Plenty of professionals nod along when terms like “machine learning” and “cloud computing” come up, but the truth is, most people don’t have a firm grasp on what these technologies do and how they can be applied to solve modern business challenges. Enter: Google Cloud Next. The inaugural user conference, held March 8-10 in San Francisco, aimed to educate 11,500 customers, partners, developers, IT leaders, engineers, press, analysts and cloud enthusiasts on the benefits and applications of the Google Cloud Platform.
In addition to more than 200 sessions centered on an “imagine, learn, build” theme, Google Cloud Next featured four invitation-only summits, Google Certified Professional exams, codelabs offering self-paced tutorials, a “Meet the Experts” zone and full-day training bootcamps. The brand will also host smaller iterations of the conference at roadshows in London, Tel Aviv, Madrid, Amsterdam, Milan and Tokyo. So how did the tech giant’s inaugural cloud conference play out? We tapped “Googlers” Karen Fiester, head of b-to-b events, and Philip McDougall, creative director, to get the inside scoop. Following is an excerpt from our conversation. Agency: Sparks, Philadelphia.
Event Marketer: What was the fundamental goal of Google Cloud Next?
Philip McDougall: Education was an enormous part of it… The event had three pillars involved—imagine, learn and build. We say “Meet those where they are and then take them further than they thought possible.” Some [attendees] are ready to move fully into the cloud, whereas others are taking their first gentle steps. But we put the aspiration there of where their business and where this industry can move.
Karen Fiester: Machine learning is at the core of what Google does and that term can seem really scary. That’s a reason this conference was so important—to see that it’s not, and that there are a lot of wonderful things that come out of it for businesses.
EM: What kind of extra curricular activities could attendees engage in?
PM: We used a lot of experiential elements to bring to life the product stories and the product technology in many different ways… But instead of having large rock concerts, it was more about having after-hours sessions where everybody has a drink in their hand and continued to mingle and connect. It was a real opportunity to bond, connect and learn from one another, and that was the central focus of everything. More so than fringe entertainment for the sake of fringe entertainment, which serves no real purpose to the community we built at Next.
EM: Is it important to offer attendees networking opportunities?
KF: Networking is the heart of it. We’re very excited about the future of this product group and we wanted to share that with our customers in real time. One of the most popular parts was the Meet the Experts area… Everything we did was with the intention of building conversation and creating networking opportunities and opportunities to meet people and connect and have relationships that continue on past the event.
EM: Did you leverage any event technology tools?
PM: The challenge for us was a very diverse audience. We had to span all of those audiences and make sure everything we created was accessible to all… Rather than be showy with technology, we used a lot of analog with the digital to make sure people had hands-on [experiences] and everything was accessible.
EM: Why does Google value live events?
KF: People place a lot of trust in our company when they use our products for Google Cloud because they’re running their companies on us. So, if all of their interactions with us are online, they don’t really get to know who we are. That’s why it was so important to have a lot of engineers and products people [at the conference].
PM: It’s having opportunities to be face-to-face with your target audience. At the same time, it’s that interchange of information. One of the things Google Cloud focuses on is working side-by-side with customers and partners to develop things… It’s those “human moments” that drive value.
Gallery: The Inaugural Google Cloud Next Conference