Live events may remain digital for the long term — words of wisdom from Certain’s CEO

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30-second summary:

  • Certain, Inc. is an event automation and management platform headquartered in San Francisco whose clients include Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP. Their focus is with companies that have over a billion dollars in revenue primarily within technology, financial services, and health care.
  • We spoke with Certain’s CEO, Peter Micciche, to learn about their technology and how they’re working with customers to navigate the fundamental shifts in the event industry as a result of COVID-19.
  • Certain’s customers have had to scramble to replace live events that they had scheduled and move them to their platform to deploy virtually.
  • Micciche recommends that marketers stop thinking in terms of running large conferences virtually, but take larger conferences and carve them into many slices aimed at specific segments of buyers.
  • Micciche predicts that marketers will see increased capabilities from event technology providers that make it much more conducive to being immersed in a digital or virtual meeting.
  • Marketers who are moving forward tactically are not going to be as competitive as those who are stepping back and putting together a true virtual event strategy at the CMO level.

Certain, Inc. is an event automation and management platform headquartered in San Francisco. The company works with mid- to large-sized businesses to facilitate global events via the platform with a host of solutions including end-to-end event automation. Certain has an impressive roster of clients that includes industry-leading companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Deloitte, and SAP.

The event industry has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. Companies throughout the globe were forced to cancel in-person meetings and events as the virus took hold in February and March.

We spoke with Certain’s CEO, Peter Micciche, to learn about their technology and how they’re working with customers to navigate the fundamental shifts in the event industry as a result of COVID-19.

certain events automation

Q) Can you provide an overview of your professional journey and how you came work at Certain?

I’ve been in enterprise software for a long time and I’ve had the opportunity to work for large organizations, as well as small entrepreneurial companies. My experience is a summation of business intelligence in database technologies and applications.

I was originally introduced to Certain and the events industry by investors. Once I began looking at the industry, I discovered that it’s wrapped around this concept of event logistics.

I recognized that there was an opportunity to take advantage of the cloud to drive measurable results with event intelligence which can be used to inform better sales and marketing decisions.

My enterprise background includes scaling companies, and I saw that there was an opportunity to give CMOs the ability to capture event intelligence at scale and turn it into a lever to change their business trajectory. That’s the mission we’ve been on, until this latest left turn that we’ve all taken.

Q) Briefly describe Certain – what’s your elevator pitch?

Certain helps marketing executives generate measurable results from the investments that they make in events at scale. We do that by automating all the fundamental processes that companies need to support events.

Certain’s platform enables companies to capture the interaction engagement for thousands of attendees and events by gathering event data and aggregating it. We’re then able to convert the data into meaningful intelligence that contributes to sales, revenue, and the bottom line.

Q) Who is Certain’s target customer?

We focus on companies that have over a billion dollars in revenue, e.g., Fortune 500 and large companies. We have a strong focus in technology, financial services, and health care. We’ve got the largest nonprofit healthcare institution leveraging our platform right now to do significant community outreach.

Large companies recognize that with Certain they can sell and share their message on a large scale. Your typical experience with an event is you walk in, register, go into a conference facility, and listen to a keynote.

So, we tend to think of the event as a singular new activity and it takes a lot to organize just what I described. But if you’re a large company, you’re doing that 100 times, maybe 1000 times or 10,000 to 20,000 times a year. Our largest customers run anywhere between 5000 to 20,000 events per year.

These are thousands of events times tens, hundreds, or even thousands of attendees. The interactions associated with each of these attendees, who are buyers, flows into our platform, so Certain is providing tremendous insight into where that buyer is on their journey.

This enables us to provide an enormous amount of personalization, segmentation, and communication capabilities that so that marketers can continually reach out to those buyers to inform them of what’s next.

Q) How are you working with customers to accommodate events in the age of COVID-19?

The world’s gone digital and virtual overnight. Marketing teams are replacing live events with digital versions of the event which means that we’re not in the same physical place. We’re doing it remotely.

Our customers have had to scramble to replace live events that they had scheduled and move them to our platform to deploy digitally. We just announced Certain Digital to help accommodate this.

It’s the manifestation of several enhancements we’ve made including native integrations into ON24 and Zoom, two very prominent meeting and webinar providers. This will allow the marketer to plug those webinar technologies into our platform and continue as if they’re doing a physical event.

It’s seamless for the marketer. It’s seamless for the attendee and it’s seamless for whoever’s organizing the events. Although we’ve taken this left turn, we’re still on the same journey.

We’ve adjusted the mission a bit to account for more of a digital component, but it’s largely still the same value proposition that we’ve been supporting for quite some time.

Q) Do you think we’ll ever go back to live events?

Yes, we will go back to live events, but it’s difficult to predict when we can get back to critical mass in live events. Meanwhile, our fundamental economy runs on commerce, which is the buying and selling of goods and services. Events have been a huge contributor to helping support that activity.

Right now, marketers and sales teams are struggling to find effective ways of reaching their markets and their audiences. While anyone can turn on their camera and have a meeting, it’s necessary to orchestrate this on a scalable basis to capture the relevant data needed to continue with your sales and marketing activities.

I think this is a strong signal that says the future is permanently changed and that digital will be a significant component of event activity forever.

Q) What is the immediate impact that you’re seeing COVID-19 have on virtual events versus in-person events?

The rich in-person event experience has been replaced by a one-dimensional approach where we’re all looking at screens. In the short term, this has become necessary to convey whatever it is that you need to convey.

But attention spans are far shorter in a virtual environment versus a live event or conference where attendees can wander around, get a cup of coffee, have a conversation with somebody, or walk into another session.

My strong recommendation is that marketers should stop thinking in terms of running large conferences virtually. The B2B marketer, in particular, must leverage virtual events to bring attendees lower into the sales pipeline.

I recommend that marketers take the larger conferences that they might have done three months ago and carve them into many slices, then serve those slices in bite-sized components. This enables them to segment the buyer so they can provide meaningful content based on the buyer’s attention span and interest level.

We’re seeing that customers are trying to replace large events they have already scheduled, but you no longer need that event to occur at a single point in time. You can have as many events as you want.

For a marketer, this is a bit of a dream come true because you can truly segment events to your buyers’ needs and deliver content that’s specific to them.

Q) Were you seeing a shift towards more virtual events before COVID-19 impacted live events?

No. About eight years ago in a reaction to the 2008 crisis — before I joined Certain — there was a flurry of excitement around virtual events. At that time, there were some predictions that virtual events would replace live events, but that never materialized.

Now, eight years later, these virtual technologies are being used out of necessity, so there’s an opportunity for real innovation. I suspect we’re going to see more capabilities from Certain and others in the industry, which will make it more conducive to being immersed in a virtual meeting than the current technologies that are out there today.

Q) How can marketers navigate this shift to virtual events while still supporting business goals?

The first wave of virtual event activity was reactionary. People made quick tactical moves around events they’d already scheduled. Now we’re beginning to see companies step back and recognize that we’re in this for quite some time and the ripple effect will extend significantly beyond that first wave.

The event channel has been disrupted, so marketing and sales need to think through what these changes mean and what they can accomplish virtually.

We’re finding that the organizations that step back and think of it in longer terms, are better able to work with us as partners and take advantage of the complete spectrum of our technology.

Marketers who are moving forward tactically are not going to be as competitive as the ones that are stepping back and putting together a true virtual event strategy at the CMO level.

Q) What advice would you give other CEOs about helping clients and customers through the current uncertain environment?

It’s important to recognize that it’s highly unlikely that the world we were in sixty days ago is going to return. We are best suited to look forward and prepare for a changed world.

That means collaborating with customers, discussing their strategic options, and getting them in alignment so that you’re collaborating about whatever innovation is required.

Our large technology customers immediately recognized that they needed a long-term strategy. We work with a lot of leaders in various industry segments and those companies are typically astute at recognizing when the landscape has changed.

They immediately understood the need to take a strategic approach to dealing with this change, rather than stay mired in executing the same tactical things that they were doing before COVID-19.



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