Powers Unfiltered

An entrepreneur’s journey into grid computing and partnering with Microsoft, by John Powers

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Well THAT was fun…

March 4th, 2008 · No Comments

Powersunfiltered readers know that I’m a believer in the effectiveness of marketing events — but only with sufficient planning and preparation.  (For a refresher course in the Powers School of Events, start here.) 

As reported here last week, Digipede had a station in the Partner Pavillion at the Windows Server 2008 launch in LA last Wednesday.  I watched Ballmer (good), some Microsoft’s demos (pretty good), and learned yet more about the latest huge wave of innovation coming out of Redmond (excellent). 

But mostly, we were at the event to show and tell, not just listen and learn.  Any investment in a booth or station at an industry event has to be weighed at least in part by the exposure gained and leads gathered — and in my judgment this one was a success, thanks to some innovative preparation by the Digipede team.

First of all, we decided months ago to time our press release announcing Version 2.1 of the Digipede Network to coincide with the Server 2008 launch.  That involved some careful product decisions (hard, but essential anyway), doing a press release (easy), getting Microsoft’s approval and participation in that press release (time-consuming, but feasible), and earning the Certified for Windows Server 2008 designation (hard, and quite time-consuming, but worthwhile in the love ). 

We have been talking about making stickers out of the Digipede logo for some time — our logo looks cool, and just seems to belong on a sticker.  Robert Anderson sent around an innocent note about a month ago, which said, in its entirety, “Should we get some Deatle stickers made for the launch?    They can’t be too expensive.”  (Deatle is the name of the creature on our logo.)  The idea of seeing lots of Digipede stickers at the Server 2008 launch suddenly became compelling to all of us, and we set about making it happen.

DigiOval.JPGThere followed several rounds of innovative sticker design (by our own Nathan Trueblood and our wonderfully patient and creative graphic artist Norma McDonough), which resulted in the blue-and-silver oval seen here. 

But even stickers as lovely as this don’t just display themselves, and my suggestion of sneaking in early and plastering them on every wall and post was wisely overruled (as uncool, quite possibly illegal, and certainly easily traced).  So — Where could we reasonably put hundreds of stickers without incurring the wrath of the LA Convention Center?

Dan Ciruli’s elegant solution was to get the attendees to wear them at the event, using the time-tested technique of bribery.  “Wear a Digipede sticker for a chance to win a Zune” was the original idea.  We thought about an XBox, but those are quite a bit more expensive and harder to ship…  But as luck would have it, I attended another Microsoft partner event up in Bellevue in mid-February, and actually WON an XBox in a drawing.  I re-gifted XBox to Digipede for use at the launch, on the condition that none of my partners could tell my 12-year-old twin boys that I had owned an XBox for half an hour and not brought it home.  (They don’t read this — so everyone shhhhh.)

It turns out that in a room full of Windows developers and IT geeks, you definitely want to be giving away an XBox.  At first, traffic was a little light, and nobody was taking the stickers.  But within the first half hour of the event, as soon as a few people were wearing the stickers, other attendees got wind of the contest, and traffic picked up.  The rules were simple — if a Digipede spotter sees you wearing a Deatle sticker at an undisclosed time and place in the LA Convention Center, you’ll win the XBox. 

These few rules got people thinking — I have to wear this sticker somewhere visible, and I can’t just restrict my movements to hanging around the Digipede station (or even the Partner Pavillion).  At the Digipede station, people were putting stickers on their jackets, on their backs, on their backpacks, on their laptops, and more creative spots.   Soon, Deatles were crawling everywhere.  By early afternoon, even when I was out of the Partner Pavillion at lunch or in the halls or in the Microsoft Pavillion, people were walking up to me and asking — “I see those stickers everywhere; what the hell is Digipede?”  This was definitely working.

All the while, at Station 56 in the Partner Pavillion, Dan, Nathan, and I were keeping reasonably disciplined about striking up a brief conversation with each and every visitor.  Anyone who ONLY wanted a sticker for a chance to win the XBox was more than welcome to it; but many others stopped long enough to engage about the amazing grid computing software we were demonstrating as well.  (Some of the demos we did were similar to this.)  We gathered many leads this way, all of whom were at least partially qualified in person before scanning their badges (we did not scan those who just wanted a chance at the XBox — they don’t need to receive more emails from us, and we don’t need to fill our CRM system with them). 

There were LOTS of other giveaways going on throughout the Partner Pavillion — but they were all of the type “dump your card or scan your badge here and you might win a something.”  This is a popular approach, and no doubt the folks running these will think they got “more” leads than we did — but in my experience, a card dropped in a bowl (or a badge scanned for a prize) is not nearly as useful as a badge scanned after a qualifying conversation and/or demonstration.

(Note to the Microsoft organizers of this event — you did a PERFECT job with the partner lead collection system.  There was none of the insane doublespeak about who gave permission to share what leads with which partner — everything worked exactly as the partners and attendees would expect.  No doubt Microsoft’s legal legions are wringing their hands over the idea that Microsoft partners collected leads from Microsoft customers at a Microsoft event using a lead collection system featuring badges created by Microsoft — but unlike prior events, this was very well done!)

About 10 minutes before the Partner Pavillion closed, Dan and I went out to the main escalator, picked a random number between 1 and 60 (using a handy random number generator I wear on my left wrist — the number was 16), and started counting Deatles.  I would estimate that OUTSIDE the Partner Pavillion, about one in 10 attendees we saw was wearing a Digipede sticker.  (This means that no attendees with their eyes open could have missed seeing quite a few of these stickers.)  When we reached the 16th sighting, we awarded the XBox to a lucky Glendale-based IT professional, who was appropriately excited and appreciative.

So what did we get out of all this? 
1.  A large number of partially qualified leads with whom to follow up.
2.  A lot of brand awareness among Server 2008 users, buyers, and technical influencers.
3.  Additional visibility with the Microsoft Server team.

Worth the trip?  We think so, but as always, we won’t know for sure until we’ve worked the leads some more.  John’s One and Only Rule of Trade Shows — “Work it, or it’s not worth it.”

Tags: Events · Partnering with Microsoft

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