Uniface user conference evolves as virtual knowledge base grows

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A blonde woman clad in a yellow tracksuit wielding a samurai sword takes measured steps onto the welcome screen of iCU2011. “Welcome to the second virtual Uniface user conference,” she says. Though she is not the “Kill Bill” star who made this particular ensemble famous, the information technology audience watching likely recognizes the founder of and from her appearance in the Quentin Tarantino-inspired ads for the event. “We made a series of viral videos,” says Zul-yaka Martis, marketing campaign manager for the Uniface product division at software development company Compuware Corp. “We used our developers, customers, people from the industry [and] analysts as actors.” The third installment in the series, which saw the Java Assassination Squad bolstered by the Uniface style and poised to take over the world, drew more than 1,000 unique views within the first month it was released, Martis said. It also highlighted an underlying strength in Compuware's approach to its virtual events, said Joerg Rathenberg, VP-marketing at Unisfair, an Intercall company that provides virtual events solutions. Compuware customizes the virtual setting, incorporating the faces of its employees throughout the experience. The crowd of people who stand bobbing in conversation behind the host on the welcome screen all work for Compuware. High-end video embedded in the booths and live video question-and-answer sessions at the end of the presentations increase engagement. Compuware didn't get there right away. Like many marketers, the company is building institutional knowledge of virtual environments one event at a time, relying on customer feedback and metrics to guide its evolution. “For a marketer, this is a goldfish bowl,” Rathenberg says. “It is a window into the world.” A little over a year ago, the Uniface division had never created a robust virtual environment. It was releasing a new version of its rapid application development platform and reaching out to customers, but the economic crisis made a face-to-face event impractical. Martis and her team worked with Unisfair and leveraged a follow-the-sun strategy that allowed the company to deliver a 4-hour event live in three different time zones on the same day. They developed virtual exhibition and conference halls, a resource center where attendees could download support materials and a networking lounge. Prerecorded presentations concluded with real-time question-and-answer audio sessions, and an area of the conference also offered attendees the opportunity to interact one-on-one with Uniface developers. Almost 1,000 customers attended the event. The event focused on educating the existing customer base, which included companies in Africa, Brazil, India and other countries that did not often make it to the in-person events Compuware Uniface hosted primarily in Europe. As a result, the division made a strategic shift: For minor releases, it will host virtual events; for major ones, Martis is looking at hybrid events that combine face-to-face and virtual components. In May, Compuware's Uniface produced iCU2011, focusing the virtual event on an emerging controversy that pits the popular Java programming language against the fourth-generation programming language it favors. The company invited a Forrester Research analyst to speak on the topic, expanding on one of his blog posts about the demise of Java—something that Martis said had earned him at least one death threat. Martis stoked the flames of controversy a bit more, renting third-party lists. “Last year, we were focused on our customers, and we wanted to broaden it to prospects,” she said. “So we rented Java developer lists. It's good for them to hear another story.” More than 500 people registered for the event, and Martis estimated that about 1,000 actually attended, watching in groups in offices around the world. The company maintained the follow-the-sun format, but updated content to reflect customer feedback from a year earlier. It added the people who now stand in the background, beefed up video offerings and converted the live question-and-answer sessions from audio to video. “We noticed that people stayed on for the full 30 minutes to watch the video and the Q&A,” Martis said. Martis welcomes each lesson. “We look through the metrics at how we can improve for next time and what are our learning points,” she said. “We know that we have new-business interest from Sri Lanka or Italy. We sit down with our salespeople to make sure we are following up. We promoted a minor release, and we see an uptick in the number of people who want to look at it or test it, which is great for our salespeople.”
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