Last week was the Web Summit 2020 hosted live from an empty Lisbon; just like all other conferences, Europe’s largest tech summit was no different in the sense that it was fully virtual save for a few presenters and hosts dotted around the host city for content.
Yet, despite the lack of pastel de nata and Atlantic Ocean breeze, the Web Summit did feel different from the tirade of webinars, online conferences, and app-based networking that we’ve all been bombarded with during the pandemic. Whilst virtual networking in itself has been seen as a temporary novelty by many, the folks at the Web Summit have invested heavily in a platform that, even though still in its infancy, has made all other virtual events seem like child’s play.
Olvin decided that to promote and launch its flagship platform Almanac (A predictive intelligence platform for retailers to find out more about consumer demand, improve loyalty and save on costs), it would join the conference as a partner. This allowed us to push out sponsored content through our dedicated room and socials, host and participate in round tables, and increase our exposure around main talks with ads. It was our only marketing effort of the year considering the circumstances and the fact that we decided to spend this year doubling down on product development given our MVP launch in March 2020 was not to be.
We had a great onboarding, and although we had to scramble to get involved effectively, the result was worthwhile for several reasons.
The Partner Room:
When you join the Web Summit as a partner, one of the ‘perks’ of this status is that you get given the ability to create a Partner room, something that may seem trivial initially but quickly becomes a prevalent and extremely useful tool in the Web Summit. This space is akin to your private stage, ideal for hosting demos, Q&A’s and really to push any content on your business as you see fit. The value to us was mainly twofold: We were able to run rolling demos and push mingled contacts (more on this shortly) to our room for more hands-on presentations. At the same time, this was brilliant practice for our team to become master pitchers for our platform – this was Olvin’s commercial debut and, therefore, our first time pitching this to the world. The partner room allowed us to present our product in 30-minute demo slots, sharpen our pitch, and hone in on the value it creates for customers.
Mingle, Mingle, Mingle…
Probably the Web Summit’s most unique and rewarding tool is the mingle function, which genuinely gave this online conference the x-factor. While there’s still some work to do on this platform to make it world-class, the beautifully simple mingle concept made networking exciting and reminiscent of the days where you’d do this kind of thing in person. You get randomly matched with someone in the conference, anywhere in the world, for 3 minutes. If there is a connection or value in exchanging details, then you would swap after the time was up and continue the thread. This worked for three reasons:
It’s just 3 minutes: Unlike in real life, where you can often get cornered by someone who talks your ear off for 30 mins (or more!), this time-limited tool keeps conversations brief, to the point, and thankfully tolerable. The knowledge that you can follow up means that any productive conversations can be quickly progressed afterward while anything unproductive, irrelevant, or frankly, useless can be nipped in the bud swiftly and politely.
Gamification: Do not doubt the addictiveness of this feature. It should feel tiring, but if you enjoy networking and meeting new people as I do, this tool was the closest thing in 2020 that I’ve had to this. Because of its randomness and the matching seemingly done to chance (albeit using metatags to filter who it matches you with), you find yourself using it more and more throughout the event. As a testament to how open this platform is, one of our colleagues was matched with the CEO of Siemens, who found our product to be quite exciting and is following up.
The willingness of participants: This thing was only able to flourish, however, because of the people that attended. Everyone was on this tool and used it with respect, enthusiasm, and positive vibes, as far as I could see. This unspoken etiquette made the platform fun and productive. There was every chance that this format would not be adopted in this way. Still, the exchange’s brevity and the energy that was buzzing around pulled together to make a stimulating virtual conference experience.
The Web Summit has always had a history of great content, but the nature of hosting 100,000 virtual attendees across almost every time zone in the world made the days longer and the content schedule a lot broader. While the traditional webinar-style stages stayed for the masthead content, a series of masterclasses, seminars, demos, and round tables were employed as new formats for businesses and start-ups of all shapes and sizes to share content and discuss topics that were sharpened to smaller and more focussed groups.
As a partner, we were able to host a roundtable and participate in others. All of these were exciting formats where up to 10 panelists joined to discuss a specific topic. These were wide-ranging – from the one I hosted on “how to plan for 2021 and grow with success” through to a high-level discussion hosted by Lars Buttler on the future of “Personal A.I.” They were awkward at first, but I quickly became comfortable with the format, and ultimately these were superb lead generators for Olvin; contributing over 50% of the contacts that signed up to know more about our service.
Now we know the effectiveness, we’re kicking ourselves we didn’t host more. Still, for anyone thinking about 2021, I would highly recommend this over most other formats for targeted lead generation and thought leadership.
It is What You Make it!
This one probably goes without saying, but I feel that for all the great things the Web Summit was able to pull off with its virtual conference platform, it’s not a miracle tonic. You can’t just buy a ticket, sit back and wait for the leads to flood in. It took our team weeks of preparation, content creation, social media coordination, and scheduling to even crack the surface of what this conference can deliver. The more you put in, the more you get out – and just like every other conference, real or virtual, you should feel drained by the end of it to know that you have got your money’s worth. It was the first time this year that I remembered what that post-conference drain felt like, and I was satisfied with the work we had done to achieve our three aims, which were to launch the product, meet new leads and partners to use the platform, and find investors to follow up with and continue the conversation.
Once the event is over, the work begins. The platform remains active so that you can download your leads, connect with anyone you forgot to connect with, and effectively wrap up your conference. It’s essential that these functions exist, and the lead export function is critical to the value at the end. Business cards may be dead, but the art of following up remains essential.
For Olvin now, it’s precisely that. We’ve now got to finalize our contact lists, look at where, how, and who got in touch with us and get busy with those follow-ups, review our marketing efforts and the output they delivered and plan for 2021 where, while I’m sure in-person events will return (for which I’m very glad), we’ve by no means seen the last of the Web Summit virtual platform!
Here’s to 2021!
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