Trade shows have been dying for many years to the point that they have been all but totally supplanted by vendor sponsored conferences. The vendors have become adept at the logistics of hosting large numbers of people for upwards of a week in cities like San Francisco, Orlando, Chicago and Las Vegas to name a few. Along with the care and feeding of masses of customers comes the messaging and at this point the vendor show differs from the conventional trade show considerably.
Where the trade show has been a great place to learn about new products and the reasons for their existence, the vendor conference has increasingly become a place where the vendors saturate their customers with marketing messages. Some learning may go on too but very often it involves learning how to use a vendor’s products. So it was a pleasure this week to encounter the SAS Premier Business Leadership Series (PBLS) in Las Vegas.
PBLS is certainly a vendor show complete with partner exhibit floor, keynotes and breakout sessions but there are the similarity ends. Unlike most vendor and conventional trade shows, the SAS event was by invitation and rather than devolving into a standard vendor performance, the SAS show’s explicit mission was to provoke thinking and idea exchange.
The conference could have easily been a long advertisement for SAS but instead it delved into a discussion of global economic trends and user driven breakouts that explicitly showed how analytics is making a difference in business performance in many vertical markets. There were presentations and discussions from
- Retailers (Macy’s, Staples, Chico’s Best Buy and others),
- Insurance and financial services (Transamerica Life and Protection, Chartis Insurance, UBS Financial, PNC Bank, Premier Bankcard, GE Corporate Treasury)
- Entertainment and hospitality (Harrah’s Entertainment),
- Public sector (LA County, Canada Post),
- Utilities (Oklahoma Gas and Electric, Northeast Utilities),
- Telcos (AT&T, T-Mobile, Research in Motion)
and too many more to list.
It was refreshing to hear from so many people who believe, like me that there is so much data generated in business today that old ways of using gut instinct are going by the boards and that analytics may be the only way to get an appreciation for what the customer thinks en mass. And the meeting was a clear indication that global businesses increasingly “get it” when it comes to collecting huge amounts of customer data through transactions as well as through social media.
Nuggets from some memorable ideas and interviews
Jim Goodnight, CEO and Founder of SAS said that education is one of the most important issues facing both our industry and country. His specific interest is in analytics, of course, but he makes a strong case for educating kids on using information derived from all the data we collect to make better, informed, decisions. According to Goodnight, SAS is teaching college professors to teach analytics-based decision-making and has sponsored an analytics major at NC State, which is oversubscribed by nearly four fold.
Jim Davis, CMO and wearer of many other hats at SAS, told me that in the last hundred years retailers had “…made buying decisions on gut instinct but that’s not longer possible because there is so much to know. In a down economy the mindset [of retailers] really changed and using analytics for assortment planning, merchandise planning and other key functions has made the difference between making a small profit and going out of business.”
No wonder then that analytics is enjoying a boom.
Gary King, CIO of Chico’s, White house/Black Market and Soma Intimates told me that analytics “Helps us maintain customer loyalty in a down economy.”
And finally, Eric Williams, CIO of Catalina Marketing, the company that prints your coupons at the grocery store told me, “In this industry things move so rapidly today. We used to say you don’t have to be first to get involved in a new technology, but today you need to be first or second.”
No doubt the influx of huge amounts of data from digital and social media helps to propel the demand for analytics and this sample only addresses a few retail examples.
But retail is not the only area where analytics has taken on new significance. The biggest market for SAS is in financial services, banking and insurance. Even Canada Post uses it. The thing that ties it all together is using information derived from the torrent of digital data to make better decisions—choices that make or save companies money.
Decisions are driven by some amount of deliberation and that’s where analytics come in and why coming together to think this week in Las Vegas was so important to the more than 600 mid- and senior-level executives who attended. It was an eye-opener and I wish you could have been there.