This week I’m at EMC World and given that they are opening the analyst/press portion of the show with a video of the Lotus F1 team, their core message perhaps should be, “Racing to the Future.” The F1 race is arguably the most technology-rich sport on the planet and a lot of us are waiting eagerly for the launch of E1, the electric equivalent.
But the theme for this year’s show is actually “Redefine.” Since this is a big show—they have 270 analysts and journalists here from 60 countries—the theme helps to build consistency into the event’s messaging. Here are some of my initial impressions of this year’s event.
Graphics and Hardware
One of the fascinating things about an EMC event is that they tend to be graphics- and video-rich and the speaker often shares the stage with EMC hardware. This would make more sense if EMC was a graphics vendor, but some vendors that make advanced workstations or graphics technology don’t use visual technology as aggressively as EMC often does. Including stunning visuals allows them to better hold audience attention and it reinforces the product brands that are on stage because attendees are staring at these brands for the entire session.
Rather than word charts, EMC tends to use pictures to make a point. For instance, on two slides showing savings, they had a picture of a dime to showcase the increment and then pictures of huge piles of money to showcase total savings. This helped reinforce the idea that the savings are huge. At these events, people can become numb to numbers. Huge figures are tossed around a lot so a billion dollars may not seem like much. By using a visual representation of piles of money, EMC gets people to see big savings as significant.
They also use a lot of comparisons. For instance, their new Elastic Cloud Storage system was presented as AWS in an appliance with significant savings over a cloud service. That conveys the key value in a sentence.
One of the things EMC does very differently is that they brief reporters and press before the event keynote. This allows them to set expectations and it provides the reporters the core elements they need to write their stories, which reduces the risk that any of the entertainment elements of the keynote will take them down a rabbit hole.
This year, EMC really changed up the keynote staging. Attendees entered a huge mist-filled room with large billboards filled with rotating customer testimonials. This flowed onto monster displays using a Matrix-like graphics-rich cascade where the letters waterfall down the screen to form the text. It was actually rather impressive. The seating was such that much of it was out of sight of the stage but in full view of the monster projection monitors. Rock music played at relatively high volume while guests entered. It had a high-quality show feel to it.
On entry, EMC’s CMO played on stage with an electric guitar, which was a nice, high-energy entry. The CMO should own shows like this because they are marketing oriented, and EMC follows that model. Between the CMO and Chairman Joe Tucci, there was a game-like video done to high-quality standards, but I was reminded that when you do something like this, you should avoid cute and really push the limits.
Tucci is the grand statesman in the IT space and he is very well liked. EMC has been very aggressive at using NPS (Net Promoter Scores) as a way to showcase their customer focus. Externally, competitors have been saying that EMC’s scores are falling. Tucci opened with the statement that they had achieved their highest score ever, but I wondered which side of this message is looking at real scores. Either side or even both could be seeing only what they want to see and the quality group at EMC has undergone changes.
Tucci is a masterful presenter. To handle the unusual layout of the event (e.g., the audience is massive), they protected Tucci and the slide in a 3D split using virtual depth to back the center edges of both images to the back of the virtual 3D space. It hit me that the real advantage of doing it like this is that remote viewers get nearly the same experience as the audience—with the exception of being able to talk to the folks at the conference personally.
In addition, remote speakers (like the CEO of SAP) can more easily be brought to the virtual stage. I think this would be more compelling if they had matched the staging, though. It was a bit disconcerting to move from a head to foot image to just a face view (I found myself wondering if the SAP CEO had forgotten to wear pants). When the Tucci and the SAP CEO spoke, you got what looked like a miniature Tucci talking to a giant SAP head, and suddenly the game Pac Man came to mind.
Wrapping Up: Redefine
One other initial impression I got was that the conference was a demonstration of the message. The staging redefined how you do a general keynote and their use of mobile devices during the sign-in and during the event showcased mobile integration, which also supports their message.
As they closed the keynote, they walked the audience through a series of examples, including Tesla, NEST and UBER, firms that are redefining automobiles, home automation and cabs—all of which are using mobile technology.
It is harder to do an event around demonstration, but demonstrations are far more powerful than wordy slides. Most events like EMC World seem to be a never-ending parade of slides filled with text—dull and infinitely forgettable. EMC used rich slides, unique staging, graphics, mobile technology and lots of examples to grab and hold audience attention and then drive home the message that firms need to redefine their IT infrastructure in order to better deal with a redefined world.
Walking the talk, showcasing that EMC is itself going through this exercise, is the most powerful part of this year’s EMC World.