Smart Thoughts on Innovation From TEC Virtual 2020

During last week’s all-virtual Technology Exploration Conference, a lot of smart insights were shared about how associations can hold on during the pandemic with a mindset of innovation.

What was once novel is now old hat, or even worthy of mockery. And that’s because technology moves fast—especially now.

I was reminded of just how quickly technology evolves at this week’s ASAE TEC Virtual Conference—because it made me think of a prior conference experience.

Back in 2013, I walked around the conference wearing a pair of Google Glass, which was on the cutting edge at the time. It started a lot of great conversations. That was then.

During his high-energy opening keynote session at ASAE’s TEC conference, author and marketing guru Bonin Bough aired a video of a 3D-printed Oreo maker he helped to develop and put on display at the 2014 South by Southwest conference, and it just so happened the person trying out the cookie in the video he aired was wearing Google Glass. He poked fun at the wearer’s headwear, obviously, as one does when talking about Google Glass in 2020.

Google Glass was an innovative, but flawed, idea for interacting with the physical world at a time when people could travel to events. But now, in a world where interacting with others is likely to be done from a screen, it feels hopelessly out of date.

Nonetheless, it reflects a spirit of innovation that associations hope to latch onto. With that in mind, here are a few notable insights from TEC Virtual 2020:

Don’t just think of marketing automation as a way to save time. Certainly, having the ability to send emails or other marketing messages without having to physically hit the buttons is a helpful tool to have, noted Aimee Pagano, senior digital advisor with HighRoad Solutions. But the true innovation is how it allows you to take advantage of your data so that staff members are encouraged to think strategically. “And while that [time-saving] can absolutely happen,” she said, “it’s really just recalibrating hours and hours on manual tasks.” In the session, the American Payroll Association and the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery discussed how building a process for marketing automation helped to create stronger ROI for both organizations.

Maybe now is the time to think about digital transformation. It may sound counterintuitive, but this might be a good time to look into doing that big internal restructure. During a session on optimizing for personalization, Kevin Hastings, manager for web strategy at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, made a point that the pandemic has forced his organization to look across departments to rethink how things work organizationally. “One thing that’s been really great and eye-opening is that you have these conversations about all of these fragmented systems, and all of these capabilities that one department is working on,” he said. “And you have these lightbulb moments where someone in another department says, ‘Wow I had no idea that we’re putting together a comprehensive system for taxonomy.’ That’s really great.”

Look for inspiration outside of your industry. Too often, associations might look to other associations for inspiration on things such as user experience design. But the truth is, inspiration is everywhere—and ultimately you just want the best design you can get. For that reason, UX expert Sandy Marsico of the digital agency Sandstorm cited examples of consumer sites like The Gap and Domino’s during her session. Ultimately, big players like these help to set the stage for what users expect online. “Because people learn from social media apps, and they learn from the websites that they shop on, right? So, a consumer UX solution often solves your B2B problems,” she explained. “And you might say, ‘Wait a second, wait a second. I’m not selling a ton of stuff.’ But maybe you are. Maybe it’s not lights or fixtures, but users are used to shopping in this way: This is how they’re shopping at The Gap.” (Another smart insight from Marsico: When testing a user interface with a specific audience, aim for a small group of testers, around six people, to try it out. She said that beyond that point there are diminishing returns.)

Start thinking about how your events can take a hybrid form. During the final session of the conference—fittingly, a discussion about the importance of pivoting—a major topic that came up was the evolution of virtual events in a direction that supported hybrid events, in part because trends seem to suggest that virtual events tend to drive larger crowds than in-person events can. This may increase audience sizes but creates complexities that you will have to staff for. “Your event manager, in the future, may be a more technical position that has to understand technology; and your venue that you partner with in the future needs to be a technical venue where conversations about things like bandwidth become more important,” said Tristan Jordan, general manager of YM Careers by Community Brands. If going down this road, Jordan suggested limiting the amount of content aired online to encourage people to attend in person and to consider technology solutions for managing content distribution.

(shulz/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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