Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Face-to-Face is Fundamental

The event slice of the media pie is growing again according to sources recently cited by BtoB and Media Business.  The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) reported 2010 increases over 2009 of exhibiting companies, 2.1%; revenue, 4.2%; professional attendance, 5.4%; and net square feet, 5.6%.  Reed Elsevier and United Business Media have been buying events while shedding print properties.  A Communications Industry Forecast from Veronis Suhler Stevenson projects tradeshow spending in excess of B to B e-media and print ad spending by 2014.
 Clay Tablet from Egypt
ca. 2270 BCE.

Apples iPad2 Tablet 2011
 (Courtesy Apple)
Events have been part of the communications mix since before clay tablets. Now we’re all atwitter about tablet computers and smart phones.  New technologies are absolutely transforming communication.  But events will still be important when we are looking at tablet computers in the museum beside the displays of “micro computers" of the late '70s, fax machines and telegraphs.

Events are the original media of one-to-many communication and the original social media.  People are social by nature. We thrive on real social interaction.  Because events are truly interactive, B-to-B media CEO’s, including Bob Carrigan of IDG and David Levin, CEO of UBM, expect events to remain key to their businesses.

Events move minds Other media seldom has the same total effect.  Can you recall a recent learning experience you’ve had?  If you are like many people some of your most profoundly moving experiences are associated with events.  You react most strongly when your senses, of sound, sight, tactile feeling and even smell are all engaged.  At an event you are moving around; doing things with other people: asking and answering questions, face-to-face.  Participation motivates and mobilizes us all.

Events build trust.  Trust speeds the development of relationships.  Think of business contacts you’ve made in the past year, how they started, and where they’ve led.  Chances are, while you’ve made new contacts from many sources including online social media, the ones that have progressed most rapidly to mutual benefit began face-to-face.  Trust is also essential to building loyalty for your organization and brand.

Events can make money for you, directly if you are in the media business or indirectly if you use events as a marketing-communication tool.  In either case, amid an ever-widening array of communication options, events remain key to effectively cementing high-value relationships with your audiences or prospective customers.

Events evolve - today’s newest media maybe tomorrow’s clay tablet but face-to-face interaction will never be obsolete.  In the B to B field, email has largely replaced direct mail for attendee promotion and social media has become a significant contributor; virtual technology has become a substitute for some kinds of meetings and lead generation.  Specific forms and business models of events continue to change, but face-to-face persists as a powerful media.  

Face-to face events remain fundamental.   Events must be a primary part of your integrated communication mix, if you’ve got a business message for employees, customers, prospects, or broader audience.  We’d appreciate hearing about your success and your problems with events by comment below or directly by phone or email.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Learning from Your Mistakes - by the Numbers

There are good lessons in mistakes and “natural experiments” in events and across the media business. The lessons pose both emotional and conceptual challenges. That’s why running the numbers right is highly instructive.

Mistakes in the moment in any live media generate tension – you run low on food, cues are missed, wiring is wrong, the award that was supposed to be at the front of the room was left in the back – whatever. Somebody miscalculated, didn’t practice, didn’t plan or didn’t execute the plan.

When you are in the hot seat, fixing the immediate problem, it’s hard not to get a little curt, and it’s easy to blame others. This complicates the after-action analysis. Specific detail and quantification makes it less personal.

Bigger mistakes usually manifest more slowly. Marketing deadlines get pushed back for what seem like good reasons. Key indicators are ignored, or erroneously interpreted; your product drifts off the intended focus or markets change and leave your media product positioned for yesterday. Numerical discipline helps you recognize slow but persistent change.

“Natural experiments” are often hidden in benign variation. Business is better in some regions then others. A marketing effort does a little better or worse than average. An audience responds more positively in one instance than another. Numbers reveal opportunity.

While the race is on, the best response may be counter intuitive. If you are spinning out of control, sometimes you have to “gas it” to recover. In any case you may not have time to think much. Training is necessary for times of deep crisis.

However, trusting the numbers during a crisis or when planning your next move is often the best way to guide yourself out and learn from the mistake or natural experiment.

Often mistakes involve not trusting the numbers out of fear or wishful thinking. The most common scenario is judgmental adjustments – a little padding here and there for safety or a gratuitous allowance for a shortfall. These judgments are often repeated and compounded, killing margins and driving actions off track.

Natural experiments are situations where inputs are varied unintentionally. They can go unnoticed if you always look at overall numbers and not the details. And variation is often misunderstood. Causation and correlation are easy to confuse. Human nature and human interest get involved, e.g. successful salespeople see themselves, not their assigned accounts as their source of success.

You can’t assume accuracy in your numbers. People code and count things differently. Performance numbers get “gamed.” Conversions and aggregations introduce error. Things get mislabeled. Time periods don’t match. It pays to test any numbers you use until you are sure what they mean and how reliable they are.

But, especially where things go wrong, or results vary, your best source of new tactics and strategies to prevent failure, replicate success, grow or maintain your business and make it more rewarding and less stressful is in creative, quantified analysis of the facts.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Why Your Audience Wants to Talk About Your Content

You can’t assume your audience wants your information only for themselves.  People seek information to share and trade, primarily in conversation as was discussed at the Inbound Marketing Conference last fall.  This primal hunt is especially vital to event curation.

Content that bears repeating is valuable to people.  Providing “remarkable content” is touted as a way to generate online social media conversation that potentially “goes viral” (dirty secret: it rarely happens without a big boost from mass media).  But if information is your product rather than a means to sell something else, you still should think about what your audience will want to share and trade with others.

Whether “useful or bizarre,” according to Pablo Boczkowski, a professor at the Northwestern University School of Communication, “what the mass public wants is something to talk about.”  Your humble blogger heard him at an MIT Comparative Media Studies Forum:  "Online News: Public Sphere or Echo Chamber?"

Similarly, Eric Ly, co-founder of Linkedin and the founder and CEO of Presdo credits NPR’s online success to their focus on news that “our friends will want to talk about.”  Eric spoke in a recent TSNN webinar promoting the MTO (MeetingTechOnline) Summit  – an event coming up in Chicago.

Trade information consumers are not that different.  Certainly business or professional consumers seek to improve their work performance directly with information.  However, they also seek information they can share and trade, in order to maintain and build their professional networks.

The promise of quickly providing a “talking knowledge” of a specialized field was the unique selling proposition of a trade event your humble blogger successfully promoted for many years, in the field of state and local government policy and purchasing.  A lot of information sharing and trading took place right at the event, because so many key people in the field attended, but the formal program gave attendees an authoritative overview designed to help them in their various professional circles outside the event.

Provocative and memorable talking points not only give recipients something to impart to others, they give recipients a common bond with others - a sense of “being in the know.”  That's one reason sports news is popular in the mass market..  But the bonding capacity also applies to specialized interests.  Your humble blogger in recent conversation started to quote the former Comptroller General of the United States, David Walker, (not exactly a household name) and was pleasantly surprised to have the quote completed and correctly attributed.   The connection of common interest was thus established.

Across all media and especially at face-to-face events, where the the social side is instantaneous, content developers should never assume that their audiences want entertainment strictly as a personal experience and utility only for direct application.  At least equally strong is the audience desire for content that can be used to strengthen ties to other people.  Feel free to mention this idea to a colleague!

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