How IT user conferences are changing

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Content Copyright © 2011 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Oracle’s ‘Master the Next Wave of Productivity and Innovation’ conference was at the Millenium Hotel, which felt oddly appropriate. We were greeted with a folder of sales brochures and a detailed 4-page feedback questionnaire to fill out. This was a ‘traditional’ IT conference for experienced IT manager-types mingled with Oracle’s own salespeople, mostly all wearing smart tailored grey suits and ties.

Some of the (IT) audience found it slightly odd to be educated about the ins and outs of branding, as Oracle endeavoured to display its Customer Experience Management credentials. Mobile connectivity, music and interactive audience participation were fairly limited and there was a short drinks reception at the end of the day.

ExactTarget’s ‘Connections 2011’ conference was non-traditional and should have been renamed ‘TheExactOpposite’. At the funky new venue in Battersea Park we were greeted with a black-bag pack of goodies. There were 500+ attendees (a pretty impressive number for a company that has only been in the UK for 3 years). The delegates were mainly young fashionable women in marketing management roles. Not a suit or tie to be seen.

James Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, talked about freedom of expression and empowerment. ExactTarget’s ‘orange culture’ colour was everywhere. Rock music blasted out at every opportunity. We were encouraged to use our mobiles interactively during the conference. Over 200 attendees responded via their mobile phones to a presenter’s poll request. ExactTarget’s COO goaded us “go on, give me some demo tweets”. There was a rock band and a party after until late. One of ExactTarget’s presenters was called “Fletch Fletcher, Creative Solutionist’ (!)

Of course, this is not really a fair comparison. Oracle is a mature IT company and its Siebel / CRM solutions are one small piece of what they do. Conversely, ExactTarget is a young, high-energy company that dedicates itself to selling email and other digital marketing solutions to marketing folk. But Oracle also wants to sell its chunky Customer Experience Management solutions to marketing folk too, and has spent big money to acquire Fatwire, Endeca, ATG, and Inquira to fill in the gaps in their solutions portfolio. And Larry never spends Oracle $$$s without a big purpose.

I find it difficult to see CMOs and the ‘innovation workers’ that Oracle wants to target buying into Oracle’s ‘big solution’ approach. CMOs want to talk to vendors who understand and speak the business of marketing. An enterprise platform Customer Experience Management solution roll-out is probably not the preferred route for them – especially when the tenure of your average CMO is only 24 months. CMOs need fast digital marketing results like now, and the big IT strategy can wait. So maybe Oracle needs to partner with a digital-savvy marketing services partner like RAPP or Wunderman to front its efforts with the marketing community? Like Infosys has done with WPP’s interactive subsidiary, Fabric.

ExactTarget detailed the 15 pieces of their new marketing platform solution, the Interactive Marketing Hub. ExactTarget now has momentum and traction in the market, as do other digital marketing vendors such as SugarCRM, Eloqua, and Marketo. With fast-expanding product ranges, excellent operational execution, and marketing-friendly ‘rock and roll’ messages, these vendors are galvanising the digital marketing space. They are attracting the enterprise vendors’ heartland of blue chip companies, and are working extremely hard at customer satisfaction and loyalty. They will be increasingly hard to displace.

Oracle acknowledged that ‘they weren’t there yet’ in terms of delivering Customer Experience Management, although their approach is starting to take shape – built around the Siebel CRM stack. The big enterprise vendors such as Oracle, IBM, Adobe and SAP and the systems integrators like Logica and Cognizant will have to work quickly and diligently to get into this game, as the new generation digital marketing incumbents are building up a head of steam. The enterprise vendors’ ‘big solutions’ approach, targeted at the piecemeal multi-vendor software installed bases in customer-facing departments, may find adoption more difficult than they think.