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Event orchestration | 1 August 2019

12 Imaginative Events from IBM

Jacob Thomas

There’s a lot to learn from these 12 highly influential IBM events! Featuring jeopardy, dance parties, and one of the biggest tech events in the world.

IBM (short for International Business Machines) is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. For more than a century, it has been on the cutting edge of technology. But did you know it’s also an events powerhouse? It’s true!

In this article, we’ll look at a collection of 12 events, brand activations, and experiential marketing campaigns from IBM.

Listen to the VP of Events at IBM on the IN-PERSON Podcast

1. Think

Think - IBM Event MarketingSource: IBM

Think is IBM’s biggest conference of the year and features well-known speakers like Joe Montana and Tony Hawk; dozens of workshop sessions on various technology subjects; and plenty of networking opportunities. The 2019 event took place in San Francisco, CA and welcomed thousands of attendees during the four-day event.

What we really appreciate about Think is its commitment to progress. The company behind the conference really understands that technology and business are changing so they’ve dedicated their flagship global event to preparing attendees for the future.

Key Takeaway: What can you do to ensure your events are constantly breaking new ground and staying at the forefront of your industry? Maybe you need to bring in edgy speakers or partner with progressive companies. Work hard to give your attendees something new and fresh. Prepare them for the future and they’ll keep coming back year after year.

2. Jeopardy: The IBM Challenge

Source: YouTube

In 2011, IBM crafted a truly brilliant marketing campaign named Jeopardy: The IBM Challenge. Basically, IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, went head to head with two of Jeopardy’s winningest contestants (Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter) and won. Throngs of interested folks tuned in to watch the event and the marketing campaign allowed IBM to showcase the power of its technology in an extremely fun and engaging way.

Key Takeaway: This is a great example of a company thinking outside the box when it comes to event marketing. While you may not have access to a supercomputer like Watson, try to brainstorm ways you can differentiate your events from the competition.

3. IBM Is Making

IBM is Making - IBM Event MarketingSource: IBM

South by Southwest (SXSW) is one of the world’s most famous festivals. Every year, thousands upon thousands of people descend on Austin, TX to listen to live music, attend keynote speeches, and frequent company booths on the expo floor. IBM has become a SXSW regular over the years and always has an interesting exhibit on display.

In 2017, the exhibit was named “IBM Is Making” and attendees could use the Watson supercomputer to remix a song, design a t-shirt, or score a beer recommendation. The experiential marketing campaign also educated people on complex topics like Blockchain, quantum, and cybersecurity.

Key Takeaway: IBM does not own or run SXSW. Instead, they partner with the event by renting a booth. This allowed IBM to get their brand in front of a large audience and showcase their products. Moral of the story? You don’t need to always host your own conferences. Partnerships and other event types are important parts of a complete event strategy.

4. IoT Exchange

IoT Exchange - IBM Event MarketingSource: TROIA

IoT Exchange is an IBM event completely dedicated to AI and the internet of things (IoT). The event is broken down into three distinct conference tracks: Maximo, TRIRIGA, and Engineering. Attendees of each track learn how to use IBM products in their own industries. They also have the opportunity to network with peers.

Key Takeaway: It’s never a bad idea to create customer training events that teach folks how to better use your company’s products. This will make them more loyal and boost your event ROI.

If you don’t have the resources to create entire conferences dedicated to training your customers, we recommend hosting special sessions at your traditional conferences that allow customers to deepen their knowledge of your products.

5. Cognitive Dance Party

Cognitive Dance Party - IBM Event MarketingSource: Mustafa Khan

Have you ever been to a cognitive dance party? Probably not because, as far as we know, the 2017 event hosted by IBM in San Francisco was the only one of its kind. Attendees arrived to the Folsom Street Foundry Bar at 6am on a Wednesday morning. After registering, they used Watson’s Personality Insights feature to analyze their character based on a short survey and their tweets. Watson then assigned dance workouts to each person, powered the dance floor, and crafted breakfast recipes. It was a fun way for IBM to showcase the power of its supercomputer and entertain people at the same time.

Key Takeaway: First question: what does your audience like? Second question: how can your company jump on these trends and use them in its B2C or B2B event marketing strategy? Just like IBM tapped into the early morning dance party workout trend taking San Francisco by storm, your organization can plan a fun, trends-capitalizing event too.

6. Think Gov 2019

Think Gov 2019 - IBM Event MarketingSource: IBM

IBM’s Think Gov 2019 was all about technology for federal governments. The two-day event featured a full agenda of keynote speakers from both the public and private sectors, demonstrations of breakthrough technologies, and breakout sessions that dove deep into complex topics like blockchain, quantum, internet of things (IoT), and more. IBM was also able to score an impressive collection of event sponsors including Red Hat and Salesforce. Naturally, the U.S. event took place in Washington D.C.

Key Takeaway: Event sponsors may be the difference between a wildly successful event and a complete financial dud. But they can do more than simply ensure your company doesn’t blow its entire yearly marketing budget in one three-day weekend; sponsors also lend events credibility. Folks who are on the fence about attending may decide to buy a ticket to your event if they see that a company they respect is sponsoring the conference. So do what you can to secure quality event sponsors and enjoy the benefits.

7. Citizen IBM Blog Awards Ceremony

Citizen IBM Blog Awards Ceremony - IBM Event MarketingSource: Bizzabo

Citizen IBM is a division of the company that “promotes discussion on IBM’s corporate citizenship programs and how IBMers are donating time, talent and technology to assist communities around the world.” The Citizen IBM Blog Awards Ceremony was created to honor folks inside the IBM organization and the categories of prizes reflected the company’s foundational values such as improving the world.

Key Takeaway: While the Citizen IBM Blog Awards Ceremony honored employees, there’s no reason you can’t tweak the idea and create an award ceremony that honors your best customers! Imagine how honored they’ll feel if you recognize them for their loyalty, outstanding work in their community, or creative use of your brand’s products. If you’re looking for unique corporate event ideas, this could be the perfect fit.

8. The IBM Food Truck

Source: YouTube

At IBM Pulse 2014 (mentioned below), IBM put together another fantastic marketing campaign and started a “culinary revolution using its IBM Cloud technology. The campaign was called “The IBM Food Truck”. Here’s how it worked:

The IBM Cloud processed millions of ingredients. It then concocted brand new recipes, many of them bold and unprecedented, which professional chefs cooked and served out of a food truck at the event. The marketing campaign was a ton of fun for all involved and hinted at the incredible possibilities of IBM’s tech.

Key Takeaway: The IBM Food Truck wasn’t just a way to show off IBM’s insane technological achievements. It was also a way to engage event-goers and provide them with excellent customer service. How can you prioritize your customers at your next event and really serve them? Answer that question and your conference is sure to be a huge success!

9. IBM Pulse Conference

IBM Pulse Conference - IBM Event MarketingSource: Channel Daily News

The IBM Pulse Conference was a large service management conference that, according to Wikipedia, “brought together a community of IBM Customers, Business Partners, industry analysts, and technical experts to discuss the latest technology and best practices in the Service Management industry.” Unfortunately, Pulse is no more, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it!

One thing Pulse did really well was secure amazing speakers. In 2013, the event hosted Chris Gardner who is the inspiration behind the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” and an extremely successful businessman/investor. That specific conference also featured a live music performance from Grammy-winner Carrie Underwood.

Key Takeaway: Do whatever you can to secure well-respected speakers at your events. This will help you sell tickets and improve your event branding efforts. But don’t be mistaken. “Well-respected” and “well-known” are not the same thing. You don’t need to blow your event budget on celebrities. Just make sure that the speakers you do bring in are recognizable to your audience and people they’ll want to learn from.

10. IBM Webinars

IBM Webinars - IBM Event MarketingSource: IBM

IBM webinars are live, virtual events about AI, video marketing, data security, IBM products, and many other topics. To attend, folks just have to pre-register and then log in from their personal devices at the right time. It’s incredibly convenient for event-goers and allows IBM to educate its audience for a minimal cost.

Key Takeaway: Corporate event management is tough. There are so many details to keep track of, chief among them being budget. One of the best ways to ensure budget isn’t an issue for your next event is to host it online rather than in person. That way you won’t have to worry about renting a venue, paying a huge crew of workers, and flying in keynote speakers.

Audiences happen to love virtual events for the same reason: money. It’s much cheaper for attendees to log in on their computers from the comfort of their own homes and gain the knowledge they need than it is to fly to a location, rent a hotel room, and spring for expensive meals.

Plus, virtual events are great for your content marketing strategy in much the same way your blog or podcast is by providing on demand value to audiences. Speaking of, be sure to check out our IBM episode of the In-Person podcast

Who knows? A virtual event may be exactly what your target market wants from your company!

11. IBM’s Cognitive Cocktail Bar

IBM's Cognitive Cocktail Bar - IBM Event MarketingSource: MCC

We mentioned earlier that IBM has a rich history of crafting awesome SXSW marketing campaigns. Well here’s another one that we love!

In 2016, IBM wanted to develop a creative way to showcase their cognitive solutions to potential B2B customers. So they created a cognitive cocktail bar. Event attendees answered a few survey questions while registering and were given an RFID bracelet. When they wanted a drink, the bartender would scan their bracelet and Watson, IBM’s supercomputer, would then display a personalized cocktail based on their survey answers. How cool is that?

Key Takeaway: We can’t stress enough the importance of audience engagement! What can you do at your events to get your attendees more involved? Get creative like IBM and come up with unique and memorable campaigns that will delight your audience.

12. Think Summits

Think Summits - IBM Event MarketingSource: IBM

Think Summits are “IBM business and technology events happening in a city near you.” Attendees are able to build their technical skills, network with peers, and learn about IBM solutions from inspiring speakers. The best part? These events happen in cities all over the world so folks never have to travel far to attend.

Key Takeaway: Some of your audience will be unable to attend your flagship events. The timing might not work for them. They might not have the budget for travel. Their boss might be a complete tyrant and forbid them from taking time off. How do you counteract this and reach as many folks as possible with your events? Easy. Take your events to them. If you can swing it, your audience will be very appreciative — guaranteed!

Main Takeaways: How to Host Engaging Events Like IBM

When it comes to events, IBM is a gold standard. Whether the company is hosting its own conferences or simply crafting memorable experiences at other gatherings, it never ceases to fill audiences with awe and wonder.

While your organization probably doesn’t have the same budget and resources at its disposal, there are still a few things you can learn from the tech titan:

  1. Don’t be afraid to push boundaries and think outside the box. Get creative with your events and take calculated risks.
  2. Do your best to make your events accessible. You can do this by planning a roadshow or hosting your events online.
  3. Remember and adhere to event marketing best practices (like securing quality speakers and conference sponsorships or using event software).

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