Cocktails and connections

Monday 10 November 2014 by Megan Kettle

Megan Kettle, Emily Hind, Tim Henman and Philippa Davies.

I, alongside my esteemed colleagues, James, Philippa and Emily, journeyed to Twickenham Stadium last week for IBM’s annual BusinessConnect event. The agenda promised a day of collaboration: exchanging ideas and discovering the latest business insights. Cocktails, Tim Henman and Will Greenwood were also promised. We couldn’t say no to that.

The day began with breakfast – and a roundtable session with IBM experts and industry professionals. The discussion points weren’t anything new in the marketing arena (the need for real-time personalisation and integrated content across platforms), but what IBM brings to the table really is. The B2B heavyweight provides the technology that can enable it all seamlessly, ensuring businesses can effectively communicate with and engage their audiences whenever they are online – and at any touchpoint on the customer journey.

The briefing revealed a surprising stat: 9 out of 10 people are prepared to spend up to 20 minutes providing personal information to brands if they believe the value exchange justifies it. Consumers expect you to treat them with the importance they deserve – tailored offers and meaningful real-time experiences are just the beginning.


We moved on to the welcome address. David Stokes, Chief Executive, IBM UK and Ireland, kicked off proceedings with his Australian twang and a thought-provoking speech. Caroline Taylor then joined him for the opening keynote, sharing her insights as Vice President, Marketing Communications and Citizenship. The rise of the CIO was a hot topic. The explosion of technology and data in day-to-day business has taken an exec who never used to get much airtime in the boardroom and turned them into everyone’s best friend – as suggested by WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell at ad:tech last month.

Unlikely bedfellows?

When the average consumer thinks about IBM, sport isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. But technology from IBM underpins a number of global sporting events. Insights and data enrich the consumer’s experience of iconic events like the Wimbledon Fortnight and the US Masters.

Ian Ritchie, CEO of the RFU, and Mick Desmond, Commercial Director at Wimbledon, expanded on this in a panel discussion with Stephen Smith, Vice President Software Group, IBM UK and Ireland. The Wimbledon Fortnight has recently been recognised as Sports Brand of the Year at the 2014 BT Sport Industry Awards. The award is illustrative of the success of Wimbledon’s digital strategy, with the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) raising the bar every year. The motivation behind this continuous improvement is admirable – the AELTC doesn’t need to execute with such passion for commercial gain; the Wimbledon Fortnight is over-subscribed every year. The AELTC operates with the long-term goal of making Wimbledon’s digital presence the next best thing to being there.

For Ritchie, the motivation is “England Connected”. The RFU needs to foster an empathy and a connection with all players, not just those walking out of the tunnel at Twickenham. “England Connected” is emblazoned across every RFU shirt, to remind those who wear it of where they have come from and what they are representing. Ritchie is faced with a home World Cup next year and, while it’s important to get the nation behind the team, the real task is to ensure the dialogue continues long after the final, so the game’s profile continues to grow.

Elementary, my dear Watson

The morning sessions concluded with a presentation on IBM Watson. IBM is a pioneer in cognitive computing and Watson is the figurehead – a computer that can get smarter and learn with every interaction. With one in two CEOs reporting that they don’t have the information they need when making critical decisions, a solution like IBM Watson could revolutionise their business. Watson is cognitive computing from a human perspective – it understands the nuances of the spoken word and examines the context of information to drive the right conclusions from big data.

Data unspoken

We all know personalisation is a prerequisite if a brand is to earn consumer attention. But how can brands further enhance that experience? A number of leading industry professionals joined Alison Orsi, Vice President, Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM UK and Ireland, for an insightful panel discussion that touched upon the disruptive behaviours of brands Nespresso, La Redoute, Burberry, Homebase and National Rail – to name but a few. There was a focus on how explicit data is still driving personalisation. But, increasingly, it was noted that brands need to move beyond that and look at the implicit data – consumer information that’s not submitted intentionally. Users expect brands to be acquainted with their likes and dislikes even without providing the data to enable them to do so.


The importance of data (and turning it into actionable insight) was a prevalent thread throughout the day and our afternoon was spent hearing from representatives from Lend Lease and STA Travel about how IBM is helping them navigate the changing landscape of HR. We were left with an overwhelming sense of the diversity of IBM’s portfolio. To be non-industry specific but offer such tailored services and solutions across the board is impressive.

Wrap-up with the stars

The day drew to a close with a sprinkling of celebrity. Sam Seddon, Wimbledon and RFU Client and Programme Executive for IBM, hosted a lively panel session with tennis legend Tim Henman and ex-England rugby star and World Cup winner Will Greenwood. The trio discussed how data and analytics deliver insights that power a level of engagement for sportspeople unrivalled by anything else. Henman noted how data allows players to capitalise on crucial opportunities that can win a tennis match, while Greenwood agreed that if you’re not using statistics, you’re definitely losing.

Sam Seddon, Tim Henman and Will Greenwood at IBM BusinessConnect.

There were plenty of laughs – mostly triggered by Greenwood’s somewhat colourful language. And a jibe from the audience about Henman’s last professional tennis match at the Davis Cup led him to proclaim that Jamie Murray “doesn’t know his arse from his elbow!”

Jokes aside, Henman and Greenwood’s enthusiasm for data and the benefits it brings to their fields really drove home the overarching message of IBM BusinessConnect. Data’s going nowhere and brands not only need to harness the right tools to turn it into insights that can really help their business, they need to embrace new methods of interpreting the almost limitless information now at their fingertips.

The day finished with some delicious cocktails concocted by Watson and some time to catch up with our clients at the reception.

And, of course, we managed to wangle a few photos with Tim and Will.


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