About 60 people attended the DSA @ Skydeck Chicago event last night at Willis Tower. By all accounts, I think it was a great event with the right mix: exciting venue, insightful panel and meaningful networking.
After attendees made their way to the 99th floor, they were served a drink and began taking in the impressive views of the city below.
Photo courtesy of Manolo Almagro
At 7 pm, I opened with welcoming comments and turned the podium over to DSA president Jared Miller. The idea for the Chicago meetup was Jared's and he was pleased to see how it had all come together.
Jared introduced the panel, which included Geoff Alexander, executive vice president & managing partner, Lettuce Entertain You; Manolo Almagro, VP, digital shopper marketing, TPN; and Scott Wilson, vice president, eCommerce, United Airlines.
Outside of the overview I gave on DSA and the brief overview Manolo gave on TPN, there were no formal presentations. Jared, an adept moderator, posed questions to the panel over a 45-minute period addressing topics such as omni-channel strategies, staying up with technology and mobile apps.
Scott Wilson of United talked about "collapsing the channels" within the company in order to give the customer a consistent, seemless experience. He acknowledged the challenge to present content and design across multiple platforms. United is addressing this issue by using responsive design
, which "auto reconfigures" the content for various types of screens.
While Geoff Alexander is part of Lettuce Entertain You, a restaurant group of 90+ restaurants across eight states, he heads up the four-unit fast casual Asian restaurant concept called Wow Bao. So he understands the challenges a small business faces when it comes to technology. A good experience using a voting kiosk in the 2008 presidential election led him to implement self-ordering kiosks in 2009. "It was pretty slick three years ago, but technology changes." He talked of relying on his vendor partners since he doesn't have a large IT staff.
Manolo Almagro of marketing agency TPN remarked that his time in Asia gave him a perspective on what is possible with mobile technology. He said that in Asia people have adopted a lot of mobile technologies in their everyday life. "So it's important to look beyond the United States" for innovation. When answering the question about how he stays on top of technology, he said he talks to young people about how they spend their day and how they use technology to communicate.
Scott said "you have to be addicted to learning, it has to be a habit and you have to keep your eyes and ears open." He explained that United recently started an R&D team with no day-to-day responsibilities and that they work on projects that have a 30-day turn in order to test new things quickly. He also assured the audience that United is listening to its customers through all of its feedback channels and through social media. "We're reading the tweets," he said.
Even though they are a small business, Geoff wants Wow Bao to be at the forefront of technology. They're using QR codes, have online ordering and are considering connecting digital menu boards to their POS system. They've even introduced a way to send customers credit at Wow Bao through text messaging. Geoff relayed a story about a man who tweeted "Going to 'business' dinner (at) Wow Bao. Can any 1 tell me if it's going to suck as much reviews suggest." Wow Bao tweeted back to the customer and sent coupons to his cell phone to comp his meal and ask him to give the restaurant a try. That innovative approach earned them a lot of press, including an article in USA Today
"Best panel I've ever listened to," Jennifer Nye of Kohler emailed me after the session ended. I have to agree.
Attendees were given the opportunity to go up to the 103rd floor Skydeck where they could stand in a glass box looking 1,353 feet below, if they dared. For some, it was too much; for others, they jumped up and down and even layed down on the glass floor while getting their picture taken.
For our next local event, we're teaming up with the Digital Place-based Advertising Association (DPAA) and Media Cross Media (MXM) for an event in New York City on Aug. 28
on DOOH/mobile integration.