Over the course of my career, I’ve attended a lot of events – many in the capacity of being an exhibitor. There is one common truth that resonates at 98% of events regardless of industry: attendees and sponsors want different things. And in my experience, these differences are even more marked at cloud-focused events.
Cloud computing has been a growth market for the past few years, and therefore has been a hot topic. According to the latest research report from Market Research Media1 covering cloud computing products, technologies and services for the global market, the global cloud computing market is expected to grow at a 30% CAGR reaching $270 billion in 2020. Smart people in roles that may shift to include the cloud want to be proactive, and learn about what’s new in the market that may ultimately impact their jobs. Of the initial glut of cloud events being launched a few years back (similar to events focusing on mobile technologies), only a few big ones are even left standing.
The basic issue is that “cloud computing” is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of topics, subtopics and interests. There is infrastructure, private and public cloud providers, cloud platforms, CRM and ERP apps designed to run on the cloud, and arguably virtualization to a certain point. Cloud computing impacts IT, developers, business users, and executive management. So for any cloud-focused show, especially those that offer free or low-cost registration options, there’s going to be an equally wide range of attendee types with varying interests and varying levels of knowledge.
Only a small percentage of those attendees are likely to be actively looking (and have budget allocated) for solutions, and of those, a smaller percentage again will be interested in whatever product or solution or service that we (or any other vendor) happen to be offering. This holds especially true if the show in question is a broadly-focused cloud show - think any of the big ones with “Cloud” as part of the title, where expo passes are free, and it’s not too difficult to get a free or heavily discounted pass. Great for attendees, not so great for sponsor lead generation.
But….many sponsors have internal measurements, however questionable, that include things like “number of people scanned at the show, aka leads”. So when I say “hey – I’m not a good lead for you – I’m in marketing – but I’d love to see your demo” the default response is “sure, but I have to scan you.” I’m ok if they are scanning to track how many demos were shown, or how many t-shirts were handed out. But when I get a follow-up call saying “hey, I heard you stopped by our booth at Cloud X last week and I’d like to set up some time for a meeting to talk more about what we’re selling”, I am annoyed because it’s a waste of my time and that of the sales rep or telemarketer who is making those calls. Of course, I could just not ask for the demo in the first place, but while I’m at the show, I want to learn. (When I’m exhibiting, I always tell my coworkers staffing the booth to only scan people who are legitimately interested in learning more about our software).
I’ve found that this is less of an issue at smaller events. There’s less pressure, as the sponsors know they aren’t going to be scanning hundreds of attendees. Smaller events also are likely to be more tightly targeted, either by audience demographics or by topics. There’s more time for 1:1 conversations. And interestingly enough, often the exhibit halls have much better traffic than those at the larger events.
The best cloud event that I’ve been to (both as an attendee and as an exhibitor) in the past couple of years is Amazon Web Services’ user conference, AWS re:Invent. Why? It’s not a small event per se – it’s averaged 6000 attendees in the two years it’s been held – but it’s not a behemoth. The content is targeted to a smaller, better defined audience than just generic “cloud”. Registration fees are average – not super-expensive, but not cheap (and they do not give out free expo hall passes). And AWS has truly thought of all their stakeholders – employees, partners, customers, and prospects – and designed the conference program for all. Best yet, not a single exhibitor called me after giving me a free t-shirt at the show.
Short list of large cloud-focused industry events (note, I am not including user conferences/events held by cloud providers):
CloudExpo – June in NY, November in Santa Clara
Cloud Connect Summit – co-located with Interop, April in Las Vegas, October in NY, September in Shanghai
Cloud World Forum – June in London
Cloud Expo Europe – March in London
CloudBeat – September in San Francisco
Cloud Computing Expo Japan – May in Tokyo