Stand up for what you believe

Jill Sheffield - Women DeliverA recent post on the very excellent BBH Labs blog* has brought me back to thinking about tigers and sheep which I wrote about in May 2010.  In that post I didn’t actually use the quote that originally came to my attention through the British mountain climber Alison Hargreaves so here it is:

Better to live one day as a tiger than your whole life as a sheep

It is this theme of sticking by your convictions and having the courage to stand out in a crowd that Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London covered in his post Who’s Ad is it Anyway? on 16th May.

Inevitably, when we discuss modern communication, we spend most of our time considering whether we are properly reflecting the truth of the brand or engaging the interest and participation of the audience.  And rightly so.  But doesn’t it help, a little at least, to be motivated by our own interest, enthusiasm and sense of pride?

While I have worked in many events organisations that have enthusiasm by the bucketload; and self-interest is after all what motivates many a sales executive with an eye on their commission cheque; I am not sure that pride in the sense that Jim uses it is often in the mix.  When staging an event, particularly one in the B2B marketplace, the team has to serve a huge number of masters: from industry bodies with committees and egos of their own; to sponsors who rightly want to extract maximum benefit for their investment; a multiplicity of media partners, exhibitors, speakers; plus the visitors themselves; while constantly reminding themselves of the need for a positive financial outcome.

How in this maelstrom of expectation do you stay true to the event and the original ideas that drove it’s inception?

It helps if you actually have a clear description of what your event actually is.  Sit your entire team in a room and ask them to define your event in a single sentence (no restriction on the number of words!).  If you have never done this I can guarantee you’ll have more than one answer.  Once you have nailed this one, decide on the personality and profile of your event. Write it down. Create your branding document, and by this I don’t just mean your look and feel, it should also define your market position and your key performance indicators. And every single one of your team needs to know that this is the hymn sheet they should sing from.

While it is essential to be embedded in your marketplace, and you should make essential changes, don’t be tempted or swayed by single voices or what other organisers are doing. Constant reactions and alterations make you look like grass swaying in the wind rather than firmly rooted and leading the way.  If your research was thoroughly executed and your key participants were eager to come on board, don’t let others tinker with or distort your original concept simply because they think they can.

Have the courage of your convictions so that when the last truck leaves the venue you can say “That was my event, and of it I am very proud.”

hellen @missioncontrol

*Well worth a read – particularly if you have been struggling with how to develop your own company blog with buy in from the entire organisation.  Admittedly they have lots of fabulous creative content to play with, but that shouldn’t be your excuse.

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Do event companies need a new strategy?

feel the love hearts graphicAccording to Christophe Asselin, Head of UK at DMG :: events, what event companies (and by association their marketing teams) really need to do to attract visitors is to “feel the love”.

Christophe espoused this philosophy extensively at the Conference for Conference Professionals back in April.  What he was explaining, sprinkled heavily with his own particular brand of Gallic charm, was that if event organisers want to attract visitors, and keep them coming back then they have to be prepared to get up close and personal.

This approach won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has read Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot fame.  There are many organisations that, having set about making sure people could find them on Google, social media and blogs, also ensured that any incoming enquiries, orders or complaints could be handled swiftly and effectively by anyone in the business.  Other books such as Groundswell  and Socialnomics are littered with examples of companies getting it right, and in many cases wrong.

So why are so many event companies finding it hard to adopt this strategy themselves?

Economics has a lot to do with it and in particular the huge gamble that has to be taken at the start of the event planning process in terms of specifying and committing to a venue.  To minimise the risk the temptation is to run the team very lean in the beginning, keeping staff numbers and overhead as low as possible.  While this keeps the financial exposure down it invariably means that it also reduces the capacity to bring the event to the market.

It’s hard to be heard if you are a single lone voice and it takes time to gather enough others around you to start creating a really audible noise.

And, if we go back to Christophe’s original point, if the team is small and hard pressed, they don’t have the time, energy or inclination to listen and react to what potential visitors have to say, even though it could be the vital piece of information that could change an event from job done to runaway success.

Which could possibly explain why so many event companies want to embrace social media to deliver their louder voice but they can’t quite work out how, or if they have already dipped their toes into the water they are decidedly underwhelmed by the results.  It isn’t that social media isn’t or can’t work for events, but this is one medium where effort most definitely equals reward.  Rather than taking the usual“let’s add it to the bottom of the marketing department’s list of things to do” attitude, working out a cohesive social media strategy, of whatever size or complexity, in the launch proposal and budgetting adequately to deliver it on a long-term basis, will deliver much more satisfactory results.

For after all, it is only when you truly know your audience that you can really learn to love them.

Virtual Shakespeare – fancy that!

My pre-teen loves Shakespeare.  It’s not something I can take any credit for since I didn’t really pay much attention in English Literature (I blame the teacher) and the sight of Denzel Washington, Robert Sean Leonard and Keanu Reaves striding around in riding breeches in the 1993 film version of Much ado about Nothing probably stopped me from appreciating the complexity and vivacity  of the language.

Despite having the RSC and Globe Theatre more or less on the doorstep we haven’t quite managed a trip to see the Bard’s  offerings live as yet, so there was little to reference when confronted by a project to design the stage setting for MacBeth.  However, we were saved from having to trawl through countless videos on YouTube by a brilliant event produced by Florida Virtual School on the 6Connex virtual experience platform.

The Florida Virtual School develops and provides virtual K-12education solutions to students in Florida, the U.S., and the world. Founded in 1997, it was the country’s first, state-wide Internet-based public high school. Today, FLVS serves students in grades K-12 and provides a variety of custom solutions for schools and districts to meet student needs. Its virtual Shakespeare festival was live on 26-27 April and once we had logged in we were able to see presentations from FLVS students as they acted favourite Shakespeare scenes or added their own interpretation.  With vignettes from other Shakespeare companies, including the very excellent Reduced Shakespeare Company, we were able to absorb a lot of content and styles in a very short period indeed, presented in a way that felt extremely accessible.

Was something lost by the presentation of theatrical works in video that was a bit grainy and certainly wobbly in places? Possibly yes.  But many children and young people (and the rest of us!)  today live off a diet of YouTube video and homemade entertainment delivered via phone, iPad and PC so  my 12 year old wasn’t remotely phased by a lack of cinematic quality.  What she really enjoyed was being able to interact with the actors and presenters in real time. Networking was easy in this virtual environment  and the fact that most of the other participants were 4,500 miles away was of no concern.  Did she learn anything – definitely.  Did she enjoy  the experience – absolutely.

The debate about virtual vs live rumbles on, and on, but what this event shows is that these environments are  not just a business solution.  They offer a real opportunity to open up access to real live knowledge and expertise for all.

hellen @missioncontrol

Better service and cost reduction are not mutually exclusive…

Sometimes, if you say something often enough you can convince yourself it is the truth.  Like accepting there is only one way of doing things, and it costs X.

Ingrained in a workforce or population’s psyche, these points of view become corrosive, strangling innovation and stifling original though. It takes a brave person to become the tall poppy and disrupt the status quo.

It shouldn’t be this difficult.  Cultures change, needs evolve and skills develop.  Humanity’s greatest asset is its ability to adapt to challenges and circumstances, to create something new and build an exciting future.

But knocking your house down with the goal of constructing a brand new habitat is hugely unsettling, not least because for a time you are displaced from your home environment, surrounded by strange things and feeling anchorless.  Your plans get buffetted from all sides: critiqued by other individuals; slowed by delivery days; and affected by the great unknown – the weather. 

Some people don’t stay the course, moving back to something more familiar, throw in the towel in a fit of pique or simply become exhausted by the effort of dragging so many others with them on their epic adventure. However, if no one had ever taken the plunge, we would probably all still be living in tree-houses. 

And so it is with our current working practises. We already have the technology to deliver collaborative, two-way communication between large and small workforces.  We can deliver cost-effective, instantaneous training to government organisations that will reduce travel and accommodation budgets to practically nothing.  This budget cut will do nothing to affect service delivery, in fact the efficient dissemination of information and intelligence and the network of collaboration could make it better than ever.

It’s time we got connected.

Sense of location will no longer be important in business

It’s a concept that is of no surprise to consumers.  Buying goods from eBAY or Amazon is commonplace and unless the purchase is bulky enough to be collection only then the location of the seller is of no concern.

In business, there are some forerunners who eulogise on the benefits of teleworking and have a network of customer service representatives using leading edge technology to answer queries; and in the respond and repair sector every customer-facing representative is, quite literally, out on their own.

The quote in the title comes from a paper written by O’Brien et al in 1992 and shows that nearly 20 years ago, someone writing an academic paper had already recognised that where you conducted your business was going to be the least of your worries.  Not having read all of the paper, it’s difficult to know exactly what aspect of business the authors were talking about.  You would hazard a guess, given the timing, that maybe outsourcing was involved, or even the beginnings of the teleworking revolution since the Internet didn’t really start to take off until 1996/97.

But their words now look very prescient.  A business in Delhi may have the same issues as one in Dallas, a clinician in Sydney will share issues with one in Stockholm.  Until now, unless they happen to have met one another at an international conference, exhibition, training course or something similar, they would be unable to connect, compare notes and find solutions that transcend national boundaries. 

Social media networks have already shown that business people like to connect with other business people.  Why do they do it?  Because there is safety in numbers.  Just as we talked about yesterday in the post on Consensus of Subjectivity. What businesses need to do is to understand how to harness the power of this desire for connectivity and sharing, while embracing an individual’s need, or desire, to work somewhere else other than Head Office, and that by building a relationship with someone on the other side of the world may just be the answer they need to deliver impeccable results locally.

What exactly is a virtual event?

Just when you thought you had got to grips with all of the options available via cloud computing and social networking along comes something else to add to the mix. If you are one of the many trying to navigate your way in this emerging market there is a much opinion being shared by those on the leading edge.

Before you can even begin to think of technology suppliers or content you need to know exactly what is meant by virtual event because like lots of new innovations the term doesn’t mean the same to everyone.  The end result from using a webcasting solution would differ greatly from that produced from one of the purpose built platforms such as 6Connex, Ubivent, On24 or  InXpo.

By far the best definition of a virtual event we have found so far comes from the Association Virtual Conference report produced by Tagoras (well worth reading if you get the chance).

A virtual conference is a Web-based event that replicates many aspects of a traditional placebased conference. It features multiple sessions (not just a single Webinar or Webcast) and may include keynote presentations, training and education workshops, discussion areas, social networking opportunities, exhibit areas for vendors, and various other features. Activities in a virtual conference may take place in real time (synchronously), on demand (asynchronously), or in some combination of the two.

Which is a great starting point.  Next you need to specify your goals and then work out what you expect a technology solution to deliver.  If you are a novice reading the advice of an independent commentator like Cece Salomon-Lee from Virtual Buzz could prove invaluable.

Above all, go and have a look at some of the events currently being produced: you’ll find everything from Shakespeare Festivals to Sales Conferences; Training Days to Careers Fairs. In fact there isn’t much you can’t do in these environments.

A Consensus of Subjectivity…

…which is another way of saying Birds of a feather flock together and goes some way to explaining why social networking is such a success, although only for some.

Jeremy Bullmore used the term in 1998 in the context of shared perception of brand personality; the premise being that each and every one of many millions of people gathers a set of feelings that are to some extent autonomous but which further research shows to be closely related, i.e. we like to think we are taking unique decisions for ourselves, but in actual fact we often make them in the context of wanting to be part of a group.  It isn’t much fun being out there on your own.

Back in the dark ages of videotape, why did VHS succeed when BetaMax did not when the latter was universally acknowledged to be the better platform?  When faced with a decision, the consumer went with the crowd.  Similarly, why has LinkedIn grown exponentially while other similar business networks haven’t been able to tap into the same groundswell?  And Facebook wasn’t the first social networking site, so how come it is now almost the biggest community on the planet?

There is, perhaps, a single defining factor.  The consensus on the examples above is that the winners took time to listen to their users and potential users. They created entry points which were attractive, laid out their wares, watched to see how their consumers behaved and tweaked their offering accordingly, and keep on tweaking it (although in VHS’s case a seismic shift in technology eventually put paid to their dominance) to make it less and less attractive to go elsewhere.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes should take note.  There isn’t a marketing text book, essay or lecture today that isn’t trying to hammer home the message of listening:

Listening+action=success

How you and your organisation do this is up to you.  But do it you must.  And the first step has to be that you engage your clients, customers, partners and potential audience in a conversation where you can hear what they are saying about you, your products, your competitors, your competitors products etc. etc.  You need to find where they are having these conversations and join in, you need to be part of the People-Driven Economy which exists in social networks because if you aren’t someone else who does what you do is.

The choice is no longer whether or not you and your organisation embrace social media, the choice is how successfully you do it.