A Tale of Two Cities: The Good, the Bad, and the Random from last week’s Marketo #MKTNGnation and Oracle #MME2017

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It was the best of times for Eloqua and Marketo users who were looking forward to convening over their respective marketing automation platforms at the two largest marketing automation industry events in the country: the Marketo Marketing Summit (hosted in San Francisco) and the Oracle Modern Marketing Experience (hosted in Las Vegas).

It was the worst of times for the technology vendor and partner community who were forced to play a game of planes, trains, and automobiles between the Bay area and the City of Sin. Due to some unfortunate scheduling: both shows overlapped by a day. For those trying to attend both, the networking opportunities and invaluable chances to catch up with industry friends (who feel like family) were cut short.

This lady would like to propose a gentleman’s agreement between the Marketing Nation and the Marketing Experience: let’s create some space between the shows next year, huh?

The Good, the Bad, and the Random from Marketo Marketing Nation Summit 2017:

Good: James Corden.
Anyone who has sat through a celebrity appearance at a conference knows how badly they can go. These conference delegates are savvy, and their affinity for a celebrity will always take a backseat to the pride they have for marketing technology and the modern marketing discipline.

Corden’s authenticity and the candid way he described the Internet’s role in his show’s success brought many of us back to digital content creation fundamentals.

I would be remiss not to offer some kudos to new Marketo CEO Steve Lucas who held his own amidst Corden’s gentle jibs and jabs, allowing us to laugh without feeling uncomfortable.

Good: The Balance of Sessions.
ABM took a backseat to AdTech, along with case studies, social, content creation, martech, leadership and change management. The Marketo team did their due diligence of packing the breakout session agenda with relevant topics for all (a challenge, no doubt, when the conference description boasts best practices for marketing, advertising, IT and services). There were also some motivational sessions on day 3 (if you had to go to #MME17, sorry, you missed them) delivered by Andrew Davis and Jay Acunzo that allowed marketers to step away from their essential functions, think big, and enjoy a couple colorful tales of innovation and success.

Bad: Moscone.
I have a love/hate relationship with the Moscone Center. Its hugeness reminds me of how my beloved industry has exploded in the last ten years, but when you have up-to 11 simultaneous breakout sessions set for 700 each – many of them are going to be less-than-half full. Empty chairs are like black holes, sucking energy from the room.

Bad: Confused culture.
Many Marketo-faithful expressed to me some disappointment in the level of energy and buzz at this year’s show. Not surprising, as Marketo is no longer the scrappy underdog who corners the small and mid-market. Founders Jon Miller and Phil Fernandez no longer hold leadership positions in the company, and last year saw additional role changes in finance, administration, and operations. Boasting clients like CA Technologies and Citrix – Marketo has grown up: a firmly entrenched enterprise player with seasoned executive leadership. I suspect Marketo will double-down on customer experience in an effort to reestablish the loyalty and passion of its user base – something that its competitor Eloqua failed to do following the acquisition by Oracle.

You know more songs by the band “Train” than you think – go figure.

The Good, the Bad, and the Random from Oracle’s Modern Marketing Experience 2017:

Good: Intimate Breakout Format:
In effort to create some more conversations, Oracle offered “Breakouts from the Breakout:” Mini-theater setups for thirty or so people in the partner expo area and around the conference center in hallways. They ran these during the two hour lunch breaks, during the keynote, and breakout sessions times.

Good: Focus on Best of Breed:
Despite the conference host, and the universal vendor predilection toward integrating acquisitions and patenting new “clouds” – there was a prevailing interest in exploring products outside of Oracle (or any other marketing cloud suite for that matter). It’s no surprise: marketing technologists are becoming more savvy and skeptical of too-good-to-be-true integrations.

The Bad: Product-focused Sessions:
Take note vendors: Delegates want case studies, not product pitches! There were early exits from sessions when it became clear that the product, not the user, was the focus. Similarly, it’s critical to know your audience whether or not you’re presenting a breakout or keynote. While Mark Hurd had the challenge of setting the tone for the conference with his keynote, some of his examples of bad customer service with car rental and airline companies fell a bit flat.

The Bad: Marketers are not ready for AI:
After viewing the case studies, several marketers confessed to us that they felt behind with AI (artificial intelligence, machine learning, you-name-it) – even the fundamentals. AI, while exciting and visionary, still feels out of reach and especially out of budget.

The Random:
For Eloqua-long-timers, the most valuable meetings and networking events were informal: most commonly held in cabanas by the pool. The original marketing automation generation is finding the content for MME less and less relevant.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;”

Both clients and vendors are beginning to acknowledge the immenseness of the digital transformation, and how technology and tools intersect with each part of a digital-first organization. Both Marketo and Oracle Eloqua have seen their annual shows grow in size and subject matter, trading specificity for breadth. Most organizations won’t deny that “customer experience,” or “leading in the engagement economy” are important, but neither Marketo or Oracle have succeeded in creating 3 days of relevance for the many audiences they attract.