Acquia Engage: The Austin, Texas, Takeover, Day 1

Acquia Engage took place in Austin, Texas, and featured presentations from partners, customers, and an inspirational keynote from Erik Weihenmayer.

I’ve been attending and writing about Acquia Engage now for a few years so I mean it when I say that this year was something special. Maybe it was the new location in Austin, maybe it was the group of customers and partners that attended, but there was an energy you could feel. Not a crazy, eight cups of coffee type, but a cool and collected feel.

We set up shop at the Fairmont Austin, nestled right in the heart of the city, next to the river. For three days, attendees met and networked, visited our Innovation Stations to ask questions and see product demos, attended brilliant and inspiring presentations, and of course, ate a lot of good food.

Acquia Chief Marketing Officer Lynne Capozzi at Acquia Engage 2018
Acquia Chief Marketing Officer Lynne Capozzi speaks at Acquia Engage 2018 at the Fairmont Austin in Austin, Texas.

Day 1 kicked off with our Chief Marketing Officer Lynne Capozzi serving as our master of ceremonies. She set the tone for the whole show with the announcement of our Customer Experience Trends Report. This conference was not about Acquia; it was about our customers and our customers’ customers.

After, Capozzi brought up Acquia CEO Mike Sullivan to give a state of the union address about the company. Acquia has experienced record growth and momentum over the last year. Through the investment in new products, we’ve been modernizing our existing Acquia Platform to adapt to the ever changing market.

It’s not just Acquia; the whole space is changing. The Acquia Platform is not only used to power ambitious websites but many of non-web experiences like car dashboards, digital signage, kiosks on cruise ships and retail stores and so on. This investment will continue, not just for Acquia, but across all industries as well.

Acquia CEO Mike Sullivan at Acquia Engage 2018
Acquia CEO Mike Sullivan speaks at Acquia Engage 2018.

Innovation Showcase

Next, Sullivan introduced Drupal founder and Acquia CTO Dries Buytaert to present Acquia’s very first Innovation Showcase. Born out of the former “Mother of All Demos,” the Innovation Showcase not only including product updates and demos – most notably this year, Acquia Lightning, Acquia Cloud, and Acquia Lift – but customers talking about their success with Acquia’s products.

Acquia Engage: The Austin, Texas, Takeover, Day One
Drupal founder and Acquia CTO Dries Buytaert speaks during the Innovation Showcase at 2018 Acquia Engage in Austin, Texas.

First to take the stage was Erica Bizzari, digital marketing manager for Paychex. Paychex provides solutions for payroll, human resource, and benefits outsourcing for more than half a million small- to medium-sized businesses nationwide. For B2B business like Paychex, having a top-notch website is so important. But migrations, redesigns and platforms can take a toll on traffic and leads if not carefully planned and executed.

Migrating the website and upgrading to a new content management system (CMS) had to be carefully balanced with qualitative and quantitative data to ensure traffic – specifically organic traffic – and conversions did not decline.

After the new website was launched on Drupal and the Acquia Platform, Paychex measured success not only by leads, but also by the happiness of the team. The web team was no longer frustrated with the environment it had to work in. In addition, the successful migration of the homepage led to the migration four additional subdomain. The Acquia Platform significantly sped up Paychex’s time to market from 12 months to four months.


 Erica Bizzari of Paychex speaks at Acquia Engage 2018
Erica Bizzari of Paychex speaks with Acquia CTO Dries Buytaert at Acquia Engage.

The next customer to share his story was Engage favorite Eric Black from NBC Sports Digital. Acquia’s relationship with NBC Sports began after the London Olympics. At the time, they were on a proprietary CMS which had scale problems during the games. NBC Sports needed something that could scale for major events, but also for smaller ones as well. Beyond scaling for traffic spikes, there are many other type of scale associated with events of this size: scale of content production, content creation and user behavior, all around events. The tricky part is dealing with the fluctuating numbers. For example, when the Kentucky Derby airs, traffic jumps from zero users to millions in five minutes.

What Black has learned from these large events is that to succeed you need to continuously evolve. The planning and iteration around the next Olympics starts right after the last one ended. The biggest measure of success is sometimes silence. The press and social media are ready to jump on any tech failure during the broadcast of the live stream. They do happen; but having a smart disaster recovery plan in place means no one on the outside notices a thing. When dealing with events, you need a plan that covers where to go with your stack should something go wrong, how to manage and operate your redundant platforms and so on.

Michael Mancuso, digital product owner at Wendy’s, speaks to Dries Buytaert at Acquia Engage 2018.
Michael Mancuso, digital product owner at Wendy’s, speaks to Dries Buytaert at Acquia Engage 2018.
Wendy's Acquia Engage 2018
Wendy's did a little Acquia Lift personalization for all of the Acquia Engage attendees.

Last but certainly not least, Buytaert was joined on stage by Michael Mancuso, digital product owner at Wendy’s. Personal relationships are what Wendy’s marketing philosophy is built on.

To help build those relationships online, Wendy’s has been using Acquia Lift to replicate a sense of home with the digital experiences. Considering that one out of 10 Americans visits Wendy’s, that’s a lot of houseguests.

Wendy’s started small with testing creative and CTAs using Lift. Once data had been collected, they were able to use it to personalize content around newly released new products instead of having to use traditional methods like signage.

The volume of data coming in has given Wendy’s the ability to experiment in the morning and have insights by evening. The results have been engagement, conversation, retention improvements for Wendy’s.

The Future Is Conversational

Wrapping up the morning sessions was VMLY&R with their presentation The Future Is Conversational. Jeff Geheb, chief experience officer and Leah Sand, director and practice lead, content systems, spoke about the importance of human-centered design. One thing that marketers need to understand is what mix of content and channels is right for the audience they are trying to reach. It’s not just publishing any and all content on all channels, it’s studying who is using what and why.

And while research is really important, you will never truly understand your audience until you put yourself in those shoes. Without this, you miss opportunities for innovation and the chance to build a lasting relationship. We are living in a new design paradigm where users need trust with brands and brands need to build and foster that trust. How can they do that? Through conversation.

VMLY&R's Jeff Geheb and Leah Sand at Acquia Engage 2018
VMLY&R's Jeff Geheb and Leah Sand speak about a human-first approach approach to marketing at Acquia Engage 2018.

Taking a human-first approach means thinking about how will people feel instead of what we want to say to them. When you study human behavior and connection, you’ll see how those conversations have evolved over time. Technology has enabled this evolution and we had to learn technology’s language to continue to connect with each other. As people, we are hardwired for connection. Conversation taps into our social instincts. It’s how we learn.

Bring it back to technology, artificial intelligence bridges this human and technology gap through conversation. It’s already been established that we can use AI like chatbots to talk to people But how do we build upon it to have better, more life-like conversations? What if we didn’t think about the technology and design itself but instead thought of how we, as people, have two-way conversation instead? When you speak to a person, the conversation isn't linear or perfect. It’s spontaneous, it’s thoughtful. That's what we need to do in our experiences.

A good example of this is Google Duplex. Google Duplex is a smart assistant AI that functions as a “life admin” to make calls and schedule appointments on your behalf (side note: you can see this in action at in Gerd Leonhard’s Acquia Engage Europe keynote presentation).

Conversation is data with a soul. The value isn't driven the by the data itself but how people feel. The woebot chatbot is designed to make people feel good about themselves, over time. And with Alexa, engineers are analyzing how to measure emotion of people when they interact with Alexa. Why? Because they are looking at ways to build relationship not just drive product

We can’t just look at personas and create real world experiences around products themselves. We need to use empathy at every touchpoint and kindness as a design principle.

Acquia Engage Award Spotlight: City of LA

The City of Los Angeles had no central location where residents could find information about earthquakes that may have occurred in their area. Winner of the 2018 Acquia Engage Award for Best Beyond the Browser, City of LA Earthquake Watch allowed residents to access information related to seismic activity across multiple channels including digital assistants like Alexa. Earthquake Watch pulls in earthquake data from the national U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) so that a resident could get the latest information on the website or a response when they ask “Alexa, did you feel that?”

The city displays earthquake data on a Google Maps website built in Drupal and hosted on Acquia Cloud, allowing the website to scale automatically during traffic spikes when there is an event.

Moving forward, City of LA is looking for leverage even more data across multiple channels like as far as digital assistants and introduce more media streams. Using the same API-first approach, City of LA is looking to build more functionality and integrations beyond just earthquake information.

Eric Black of NBC Sports speaks at Acquia Engage 2018
Eric Black of NBC Sports speaks at Acquia Engage 2018

When the Whole World Is Watching: Behind the Scenes with NBC Sports

Many years ago, when Acquia was first beginning their relationship with NBC Sports, Eric Black, CTO of NBC Sports Digital and Playmaker Media, took Buytaert behind the scenes of a Patriots football game. Buytaert said he was surprised by how many people were there, making both the broadcast and the digital feed happen. A lot of what you see on screen with the NFL and Olympics happens at the facility itself; all the all screen graphics are happening on site and then sent back to distribute on other platforms.

To minimize the chance of failure, NBC Sports typically brings three production trucks and 100 people to every NFL game for redundancy. Those trucks and those employees drive from game to game. For the Olympics, NBC Sports builds broadcast compounds, some of which they are still getting equipment back from; Black remarked that 20 cables were just returned from Peyonchange because they were buried in the snow.

NBC Sports has worked hard to establish a synergy between broadcast and digital and the two work hand in hand. Not every event is the scale of an NFL game or an Olympic event; NBC Sports goes go beyond the broadcast. “We’re putting out stuff that never airs on traditional channels,” Black said.

As a business, it’s more than just live sporting events for NBC Sports. Yes, people log on for the video, as that's the main content draw, but then how do you keep them engaged? You need the data to deliver not just video content but the right kind of video content. For example, if a huge NASCAR fan is coming to the site, maybe the standard race video isn’t enough. Maybe they want to see a feed from inside the car  or read stats on the race team. It’s all about enhancing the linear experience.

Black also set the rumor to rest that Drupal couldn’t scale. When Acquia was still a relatively new company, Drupal had a bad reputation for scale, but NBC and Acquia took on the challenge of fixing Drupal’s scaling issues together. That was part of why Acquia built Acquia Cloud 8 years ago.

Erik Weihenmayer was the keynote speaker at the 2018 Acquia Engage conference in Austin, Texas
Erik Weihenmayer was the keynote speaker at the 2018 Acquia Engage conference in Austin, Texas

Living Life with No Barriers: Erik Weihenmayer

Closing out Day 1 of Acquia Engage 2018 was Erik Weihenmayer. In 2001, he became the first blind person in history to climb Mount Everest.

After a few quips about his lack of vision and how everyone prefers his guide dog, Weihenmayer went on to talk about his “no barriers” life. In addition to Mount Everest, Weihenmayer blind kayaked the entire 277 miles of the Grand Canyon – including Lava Falls. This lifestyle is by no means easy, and his message was clear; you will fail but you have to keep going. When he tackled the whitewater in the Grand Canyon,is was not to prove something but to just live. He rolled over, got knocked over, floated backwards through the rapids, and this lifestyle often sees more struggles than triumphs.

Barriers are real and they hurt, but it’s how you deal with that that matters.
When writing his book, Weihenmayer studied people and teams around the world and categorized them in three groups; quitters, campers or climbers. Campers makeup so much the world. They start out with hope, but things get in the way. They lose faith in the cause or decide to set up shop on a nice safe plateau. All that energy is lost to the world by during this. So how does a camper become a climber? After losing his sight young, Weihenmayer was faced with this very dilemma. However, while going blind was scary, the scarier thought was being swept to the side and forgotten.

Before his sight was totally gone, he saw a program on Terry Fox, who ran across Canada with a prosthetic leg and not one of the fancy blade ones we have now. In 1980, he began the Marathon of Hope, a cross-country run to raise money for cancer research after losing his leg to cancer. Fox became an inspiration to Weihenmayer and when he received a newsletter about a group taking blind kids rock climbing, he knew what he had to do. The reach never changes, it’s always scary whether you can see or not. Once you’ve committed, there’s no turning back.

Even though adversity finds those that live a no barriers life, Weihenmayer has conquered it all and then some. In addition to climbing the Carstensz Pyramid in West Papua, New Guinea, the the Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite, and Losar, a 2,700-foot vertical ice face in the Himalayas, Weihenmayer co-founded No Barriers, a nonprofit organization that helps people of diverse backgrounds and abilities develop a No Barriers Mindset; to attack challenges head on, problem solve, build winning teams, and serve others.

He’s also authored multiple books including his memoir “Touch the Top of the World,” which was made into a feature film, “The Adversity Advantage,” and his latest book “No Barriers,” dives into the heart and mind at the core of the turbulent human experience.

He’s truly inspiring and it was amazing to have him speak to on the Acquia Engage stage. Acquia was also smart to make sure there were plenty of tissues nearby, as it was powerful and emotional to all who heard him speak.

That’s it for your day one recap of Acquia Engage 2018. We’ll be back with Day 2, stay tuned.

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