this collection but there are plenty more. Interestingly, IFS did not go crazy about getting global logo representatives to speak. Instead, they endeavored to find people who speak authoritatively about a topic area. This approach is often overlooked but vitally important because what 'we' might view as an important customer may not be for the industry vertical under discussion.
Finally, IFS determined that any attempt to run a digital event as if it was an in-person event with numerous sessions crammed into a three day period would not work and so ran MindFuel over the whole of June and into July. That was a huge risk in my mind. Capturing people's attention is hard enough and the beauty of the in-person event is that you can achieve that goal. Digital is much harder and with so many competing events it was always going to be a lottery as to whether anyone showed up let alone cared.
That set the stage.
Did it work?
Being an armchair critic is easy when we're not in the execution bullpen and at first I was left head scratching because the signup process wasn't as intuitive as I'd have liked. Once the signup mechanics were resolved then getting onto sessions was easy. The main thing that befuddled me was that I needed to sign up for each industry in which I am interested. There was no 'industry analyst/media' type option that would have given me a single sign-in. But then I'm not their primary target audience so who am I to complain?
MindFuel delivered over 70 pieces of individual content in the six week period. That's impressive. Equally, many of the sessions were genuinely interesting, in large measure because there was minimal scripting and rehearsal. In the live sessions I participated in for example, other than setting up outlines and example question areas, most of the focus was on making sure the technology worked. Which it thankfully did.
According to the company, MindFuel attracted 22,000 more unique visitors to its digital presence than it normally would over the same period. This led to 600 'expressions of interest.' The company is not prepared to consider these as pipeline candidates in the conventional sense but they represent people with whom IFS can confidently start a conversation.
The future event?
Whether IFS uses this same format in the future is an open question. There will be learnings for sure. Roos told me he'd like to explore different options for the future but that in general terms he is more than satisfied with how it worked and the outcomes it achieved.
We focused on story telling in as compelling a way as possible and I think we achieved that.
I suggested that MindFuel be considered a long tail resource. In person events are one shot affairs where the focus is on getting as many signups to the pipeline as possible. Digital events can't usefully work that way - at least not in my opinion. However, they can serve as a long lived resource that vendors use to address market signals. For example, a recorded event will include snippets of value that may not be relevant today but important tomorrow or the day after. How those snippets are packaged and repurposed will be the challenge. We know from our own content analysis that elements in stories we wrote five and six years ago hold up today.
We liked MindFuel's approach because it was different from others, took risks and was unashamedly unmarketing like. In some senses it reminded me of the 2004-8 period where the unconference was very much the vogue among the Enterprise 2.0 crowd and where great conversations emerged organically. It's a stretch to say that's where this goes in a digital format but it is possible.
My guess is that the format and (crucially) the content will work to help IFS get industry recognition in ways that do not work for the in-person event. How they take the content and repurpose/repackage will be key.