How to Prepare for Global Marketing Events: An Interview with Aviv Canaani of IBM

March 23, 2017 Carlos García-Arista

global marketing

Aviv Canaani

There is no low season in Barcelona as far as tourism is concerned; throughout each year, we receive millions of visitors. Even considering this, hosting the Mobile World Congress made quite an impact on the city and global marketing.

Spring had sprung a bit early, and attendees must have enjoyed a lovely stroll to the Fira Gran Via. The latest tech innovations drew more than 108,000 to the MWC.

Global business events like this are essential for marketing transformation, as they help marketers align their brands with meaningful conversations. Of course, among all the spectacular announcements and exciting demos, it can be difficult to make oneself heard. But I spoke with someone who managed to get his message across loud and clear.

Aviv Canaani is the content marketing manager at IBM MobileFirst and serves as editor-in-chief for Mobile Business Insights. In Barcelona, he highlighted IBM-focused content that was born at the intersection of storytelling, creativity, and technological innovation. For example, he shared the story of how Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence program, was fed thousands of images, literary works, articles, and even songs related to Antoni Gaudí and Barcelona to become an expert on the local architect (the one, by the way, who inspired Toyo Ito when he was designing the MWC’s venue). In addition, for IBM’s booth for the event, Watson and architect Michael Szivos served up the first thinking sculpture. And finally, he shared the story of a creative, famous chef, and his work with a cybernetic cook.

Here’s what Aviv Canaani told me about how to get more from global business events.

As a content leader, how do you prepare for global business events like the Mobile World Congress so that you make the most of them?

First, I set my key performance indicators (KPIs). In events like Mobile World Congress, we usually have two separate kinds of KPI goals: First, we have the goals on the ground, like how many people we want to get to visit our booth and come to our session. Then, we have digital goals, taking advantage of the people who might not be at the event but follow it online, whether it is via social, blogs, etc. In digital, our KPIs are based on both engagement and demand-generation metrics, as our goal is to get people to click on our social content and visit our own pages.

IBM brought great stories to the MWC this year: disruption and dodo birds, the USA Cycling Women’s Team, and the first thinking sculpture, inspired by Gaudí and created with Watson. Content creates engagement in the long run—but in the middle of the MWC, it’s difficult to cut through the noise and competition. How does storytelling help?

Storytelling is everything. Being able to tell an engaging and interesting story that may interest our target audience, that’s what we need to do in marketing. If we don’t see our marketing efforts as stories but rather like a lot of separate, different initiatives, we can never be successful. So whether we do it via social channels, blog posts, or videos, we always try to create a story.

At MWC, we partnered with our ad agency, Ogilvy and Mather, to tell the story of how architect Michael Szivos (founder of SOFTlab) worked together with Watson to build a thinking, cognitive sculpture inspired by Gaudi. We didn’t only create the booth itself with that sculpture; we also were able to create a lot of content in social (videos, images, and so on) that really helped tell that story of how you can create something as imaginative and original using a supercomputer like Watson.

We had several stories around creating with Watson. The sculpture was one of them. Another thing that we did there was partner with a world-famous chef from Barcelona, Michelin-starred Chef Carles Abellán [Trained at El Bulli and an icon in modern Spanish cuisine]. Chef Abellán used Chef Watson to get inspired and create different items for his menu—so we had a group of thought leaders and influencers within the mobile space come and participate in that dinner, eat his food, discuss the future of cognitive and mobile, and explore how Watson can really help inspire other creative ideas that enhance human capabilities.

Social media ROI can be more difficult to prove in terms of its direct impact on conversion. How can content help as part of the overall marketing strategy for an event like this one?

Great marketing is marketing that fuses creativity with analytics. What we’re doing in digital and social is actually implementing some tracking tools to show how all the stuff that we share drives people down our marketing funnel to our on-domain and off-domain properties (such as Mobile Business Insights). Because of our analytics, we’re able to understand the entire buyer journey—from the very early stages when someone clicks on a link in our social channels, all the way down to the point where he or she becomes a client. Those tools are critical to our process, as our goal is to show content ROI.

I can’t share any numbers regarding demand generation from Mobile World Congress—but I can say it was one of our most effective campaigns yet, as we were able to show the ROI from social and digital.

What recommendations do you have for marketers looking to connect with global audiences on business events? Are there specific strategies or types of content you recommend?

At Mobile World Congress, the audience is very diverse and international—so we wanted to make sure we didn’t focus only on US-based audiences. The people we partner with, whether it’s the architect, the chef, or our influencers, come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They’re not only from different countries, but also from different industries: we had people who are experts in machine learning, people who are experts in retail, in healthcare, etc. We understood that our audience is very diverse, and that in order to best reach them, we had to create different types of content that would be relevant to each target audience group.

For example, we took the work we did with our healthcare influencer and used paid media to target healthcare audiences. We did the same thing with retail, and with Spanish influencers to target people in Spain. Really understanding the importance of targeted marketing—of being able to create the right kind of content for the right kind of people at the right time—is vital.Image attribution: IBM España

Image attribution: IBM España

How are content marketers getting it wrong with global business events like the MWC? What can they do to improve their results?

The first thing [to remember] is business value. I think it’s key that marketers understand how [their work] affects their businesses. Long gone are the days where digital and social marketing were evaluated based just on page views and retweets. Our companies are being evaluated by the market based on their bottom lines—so marketers must show their companies how their activities support their bottom line and are effective. A creative video is worth nothing if there are no business results to back it.

The second thing marketers need to do if they want to be successful is to really understand who their target audiences are and create relevant assets for them. So again, with healthcare-related content, you target healthcare people; with retail content, you target retail people. When people feel that the content is talking to them, they’re more likely to respond and engage.

The third point is understanding that no matter who comprises your target audience, even if they’re executives and CEOs, they are all human beings. You want to create content that they will enjoy watching, content that will provoke reactions, whether it’s funny or emotional. For example, the video [above] we did with Watson and the cognitive sculpture was awe-inspiring. It’s a video that our target audience enjoyed watching, and we saw that in our analytics based on clicks, shares, and, eventually, online registrations.

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