B2B Brand Takes Off with Virtual Ducks Aligned
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After months of planning, Duck Creek Technologies had all of its ducks in a row for its flagship customer event, Formation, set to launch in April 2020. You might guess where this story is going—Duck Creek had to cancel the event and look for a virtual solution, one that wouldn’t let all its content go to waste and one that would be as powerful as most in-person events are for so many B2B brands.
In this episode, Senior Director, Global Marketing Lauren St. Amand shares how the insurance software company changed its course and developed vFormation, a digital engagement platform that was so much more than a virtual event.
It was a solution to a world that would quickly become inundated with digital fatigue, a perfect lead-gen opportunity for Duck Creek partners, and, surprisingly, a way to reach more customers and prospects (and employees!) than ever before. As evidenced in the vFormation dashboard below, this story is incredible—don’t miss it!
The vFormation Dashboard
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- How Duck Creek built and leveraged vFormation
- How vFormation grew business and facilitated strong partner sponsorships
- How Duck Creek is planning for hybrid events in 2022 and beyond
Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 253 on YouTube
- Duck Creek Technology’s Digital Engagement Platform: vFormation
- vFormation Live
- [0:31] How Duck Creek Replaced Digital Events
- [3:55] Building the vFormation Digital Engagement Platform
- [6:23] How Duck Creek Put Customers Front and Center
- [12:43] How Duck Creek Created Engaging Live Events and Valuable Partnership Opportunities
- [19:50] Measuring vFormation’s Success
- [26:30] Turning Duck Creek Prospects into Customers
- [38:08] Duck Creek’s Hybrid Plan for 2022
- [37:37] Dos and Don’ts for Building a Digital Engagement Platform
Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Lauren St. Amand
[0:31] How Duck Creek Replaced Digital Events“Just the thought of sitting behind a computer for two days just right out the gate didn't sound right, so we decided to do something a little different.” —@B2Bdigigirl @DuckCreekTech Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! Let there be no doubt that necessity is the mother of invention. When the pandemic struck, many CMOs faced the daunting challenge of replacing physical events with something, anything that might replace the vibrant source of leads, deal acceleration that happened at events, customer engagement that happened events, and even sales training. Salespeople love physical events—that’s when they get to do their magic.
For Duck Creek Technologies, which serves the insurance industry, losing events—specifically an annual conference—was like suddenly trying to fly a plane in a hurricane without a pilot or crew or passengers. That may be a little overdramatic, but you get the metaphor.
What I love about the story you’re about to hear is that not only did they succeed in replacing the big event, but [they] also ended up with a whole new type of marketing engine, one that drove leads and built community. To guide us through this turbulent but ultimately successful journey is Lauren St. Amand, Senior Director Marketing at Duck Creek Technologies. Hello, Lauren!
Lauren St. Amand: Hey, Drew thanks for having me.
Drew Neisser: Oh, it’s great to see you. By the way, how are you?
Lauren St. Amand: I’m great, thanks. Nice day in Boston here.
Drew Neisser: Oh, good. Thank you. I always like to sort of ground the listeners in where you are. Of course, I’m in New York City and you’re in Boston. Let’s jump right in. I know you’ve been at Duck Creek for almost four years, but can you remind me how long ago your CMO left and when you ended up piloting marketing?
Lauren St. Amand: Oh, actually yeah, Scott left about six months ago.
Drew Neisser: That helps. But what a great opportunity for you, and I imagine just a little bit scary.
Lauren St. Amand: It’s been great. We have a really good team; we have a very strong team.
Drew Neisser: That’s awesome. Let’s get to the story. It’s March, April 2020, you had a big event planned, I think it was like six weeks out—let’s talk about the situation with your normal customer event and how important that was to you.
Lauren St. Amand: Yeah, who’s going to ever forget that, right? 2020. We had an event, our flagship event, Formation—Duck Creek Technologies, you know, ducks fly in formation, hence the name. But, yeah, we had an event scheduled for April, and of course March 1st, we just got really nervous. What were we going to do? We had to shut it down. We knew we were going to have to do something about it so, yes, COVID was the catalyst for reimagining our flagship event.
Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about that. You know you can’t do it, so what were some of the steps that you did to say, “Okay, we’ll just postpone it and wait to see what happens…” “We’ll go virtual…” How did you get to a decision to go to virtual?
Lauren St. Amand: That’s a good question. We’d been working for months on content—the whole company. The whole company had been working for months on this rich content for our customers and prospects and analysts for this event.
We couldn’t let that all go to waste. I knew a lot of people were doing digital events, two-day events. Just the thought of sitting behind a computer for two days just right out the gate didn’t sound right, so we decided to do something a little different.
We created a digital engagement platform, if you will, so that we could keep giving out this content and people could access it when it was convenient for them.
[3:55] Building the vFormation Digital Engagement Platform“We said we wanted to have a little Netflix for insurance.” —@B2Bdigigirl @DuckCreekTech Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Let’s break that down a little bit. Digital engagement platform. Is this something that you created from scratch, did you work with any outside firms to build it?
Lauren St. Amand: Yeah, Vital is one of our agencies that we work with, and we would be lost without them. They work with us on our website and everything as well, so we sat down and said, “What’s going to make it engaging? What’s going to make it dynamic?”
And the thought was, “It’s insurance, so how exciting can you be with insurance?” but we said we wanted to have a little Netflix for insurance, so that was kind of how we designed it.
Drew Neisser: That’s a great metaphor, and one of the things that really helps in a project like this is to have a vision and imagination to say, “Okay, so Netflix for insurance. Well, if I go to Netflix, I see great little previews, I have things that might interest me”—talk about how you built the structure. You obviously don’t have a million different series that you can go and buy or produce, so talk a little bit about how you planned this.
Lauren St. Amand: That was great. We use Vimeo for recording our keynotes, Teams for recording regular sessions, but we took the track that we’d already developed for Formation and broke it into pieces.
You could design your own agenda, you could save sessions to a box and come back and watch them later. We had relevant sessions and content that would pop up when you were watching it so that users or the attendees or subscribers could find the content that was relevant to them.
Drew Neisser: Interesting. I’m imagining—again, I’m sort of on the Netflix thing. I see a bunch of different… some menu bar with all sorts of different subjects. I go and watch one of the subjects, and this is all on-demand, right? You’re not doing anything at any particular time, so you could go to this whenever you wanted.
Lauren St. Amand: We do design it so that everything will be recorded, and people could watch it on-demand at their convenience, but we also do have a lot of live events. We broadcast them live to keep people engaged and do Q&As and have interactions. We do schedule those so people can look forward to them. We get little bumps in our subscription rates when that happens.
Drew Neisser: How long did it take you from the time that you decided, “Oh gosh, we need a virtual engagement platform, a digital engagement platform,” to when you had it?
Lauren St. Amand: Six weeks.
Drew Neisser: Six weeks!
Lauren St. Amand: Six weeks! A lot of work.
Drew Neisser: That was fast.
[6:23] How Duck Creek Put Customers Front and Center“This industry is going through this whole transformation, so listening to how people are getting through it was really key.” —@B2Bdigigirl @DuckCreekTech Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Well, the good news was you knew the content that already, so then it was more of a question of recording it and organizing it than it was, “What are we going to put here?”
You had some head start, a lot of head start there, but what were some of the challenges of getting something like this done and how did you decide we have enough to pull the trigger?
Lauren St. Amand: Well, we knew we had enough content, and what we really wanted to do was—the keynotes for Formation were really valuable because they’re our customer stories, right?
Calling up our customers and asking them, “Hey would you do this virtually instead?” That was the very first step, so once we got those setup and lined up and recorded, we put the customer at the center of our story for vFormation and that’s what people wanted to do. From there, we picked relevant pieces to go with it and set it up.
Drew Neisser: Were there any customers who said, “No, I don’t want to do this, it’s too whatever”?
Lauren St. Amand: Oh gosh, you’re making me remember back that far. I think there was one. I think there was one and he came back later. He was on our next round, so no, actually, everybody really understood. I think we were all in the same boat at that point.
Drew Neisser: One of the challenges with remote video—and we’ve actually found one solution that works pretty well—but it’s getting good quality. What did you do to record that? Is that what you use Teams for?
Lauren St. Amand: Teams in-house for internal sessions and the smaller sessions, but with our customers and our keynotes like our CEO and everybody who was up speaking, we used a tool called Vimeo and did some backgrounds and created those on our own. We have a great creative team and Vital, again, is really…
Drew Neisser: I’m sorry to get so technical on this, but one of the big challenges—so these folks are all at home because everybody’s at home, so the big challenge was how do you make sure the lighting is good, the sound is good. I mean, Vimeo is just a place to house the content. You’re not actually recording on it, so you still have to coordinate. I’m just curious, because this was such a big issue early on.
Lauren St. Amand: We did Zoom I guess for the basic recordings then pulled it into Vimeo. And you’re right, it was. It was best practices. We sent out guides and things like that for people. Green screens in some cases, and little kits like that.
Drew Neisser: Got it. Now I got it. We’re doing exactly as we’re doing it here. “We’re using Zoom, we’re hoping that you have a good mic setup. If you don’t, we’ll send you one. If you don’t have lighting setup, we’ll send you that, too.” I got it.
So, we get all these customers stories recorded. What did you do to spread the word that this event was happening? My understanding is that, even the first time six weeks into the launch of this thing, your numbers were pretty good—at least started to beat expectations. How did you get the word out?
Lauren St. Amand: What was interesting was, our flagship event Formation is usually all customers. Like, I’d say 90% customers. It’s very rare that we would get prospects to go to the event. What happened here with this transformation was a bonus that we weren’t expecting.
Our prospect numbers actually were over the thousand marks for prospects. It’s just really outweighed that. We were really surprised. It’s become like, this digital platform for buyers.
Drew Neisser: I want to get to that—and we will get to that—but I want to make sure we still understand the various steps along the way.
You decide we’re going to go virtual, we’re going to set up this platform, we’re going to launch it, we’re going to have some live speaking going on at it so there’s a reason to attend in real-time. How did you let customers—how did even prospects find out about it in order to attend?
Lauren St. Amand: Oh, I see. Just emails. We sent out a lot of emails to start with. We did do a little bit of advertising, paid media that would drive people back, social.
Drew Neisser: Got it. And one of the things that a lot of brands in April and May—because it was still a novelty—attendance was pretty good initially and a lot of the CMOs I interviewed had similar numbers where, “Wow we got customers, we got prospects.”
But what was interesting is—later on at least—a lot of the attendees were not as engaged as they had originally expected, and they struggled to convert some of these folks. I’m curious, since you had prospects there, and you weren’t expecting them, what did you do to get a nurture stream going?
Lauren St. Amand: Again, it boils down to the content and having really interesting content. Digital transformation in our industry just never stops, so it’s always going to be new engaging content, but the customers were what people wanted to come and see and hear their case studies, success stories, best practices. This industry is going through this whole transformation, so listening to how people are getting through it was really key.
Drew Neisser: That makes sense. I think it’s one of the mistakes that I saw in webinar after webinar after webinar. To some extent, it’s talking heads from the company sharing the story and they leave—like in a webinar, I saw one webinar where there were seven minutes for the customer to talk. It’s like, “No, no, start with the customer! That’s what everybody comes for and can relate to.” That such an important insight.
Drew Neisser: If you don’t mind, I’d like to plug CMO Huddles for a second. Launched in 2020, CMO Huddles is an invitation-only subscription service that brings together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness.
Talk about necessity being the mother of invention—CMO Huddles was invented because it was very difficult to interact when the pandemic began. One CMO describes huddles as a timely conversation with smart peers in a trusted environment, while another called it cross between an expert workshop and a therapy session.
If you’re a B2B CMO that can share and care with the best of them, visit cmohuddles.com or send me an email to see if you qualify for a guest pass
[12:43] How Duck Creek Created Engaging Live Events and Valuable Partnership Opportunities“They were opting in to watch a partner video, so the leads weren't just from one event.” —@B2Bdigigirl @DuckCreekTech Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Talk about the live component of this when you first launched it and how that worked.
Lauren St. Amand: We were nervous about technical difficulties, so in some cases, we would pre-record them. One of the things that was really great to do with these networking events, so we would have this area where people could go in and actually have networking events.
One of the most successful ones was what we called a “Women’s Innovation Networking Event.” The acronym is wine, so everybody likes to get behind that. We actually sent out bottles of wine to people that would subscribe—a bottle of red, a bottle of white. We had a sommelier from Manhattan that came in and gave a nice little wine tasting for the first 15 minutes, and then we had women customers on the panel that talked about different events.
It’s not always about insurance. It’s not always about our product or what our customers are doing. We had actually designed these networking events to build that sense of community.
Drew Neisser: I think that’s an interesting part of this, that really, we’re not talking about a virtual event here. We’re really talking about something that replaced a physical event but became this platform for you to engage customers and prospects. I think that’s such an interesting thing, so once you had this platform, you could do these special events, if you will. I love W.I.N.E—Women’s Innovation Networking Event. I love that.
Lauren St. Amand: Especially during a pandemic, right?
Drew Neisser: Oh my gosh, it’s great. And then you got customers on a panel, everybody was a little loose, it’s sort of an edutaining kind of a thing. The point that you make about the fact that it doesn’t all have to be insurance—let’s face it, the goal here is to get people together, to feel good about the brand, and if you can get a message in there with the customer talking about you, all the better.
On that kind of a thing, that’s a micro event within the platform. Was that part of the strategy at the beginning or did you just realize, “Oh, we could do that here too”?
Lauren St. Amand: No, we needed some wine. We definitely set that up. There was some selfish motivation behind that particular event. Our partners also, you know, it wasn’t just about our content. We have a plethora of partners that are very innovative, and a lot of our customers use those technologies to innovate themselves.
Having them be a part of this and sponsor this event, it actually carried over. They originally were sponsors for our live event, Formation. It carried over and they stuck with us, and then we eventually would build out these virtual booths. When we do have events, people can actually come in and video chat with the partners and ask questions, so that was a big part of it as well.
Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about that because so many folks that were going to sponsor physical events, when they went virtual, they said, “Oh, the value is not here. I’m not going to stay.” But yours did. How did you reframe the value proposition?
On one hand, when you go to a physical event and you know there are going to be 900 people there and you know who they’re going to be and your sales guys are going to be interacting—you can almost predictably know, based on past experience, the value of this kind of thing.
Here, they’re walking into Never Never Land. They don’t know what it’s going to be, how did you get them comfortable with the idea of staying with you?
Lauren St. Amand: We were all nervous about that for sure. They did sessions themselves and we hosted it on the platform. What was interesting was, we designed something where people could save a session.
There would be a little star and it would go up into their holding basket, if you will, so that every time they came back to it and anytime that they clicked that star, they were basically a lead.
They were opting in to watch a partner video, so the leads weren’t just from one event. We give leads over to our partners on a monthly basis, so they just keep happening. A new refresh. Plus, you can also see who’s still engaging, who’s still watching, all that intent-driven data is shared with our partners. It’s part of the sponsorship.
Drew Neisser: Again, I want to make the point, folks that are listening, there’s a big difference here between a moment in time, a two-day virtual event, and this ongoing platform. I know a lot of virtual events stayed up there and that content stayed up there, but I wouldn’t call it an engagement platform—it was just a place where there was content.
It feels like you created ways so that there could be interactivity and ways of keeping it fresh. Talk a little bit about how you some of the things that you did in that way. We talked about the wine event, but how else did you get people to keep coming back or new people to come to it?
Lauren St. Amand: Depending on the thought leaders that we had—we would have analysts that would come on to talk about you know industry insights that were happening that were relevant to people.
If we have someone who specializes in claims, they’re a Vice President of Claims, their content is going to be very much different than somebody who is a CIO who might be interested in more of a technical architecture. Different types of sessions were developed. Tracks, if you will, just like for a regular event, developing these different tracks.
And again, finding the partners to chip in as well. So, we started with this great amount of content that we had for the event already, but how do you keep adding to it, how do you keep it fresh and engaging? That was really a collaborative effort with our partners.
Drew Neisser: One of the challenges—and this happened a lot in B2B land—where folks knew that they weren’t going to be able to do physical events. In some cases, they furloughed their event teams because a lot of them didn’t have the skills, the digital skills, to do a virtual event.
It really is a very different kind of a thing. I’m wondering how you worked with your team. Did you have to bring anybody new on? How did you adapt to what is essentially a completely different style of presentation and engagement?
Lauren St. Amand: It was a big switch for sure. A lot of us, our event team, weren’t digitally savvy. It was something that we did have to learn on the fly. Again, we did have an agency that we worked with who was very supportive on our website, so they were a big part of developing it.
But the actual production of it, we did hire some new people. We beefed up our creative team and motion graphics, video producers.
Gratefully, I had the support of my executive team to do that quickly. But it was about interviewing people just like you and I are talking right now. I think we were kind of comfortable with that at that point anyway for webinars, but nobody used to turn their cameras on. They’d be very camera shy, right, so that was a little bit of a switch to go.
Drew Neisser: Right. It just makes sense that you would need to bring some video people in-house. To be able to do this on the fly, at scale, it helps. Yes, you could outsource all of it, but that could start to get really, really expensive.
[19:50] Measuring vFormation’s Success“Out of the gate, we had probably about 300 customers that had signed up for the first event. But we had over 1,000 prospects.” —@B2Bdigigirl @DuckCreekTech Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Now, when you did this, when you set up this platform, was there thinking that this could be an ongoing thing? Was this a, “We had Formation, we’re going to do vFormation…” Was there any kind of long-term hope at the time of launch or did that just go, “Oh wow, this worked a lot better than we thought.”
Lauren St. Amand: That’s a good point. We were hoping, none of us knew how long this was going to last, so we thought, “For sure, we’ll do the real event in six months.” Negotiated with the hotel. Then it became a year, so we really thought we would leave the platform up through the summer through the end of our fiscal year actually.
And as it kept going and growing and engaging, it’s like 80% of the people who watch our stuff is the replays. The live events definitely draw new people, new subscribers, but most people watch the replays. We decided, why not leave this up as a way to keep customers connected between events?
Again, then it took off and now we will never have an event that does not have a digital component to it. These hybrid events are probably the next challenge I think that all marketers are facing right now.
Drew Neisser: We’re going to cover that in a little bit. So, 80% watched replays. It’s such an interesting number and I’m imagining it now that you had to continue to market via emails to remind people. Were these people who had registered, or you just got new people to come to watch this content either through SEO, SEM, or other forms of marketing?
Lauren St. Amand: Everything is subscriber-based. People do subscribe to it because we have a lot of content on there that would not be un-gated as a rule.
Drew Neisser: Okay, so we have subscribers. Talk a little bit about the mix of subscribers and how that’s grown over time.
Lauren St. Amand: The mix of subscribers, again, did surprise us because usually it’s a customer event. Out of the gate, we had probably about 300 customers that had signed up for the first event. But we had over 1,000 prospects.
This was all through emails. We emailed customers, but we also emailed prospects: “Hey, so-and-so is speaking from BHSI on their transformation” and they wanted to hear about it, so it definitely became a lead-generating event as well.
Also, analysts. We have analysts that are not only on the platform speaking, but they’re also attending. And partners, same thing. Partners are attending. An unusual surprise was employees. It’s become a really good onboarding tool for new employees What better way to hear about our product and stuff than actually going to the event?
Drew Neisser: It’s so interesting to hear you say that. In the benefit of physical events—and I think this is again one of those underappreciated things—when you’re a new employee and you get to go to a physical event, you get to see how customers feel about the brand, you get to interact with customers on a casual basis.
It really is a fabulous way—even as an outsider as an agency, I love going to our clients’ events because I get to talk to customers and employees. The fact that employees actually did engage with it is really interesting. But these are employees that elected to do it. You didn’t say, “Hey, employees, go do this.”
Lauren St. Amand: Our CEO talked about it on a town hall, and we definitely had a little lift in subscribers from employees after that.
Drew Neisser: Now, you shared a slide with me earlier today. I don’t know if I’m allowed to share that publicly. If I am, I’ll include it in the show notes. But your partner number was also a very big part of this. Talk a little bit more about that because that number seems very high to me.
Lauren St. Amand: We have a lot of partners. The partner sponsors—we had 34 different partners that were sponsoring the event itself. They were creating the content as well and collecting the leads for it, but they’re also learning about each other, so it’s an ecosystem. Different types of technologies integrate with each other, so yeah, partners is a big piece of it for sure.
Drew Neisser: It’s so interesting. It’s sort of like you created this place almost like you’re now a publisher, if you will, where other brands can come and showcase their technology in front of the same community.
Before we wrap up this section, I’ve used the word “community” several times in this, and I want to make sure that it really is and what that feels like. How do you, if you will, enable the community to engage with each other?
Lauren St. Amand: I think the networking events can help with that. Getting people to talk outside of what their everyday is. A lot of the thought leadership content, educational content on there, again, based on different tracks of interest, relevance. So if you watch one session, you’ll get recommendations for other sessions.
The community piece during the live events—we just had vFormation Live, which was a two-day, two hours in the morning, two hours at night. where all the booths are live and people can actually video chat with each other. There’s also a networking area where customers can talk to customers if they will.
Drew Neisser: That’s a lot. That’s great. When you get into some of those details, you really see where the moment in time of the live event definitely encourages that kind of thing.
I think for partners, did somebody come to their booth? Did they engage in it? They can see it so it’s really easy for them to assess the value. So the fact that they’ve stayed with you and you have 34 of them is really a testament to the strength of this program. Okay, we’re going to take a break, and when we come back, we’re going to get into how this also became a demand generation engine for you all. Stay with us.
Drew Neisser: I’ve got a new thought for you, which is, have you thought about doing some market research but didn’t have the manpower or expertise on your team to make sure that this research was methodologically valid, insight-rich, and newsworthy?
Research can be a tentpole for an entire quarter’s or half years’ worth of marketing activities, research that your SDRs can use to help move a lead into a genuine opportunity.
It’s a lot to ask for market research, which is why more and more B2B marketers are coming to Renegade for help in this area. Renegade will help you craft the questionnaire, field the research, analyze the results, and even write up and design the report if your in-house team is too busy.
If you’re a B2B CMO even thinking about market research, do yourself a favor, visit renegade.com, let’s have a quick chat about what your plan is, and maybe we can help.
[26:30] Turning Duck Creek Prospects into Customers“Getting the opportunities that we were already working engaged with this content has definitely accelerated the pipeline and has driven some net new interest.” —@B2Bdigigirl @DuckCreekTech Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: I love so many aspects of this story and part of it is just the reminder that you just have to try to do stuff. You have to be experimental, and you can’t be afraid. You didn’t know where this was going but suddenly you had something that not only served the function in the short term, but became this long-term platform you’re planning to invest in.
One of the reasons that you’re planning to stay with it is this ability to get prospects engaged. Talk a little bit about how—and again I’m going to emphasize that a lot of other B2B brands got a lot of what they thought were prospects, but they didn’t turn into opportunities, they didn’t turn into business. Have you been able to take some of those prospects and actually turn them into Duck Creek customers?
Lauren St. Amand: I’m really proud of this number too, we just got it yesterday as a matter of fact. The vFormation platform as we call it, it’s actually influenced 72% of our current ACV pipeline. Getting the opportunities that we were already working engaged with this content has definitely accelerated the pipeline and has driven some net new interest.
Drew Neisser: I want to make sure because there are different definitions of pipeline, you say 72 percent ACV pipeline. Define that a little more carefully so we’re just in agreement on what pipeline means. Some will call pipeline real true opportunities where a salesperson is actually engaged with a customer. Is that the way you look at pipeline?
Lauren St. Amand: Yeah, this is influenced pipeline, just to be clear. It’s not sourced, but it’s influenced. And yeah, 72 percent of our active ACV pipeline, meaning that these are deals that are in the pipeline, have been very engaged with vFormation.
Drew Neisser: Well, I don’t know a single marketer out there who wouldn’t be happy with 72 percent. It’s a great number. Talk a little bit about, okay, have you been able to correlate, “Gee, if they watch this video or if they do this or they do 1, 2, 3 things,” that those are real buyer signals?”
Lauren St. Amand: I think we’re really getting there. You know, it’s been up for a year, so monitoring that data and trying to tie it to the sales cycle—we have a very long sales cycle, so that’s why I didn’t really want to share source numbers yet. They’re still growing.
Drew Neisser: It’s hard. A lot of companies have long sales cycles and it’s really, really hard to track all of this, but—
Lauren St. Amand: We do we do measure best performing assets, best performing sessions, things like that. We’re hoping that a little bit more historical data under our belts will give us a little bit more insight into that journey.
Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about that. Because “best performing”—is that just “most viewed”? Or where they watch a session or they engage in something, and then they do another thing.
Because, you know, I’m always—in the long-tailed world of SEO, you can have an asset that gets a lot of people to it, but it may not be the converting asset. And you may have one piece of content that’s just very way down in there and only ten people saw it, but it’s the one that is the true indicator. How are you looking at best performing?
Lauren St. Amand: Yeah, “best performing” definitely by views. Also, you know, how long did they stay on it for, right? Measuring that. Are they digesting the entire thing?
Drew Neisser: Right.
Lauren St. Amand: Do they come back? Do they forward? Do they share? All those kinds of numbers definitely add up, I think, to success.
Drew Neisser: Got it. Alright so we’ve got this program, it’s in place, it’s driving leads, it’s making your customers look good. It’s helping your partners get leads. Even has your analysts showing up and that certainly can’t hurt when it comes to their ratings of you. And your employees are going, so your entire ecosystem or world is touched by this program.
[30:08] Duck Creek’s Hybrid Plan for 2022“Now you can send those one to five people, but you can also have ten people back home engaging with the same content.” —@B2Bdigigirl @DuckCreekTech Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: So, let’s talk about hybrid. Now, everybody’s looking ahead. They know physical events are on the horizon. More and more brands have them planned in September, October, November. What’s your plan for hybrid? First of all, are you going to be doing a hybrid?
Lauren St. Amand: Absolutely. Every event that we do going forward will have a hybrid component to it, a digital component to it. And I think we’re taking a lot of lessons learned now and going to be able to apply them. We’re having a small kickoff coming up, hopefully, again, COVID not coming back here, that we’re going to be testing a lot of the broadcasting capabilities, integration capabilities with not just vFormation but also with a third party like vFairs.
We’re actually looking forward to our big event Formation next March. You can’t substitute real-life interactions and clinking our glasses and toasting each other and that networking. You can’t replace that. At first, we were fearful—”Hey, why would people come to Formation if they can just get all the content online?” So, building something that is both engaging for the attendee and also the people sitting at home is a really important step.
Drew Neisser: So next March, how many people do you hope to have at that event? And clearly, again, customers being the number one priority because that’s where it was before—I mean, are you going to get 400 customers to show up in March?
Lauren St. Amand: This is such uncharted territory. We’re so excited to see what’s going to happen, but either way, I’m sure we’re going to be getting a good response for people to come in. But we want to make it entertaining for people who can’t either.
And not just that but some companies, they can usually only send one to five people. Now you can send those one to five people, but you can also have ten people back home engaging with the same content. I’m hoping it’s going to make it bigger. And you can always—just putting a customer or the prospect together in a room is a win-win for everybody.
Drew Neisser: I know. That’s the thing that people really forget about physical events. What they are, are deal accelerators, right? You have someone that’s late stage, and they’re there, they’re kicking the tires, but they’ve also got a customer right there over their shoulder saying, “By the way, this is really great, you outta check it out, you outta do it.” And that just helps close the deal and accelerate the deal. That’s been so hard for so many long sales, the absence of that, of those sidebar conversations.
So… the physical event is going to happen in March, don’t know how many are going to go. I bet the numbers are going to be better than you think because people are so anxious to get out there and meet people and get back at it. And I’m starting to see that in events that have already been happening—people want to get out of their home offices or even back at work.
From a hybrid standpoint, how are you going to decide when you’re on or off and live for the virtual people, the virtual attendees?
Lauren St. Amand: That’s a good question. So, keynotes, broadcasted live. There are also apps for attendees that are going to be onsite—polling questions and things like that that hopefully will be a way to keep the audience engaged on-site, but also back at home.
Yeah, it’s a three-day event. Some of the things—workshops and things like that—could be pre-recorded and then we just flip a switch and have people there being able to do the Q&A either over chat or video chat.
I’m hoping with vFairs that we’ll be able to actually have our live customers obviously in the auditorium, but then up on a screen right behind the speakers, have the people that are dialed in online up there as well. You’re getting the people in the audience and also the people up on stage that are dialing in… that’s kind of the vision and I’m hoping that we can get there.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, I love that. I mean, I think there are a couple of things that we talked about early on and virtual events because you have the physical event and virtual really.
You’ve got to have some things that are live that are only available live because otherwise, I can watch it pre-recorded and you’re always competing with your screen and email and other activities.
And the same thing with Q&As. I think that’s another lost opportunity where, whether it’s a webinar or a virtual event, there just aren’t enough good quality Q&As. And the reason is two things.
One, there’s too much talking going on by the presenter and they don’t leave time for it. Or two, it’s not that interesting and so people don’t have questions. Solving for that means getting your customers, having them share their stories enough that a similar customer would say, “Oh, I have a question. How’d you do this?” Because if it’s just roadmap stuff or “Here’s our technology” or “Here’s our point of view on something,” it’s very difficult to get engagement.
Lauren St. Amand: It’s a production, too. I’ve just got to say. You mentioned having people online being able to stay engaged with it, so we’re going to be having like camera crews—this is something new that we’ve never had to do before.
A CEO gets off the stage of doing his live keynote, he goes backstage to take off his microphone, we’re going to have the cameras so he can wave to the people at home and do a little tidbit and keep them engaged that way. It’s like a production. It’s a whole different production now.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, it really is and it’s going to be more expensive. That’s the thing that I know that a lot of folks are worried about. Live streaming video from a remote location at a high quality—it just adds cost.
I mean, obviously it’s worth it, because you get better quality recorded, but it’s a new thing, so you’re really almost doing two things at the same time. I think that’s one thing that people haven’t quite digested when they think about these hybrid events.
Lauren St. Amand: What’s great if you’re working with a production company that has done productions before though, is there’s a switch. So being able to do the production that you would normally do with the events and having it be broadcasted live, the teams collaborate with each other really well. They’ve been doing this, but they’ve been doing it for sporting events and TV shows and things like that, so if you have a company like that that has that background, I think it makes it a lot easier.
We just did a cost analysis. I think it was like 30 percent. I have the numbers here. Yeah, a little under 30 percent jump in increase in cost. It would be interesting to see what the benefits are of what we get out of it, who shows up…
Drew Neisser: Right. That’s so helpful, thank you for that… In my mind, I was imagining a 25% increase or even lower than that. But 30% is realistic and I think that’s just important for the folks listening. If you’re going to approach the hybrid event, get some more money, which means you need to get more partners there, which means you need to get more attendees there. You need money for production, but you also need money for marketing to justify that incremental expense.
Okay, so let’s wrap this up and say, first of all, what, in your mind, was the biggest overall surprise that happened as a result of this?
Lauren St. Amand: Definitely the surprise was the variation in the attendees. Having prospects here, it’s become a platform for the digital buyer for us for B2B. That was a surprise. We wanted this to be a customer event and we still do, but just getting that was definitely a bonus.
Drew Neisser: From a hurdle standpoint, were there any unexpected hurdles where you went, “Oh, we didn’t see this one coming,” that you had to deal with?
Lauren St. Amand: I think the scariest one is technology issues, right? Trying to not just learn it but we’re all still kind of challenged a little bit sometimes if the Internet goes down or things like that. But I think people really kind of—it’s part of it. They understand because we’re all doing it, so if something like that happens, it happens, and the show must go on so to speak, and you keep doing it.
[37:37] Dos and Don’ts for Building a Virtual Engagement Platform“Don't hold back on trying something new because you're afraid it's going to fail.” —@B2Bdigigirl @DuckCreekTech Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Let’s wrap up with, if you’re going to build a virtual engagement platform or community, as you did, two dos and a don’t?
Lauren St. Amand: To dos: Hire a really good company to support you, a great agency to support you.
Drew Neisser: That’s one.
Lauren St. Amand: That’s a definite, definite must-do. Um, let’s see, best practices…
Communicating it out, making sure that the subscription service—you’re not overwhelming people to come on and asking them for too much. You want to give them something in return. And continuous content, just keep building that content. And engage others, don’t be afraid to share things.
I think sometimes you can get customers or partners that might be a little bit scared of sharing competitive information. I think it really is helpful in this kind of a world, it helps our customers at the end of the day to be more innovative if they can engage with everybody. It’s for them.
Drew Neisser: Cool. And one don’t.
Lauren St. Amand: One don’t. Oh gosh… Don’t hold back. Don’t hold back on trying something new because you’re afraid it’s going to fail. It’s really, it’s been a lot of fun. Even any failures that we’ve had have been a lot of fun.
Drew Neisser: Retrospectively, of course.
Lauren St. Amand: Retrospectively, of course. And make sure your executive team is on board. It’s about communication too and a lot of people don’t understand what you’re trying to do, so explaining that up front and managing expectations is really important.
Drew Neisser: Awesome. Well Lauren, thank you so much for sharing this. I think it’s just such a terrific story. Thank you.
Lauren St. Amand: Thanks for having me.
Drew Neisser: Alright, and if you enjoyed this show and you’re ready to produce your own virtual event because you got inspired here, do me a favor and go to your favorite podcast channel and give us a rating. How about a five-star? Maybe even a six-star if you can pull that off at your favorite platform or share the show with a friend.
Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Audio production is by Sam Beck. Show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes visit as suggest future guests or learn more about the savviest B2B marketing boutique in New York City visit renegade.com. I’m your host Drew Neisser, and until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.