I’ve written extensively about both the “marketing mix” and the place for physical events in it; my thesis has been unchanged since the beginning- while marketing mixes can shift depending on the nature of the audience sought, there is no experience that provides a proper substitute for the energy in and opportunities provided by physical events. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
My “Three C’s” mantra is as strong as ever- Physical events are the convergence point of Community, Content, and Commerce, in that order. Perhaps all concepts are overused in the tired language of business but overuse, despite its annoyances, does indicate importance. Communities can be large- depending on the source of affinity—or small. They can be wide or narrow. Either way, people connecting for common cause is the engine of both innovation and revolution. Always has been and always will be.
Over the last three weeks, I’ve had a chance to burst out of the Covid cocoon to attend two incredible conferences, each different but each affirming my belief in physical events as cauldrons of ideation. The first was a “Real Estate Ecosystem” conference called “The Gathering of Eagles. “ The second, from where I am writing, is the Acumatica Summit. In full disclosure, I personally know the principals behind each of these so there is no doubt that some bias enters the picture but even given that—even if you discount my thoughts by 50%– I can say that each of these has made a real impact on me- for reasons I’ll soon describe.
The Gathering was an invite-only conference that consisted largely of executives and decision-makers in the Real Estate Brokerage business and the various adjacent businesses that connect to and support it. The attendees numbered less than 500. The venue was breath-taking and the days were short by the standards of normal conferences. There was thus plenty of time for chatting, connecting, commiserating, and getting to know people. Fast forward to the last day—in a shared shuttle back to Denver airport, I met two industry leaders who were fantastic humans and superb conversationalists. It turns out that the company I was there representing- Quantarium- both is and can be of great service to one of the companies these gentlemen represented. Over the course of a 90 minute ride, we shared ideas and pledged to keep in touch, which in fact we did. While the friendship and connection was primary, it is also interesting to note that commerce, too, emerged from this “chance?” encounter. Here’s the thing- all 4 days were like that. Surely some of the conversations were lengthened by the inevitable effects of strong drinks, but all were pleasurable and provided learning moments for me. I met some people – on equal parley- that I’d never be able to connect to with a “cold” method. Yes, conferences are “warm!” When I got home, I had a dozen or so follow ups and about a hundred thoughts for new lines of business, even of new companies. Mission not just accomplished but far, far more!
With Acumatica, I have had a wholly different- though equally incredible- experience. Over the two-plus decades I’ve been in the technology and marketing worlds, I’ve participated in about 200 conferences of various shapes, sizes, and foci. Some are great, some are good, and some could be a better. I’ve been lucky to attend some really good ones, in many parts of the world and have learned to recognize certain patterns. Acumatica’s opening day was, however, different. Capped by an incredible reception in the “Marketplace,” Day One ended not with a whimper but with a bang. Some of the pleasant surprises included the registration walkways festooned with kiosks not of paid sponsors of the convener itself but instead of customers of Acumatica’s Cloud ERP helped and a showcase of their “real” products. From a soccer ball company to an expresso machine purveyor, from a high-end jeweler to a distribution giant, seeing the actual products that are bought and sold facilitated by Acumatica’s software was outstanding. Second, the “show floor” was deemed a “marketplace” and the vendors with booths were actually there to converse and connect. One normally walks through an expo hall desultorily for half an hour to show respect to the vendors but not in the frame of mind to have deep engagements. This ennui is mirrored by most booth staff who also have learned how to identify “muffin eaters” and those who are only there for the petrochemical baubles that later litter landfills. But not this time. Here, even the naming convention suggested that commerce was an important part of the event- “marketplace” not “expo hall.” Content was being purveyed in the sessions and keynotes, and community imbued ever part of the experience, but these three hours were meant to spark commerce. Our three C’s! I had about 10 discussions that might well lead to actual buying and selling and, again, left with a head burning with new ideas.
Though these two events represented different industries and were proffered in different formats, both played and are playing an active role in the carriage of my work this year. While the physical event is an intense nodal point for the celebration of community, the sharing of content, and the conducting of commerce, they don’t die with the physical curtains closing and the flight home. The connections made, the conversations had, and the friendships struck can last over time.
Of course, events need to improve. We must collectively find ways to reduce the carbon footprint- from soup to nuts- of large physical events and we must be willing to pay for these expedients. We also need to do a better job in demanding that conference venues pay fair wages to staff members and are committed to racial and gender justice. One cannot help but be shocked when, during meals and at other times, the bulk of the staff consist of People-of-Color and are largely female when for the most part conference attendees are male and White. This dissonance is a sign of great inequality and given that most companies that sponsor conferences talk a great deal about diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is high-time they ensure conference venues are good and fair employers.
Events are back and I’m glad. But, let’s do more.