An X Change Redux – Day 2
Day 2 of the Conference – with no outdoor activities scheduled – dawned bright and sunny. I was much less worried. We’d had surprisingly few logistical foul-ups (at least ones big enough to come to my ears) for a first time Conference and I was actually feeling fairly confident.
Most of the attendees trickled in just before 9 when the first Huddle got started. I think we were all still feeling the effects of the night before.
I started off in a Huddle with Rand Schulman that focused on measuring branding impact online and finding a standard "coin of the realm" with which to compare all media. Now Rand is not the nervous, over-prepared type. He is so good in this type of format and so confident that he’d pretty much just decided to wing it. We had a really nice mix for someone like Rand – there were a couple of excellent Agency types (Andy Fisher and Danielle Toyozumi) along with Fortune 500 marketing pros. I guess I was the designated measurement geek.
This topic happens to be a very high-priority for me – since we’re struggling to do exactly this cross-channel comparison with several of our largest clients. It’s a surprisingly complex topic – and I don’t often get a chance to hear the Agency take on this so clearly articulated - both from the perspective of their internal issues and their client needs. Thanks much to both Andy and Danielle and it’s hard not have fun with Rand talking!
My last Huddle was with Olivier Silvestre of Visual Sciences on measuring
"Main and Secondary Navigation." I had a great discussion with Olivier the night before on how difficult it is to stay in touch with real-world measurement when you have increasingly corporate responsibilities. I’m not sure which of us is worse afflicted – though as Olivier works for a Public company he probably gets the nod. But this was one of the more hands-on sessions I attended and I get the feeling that both Olivier and I were happy to be "down-in-the-weeds." Olivier’s built a "Confusion Index" for measuring potential problems with what we call "Router" pages. I really liked his approach. A good chunk of it is captured in our Functional Analysis of Routing – but Olivier had some additional twists and a slightly different (and I think better) method of doing this analysis.
We adjourned to the main Theatre where I gave a brief Conference Closing address (trying the almost impossible task of summing up what I hoped X Change had - and could -accomplish). Then most people either attended the Taste of Copia event (like watching a cooking show on TV but you get to taste the food and wine) or headed off to flights. Grace and I schlumped into Julia’s Kitchen after a bit of tear-down and had lunch – chatting with some departing attendees and some of our team. Phil Kemelor drove back with us where he hung out with my two girls (they love you Phil) had dinner and was, eventually, dropped off at the airport. I was done.
So what does it all add up to from my perspective?
First, the biggest differentiator between X Change and other Conferences was the complete reliance on small discussion groups. Did it work? I think so. It really was different than just about any other conference I’ve ever attended. It felt looser, free, with a lot more back-and-forth and a lot of opportunities to explore. Did every Huddle work? No. I heard about a couple that sounded like outright failures and some more that were just okay. But I heard about a lot of really good ones.
Partly, I think we all needed to learn a bit about how to do it well – and as speakers saw what worked and what didn’t, I think they increasingly focused on building participation and getting multiple experts to contribute. As I mentioned in my last post, the Huddle format practically guarantees a certain amount of risk. But it also delivers an upside that I don’t think formal presentations will ever match.
Second, I didn’t realize how completely individual the experience was going to be. I don’t imagine that any two attendees had matching schedules. And there were lots of people I hardly saw at all. When I compared notes with fellow Semphonicers like Joel, Paul, Phil, Jesse and June we’d all had totally different experiences and learnings. For a conference meant to be intimate and small that was a bit of a shock. I can’t call it either good or bad – just different than I expected.
Third, the participation of multiple experts seemed to me to be vital. Where facilitators took advantage of the full expertise in the room, the Huddles were awesome. I really liked this aspect of X Change. I heard from lot’s of speakers that they really enjoyed themselves and that they’d come back for sure. I hope that’s true because they are the heart of any Conference and I think the more fun they are having the better X Change will be.
Most of the Huddles turned out to have between 8-13 participants. And this ended up feeling just about right. I think fewer and the group felt a little small. More than about a dozen and too many people get left out. If I had to pick a magic number, I think I’d say ten people.
Logistically, the Conference was surprisingly smooth given the complex format, our total inexperience and the fact that our venue was non-traditional and the rooms rather spread out. I love Copia and it’s a spectacular venue – but there were some drawbacks too. Not all the rooms were ideal (there were two that I didn’t care for) and I wasn’t happy with the pacing of the dinner. I’m interested to read the feedback of all attendees and see what they think. But I expected to have a lot more problems. Thank you Barbara and Grace for doing such a great job! You made my life measurably better.
Finally, I want to thank the speakers. One thing I had talked about with each of the major vendors was that X Change was a relationship opportunity not a sales opportunity. Every one of them that I saw took this to heart. From the big tool vendors, Matt Belkin, Clint Ivy, Olivier Silvestre, and Rand Schulman I saw personally and loved. I didn’t get a chance to hear Aaron Gray but several of the Semphonic team were in his very popular Huddles and had high praise indeed. Not once did I hear any of these guys come even close to crossing the line.
The same is true of our Agency speakers – Terry Cohen, Matt Jacobs, Paul Bruemmer and Manoj Jasra. And it was true of almost all the other speakers as well - guys like Judah Phillips, Joseph Carrabis, Marshall Sponder, Duff Anderson and Jaques Warren. Not all these guys even have a sales agenda - but most people do have something they are pushing - and it was nice to hear that the Huddle atmosphere was consistently - almost universally - informational.
Those who know Semphonic probably weren’t surprised that there was no - and I mean zero - Semphonic sales stuff either. Those who don’t know us that well were, I hope, pleasantly surprised and impressed. X Change is meant to truly reflect our company culture.
When attendees (both paid and speakers) commit time and money to a Conference, they are owed more than sales pitches. Not from us, not from anyone. That’s a line that’s all too easy to cross – and I am deeply grateful to our speakers for doing such a good job of this and respecting both our attendees and us.
People like Eric, Matt B., Olivier, Matt J., Terry, Aaron, Rand, Clint, Paul, Manoj, etc., etc. have the confidence to know that they are their own best sales-pitch. And attendees like Craig Danuloff and Andy Fisher did just as good a job – with even less obligation. That’s also why I had no problem having potential competitors like Anil Batra (wish I could have been in his Behavioral Targeting Huddle!), Digitas or Commerce360 there facilitating or participating. I know I can count on their professionalism. All of you earned my deepest appreciation and respect.
So will we do it again? Yes. Five days ago, I wasn’t so sure. But in the end, even with all the hassles and the toll it took on my digestive system, X Change turned out to be truly and deeply enjoyable. There are plenty of things I think I’ll tweak. But there’s one I certainly won’t.
To me, it's the Huddles that absolutely define X Change. Those Huddles are a limiting factor on growth. So X Change won’t grow much - if any. I thought the attendance target was just about dead on.
I believe X Change can fill a unique niche in our industry: a place where leading practitioners and stakeholders from companies, agencies, tool vendors and consultancies can all mix, talk freely and learn. If I can make X Change feel like lunch-meetings at Semphonic, I’ll be happy.
So see you next time!
[Also, we had a professional video outfit there filming comments from participants and speakers and we'll be posting this stuff on the web site soon. Check it out if you want multiple, short first-person takes on X Change!]