Bazaarvoice social commerce summit 2009

Bazaarvoice is an American company providing the infrastructure and operational support for online “customer voice” services to brands and retailers, typically in the form of systems to facilitate consumer reviews of products offered on e-commerce sites. They brought together their own product and marketing staff, representatives from key clients, key service partners, external experts and visionaries, and prospective customers such as ASICS, to a day-long look at the social aspects of online commerce.

Forgive the text-heavy post, but I think the content is worth it, so please bear with me while I tell you about Ze Frank and Ian Jindal.

Bringing together different stakeholders, the event managed to maintain a very strong consistency, while I felt it offered something of value to each of the participants. On the agenda:

  • inspirational speeches, with wide-ranging considerations about people’s behaviors, future technical possibilities, fundamental management principles
  • a look at the development of the Bazaarvoice product and its key features, as well as its strategic possibilities
  • practical implementation cases, presented by Bazaarvoice clients
  • networking opportunities with vendors (Bazaarvoice and other event sponsors or attendees, such as P&G agency Six and Co) and other participants (I talked to people from UK footwear retailers JD and Faith, and from El Corte Inglés)
  • awards to Bazaarvoice clients for outstanding use of the product

The overall feel of the day was: dense and intense, with a nice mixture of the different components, and a very simple setup (one screen on stage, drinks at the back of the room, all presentations except for one moderated panel discussions), but very very well done. Not all speakers were of equal skill, but the short time allotted to each ensured it never was painful.

I was impressed by the high number of external “motivational” speakers: four of them for the day. One of them was terrible (the WIRED UK editor, with a great-looking but buzz-overkill, boring and questionable presentation, though not everybody agrees), one was quite inspirational but not extremely relevant, and bordering on the obnoxious (James Caan, self-made-man, venture capitalist, and UK telly personality, who rewarded questions with a copy of his “best-selling” autobiography, and told female-unfriendly jokes), and the other two were absolutely outstanding.

Ze Frank, himself quite self-assertive and not shy of self-publicity, told incredibly compelling stories of consumer engagement. Provoking responses in people, and connecting in very personal ways with all sorts of people. His projects border on the situational art, and in themselves bear a limited relevance to our business processes, but explore the patterns and possibilities of large-scale personal interaction and herd effects. His presentation was a pleasure to attend, and his level of energy set the tone for the day.

Frank told moving stories of exchanges between random strangers that grew into fairly intimate relationships. He clearly delineated the potential of emotional involvement, and showed examples of his careful nurturing such involvement, turning them into “projects.” He is a businessman and sometimes behaves like a psychology researcher, playing around with study subjects, but in the end genuinely connects with people as an individual, which makes the rest possible.

He serves on the advisory board of Bazaarvoice, and I can totally see how that brings value to the company’s customers. Several attendees felt he gave the best presentation of the day, but for me the jury’s still out between Frank and Jindal.

Ian Jindal closed the day with a dazzling presentation whose title included epiphenomenology and branched out into data theory (awesome stuff that needs its own post) and augmented reality. The piece was inspirational and far-sighted, but also felt grounded in practice, applicable — particularly the stuff about augmented reality, which has tremendous bullshit potential and was treated here in a very knowledgeable fashion. I gathered later from his bio that he’s worked as head of online ops at the BBC and made big money with e-commerce for Littlewoods, so it should be no surprise.

His most provocative point was about the appropriate KPI for e-commerce, the digital equivalent of the brick-and-mortar sales per square foot. Conversion rate? Basket size? Number of visitors? All pieces of micro-data, not interesting enough to measure success. His proposal: profit per engagement-second, or the amount of money you make per slice of time a consumer pays attention to you. (The BERG poster horizonless projection of Manhattan was probably an outstanding success in this regard, having sold out in a few days.) I’m not sure I fully grasp this idea, but I think it was earth-shattering, actually.

I will try to cover the more practical presentations in a follow-up post. See on Twitter what others had to say.

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