Melanie Flores Salman knows how to execute stellar corporate events. As a former events specialist at startups like PagerDuty and SignalFX, she cut her teeth on event marketing for scrappy startups.
Today, Melanie’s role involves so much more than event execution. As the Partner Marketing and Corporate Events Lead at Kong, she spends most of her time orchestrating creative campaigns that will help the end-to-end service connectivity platform expand its global customer base.
When the pandemic hit, Melanie realized it was time to switch things up. She quickly transformed the brand’s flagship event, Kong Summit, into Kong Summit Digital.
But pandemic or no pandemic, she still had lead gen goals to hit.
“We had originally planned on achieving our goals by sponsoring industry events,” explains Melanie. “But we realized very quickly that those industry events were all getting canceled.”
With in-person events now fully off the table, Melanie made the swift pivot to partner marketing — and the rest, as they say, is history.
As event after event was being cancelled, Melanie began to think outside the box.
“I thought let’s host a digital event, and let's bring in partners.”
Luckily, Kong has a rich community of plug-in and industry partners, all with a similar or overlapping audience. The opportunity was right there in their network.
Melanie and her partners immediately got to work planning their first event, Destination: Decentralization. “The shutdown happened in the second week of March and by April we launched Destination: Decentralization with a long list of partners,” says Melanie.
Despite the fact that it all happened incredibly fast, the event was a success.
“Because things went so quickly, we just did the event on Zoom. But in Q2, we hosted our next event, Destination: Automation, using a combination of Zoom and another tool on the front end — but it was a lot of work. Attendees were happy with the content, but the experience was clunky. People couldn't find the registration or how to log in, and they were less forgiving than in Q1 right after the pandemic hit,” she explains.
In Q3, Melanie and her team were determined to nail the attendee experience with their next virtual summit, Destination: Zero Trust. Unfortunately, the event was so popular that the Zoom-plus-front-end platform setup they were using simply couldn’t keep up.
“It just wasn't ideal really, because attendees had to log off to get out of one Zoom and go into another session. It was also really hard for an attendee to decide, ‘Oh, I'm in this session but I actually want to be in track two at this time’. The navigation of going from one session to another was difficult for people.”
Melanie was now officially on the hunt for a better virtual event platform.
Having done her time in the tech space, Melanie knew she’d need to do her due diligence in order to find a product that would finally solve her event experience problems.
“I trialed out each product and did a lot of peer research,” she recalls.
At the time, there was a wave of event marketers all using one of the biggest platforms in the virtual event space. Like many of her peers, Melanie was eager to check this platform out. With partner marketing goals now in the mix — she had a list of must-have features she needed it to cover, including:
Basically, everything that matters to your backend marketing operations. And Melanie was thrilled to get to work uncovering this gold mine of data with her new platform. Only problem was...
“When it got down to final negotiations, I realized that this platform had more of a ‘take it or leave it’ approach to what they were offering,” she says.
But Melanie has never been one for a cookie-cutter approach. As a B2B marketer with hard KPIs, she knew she’d need a platform with more analytics power — one that could give her all the data points on her wishlist.
That’s when she heard about Goldcast.
Melanie’s lead generation strategy is detailed and results-oriented. So when she found a virtual event platform that reflected that same drive, the feeling was one of relief.
“After talking to the team at Goldcast, it just became apparent that they were willing to listen to our requirements and the experience felt more geared toward tech B2B. The references were all companies that made sense, which the other platform did not have.”
Finally, she’d found an event platform that “got” it.
But there was still work to be done in order to support Melanie’s deep, content-driven event strategy.
“We work with an ecosystem of developers and architects who utilize APIs, microservices, and all the cloud native technologies. Engineers and architects in that environment want to hear certain content. Do they want to hear that content only from Kong? No. They want to hear it from a lot of different ecosystem partners, as well as industry speakers. We're laying the stage for learning, for engineers and architects in that space by offering this learning experience with our partners.”
Unlike a live event, Kong and its partners can now share their knowledge with attendees on the west coast (in the early morning) and the east coast (in the late morning) and central Europe (in the afternoon, or early evening).
“It really opens the opportunities for both learning and sharing what we and our partners know,” says Melanie. “We all have goals to expand our brands and to share our messages with relevant audiences. This feeds both our goals, the partner goals to grow and the attendee goals to learn.”
Needless to say, Melanie and her team were thrilled to finally have a virtual event tool that did what they needed it to do.
“The most important thing for us is honestly the fact that when somebody registers, they get their magic link.”
In fact, this attention to detail proved so important, it changed Melanie’s entire baseline for attendance.
From 37% at the first ever Kong Summit Digital in Q1 to reaching their lowest ever rate of just 18% by Q4, Melanie was finally able to breathe new life into her attendance rates to hit a groundbreaking 39% a year later with Goldcast.
“Of course, you'd think the very first event would be top for attendance, but it was 37% and with Goldcast it went to 39%,” she explains. With the right platform, Melanie was able to achieve the best attendance rate in the entire history of Kong virtual events, even their very first.
So, how does Melanie and her team figure out who MQLs for Kong?
Here are a few core MQL criteria they look at:
“There are many ways to do this and I'm sure other partners set it up differently, but again that's why this attendance number is so important. People can fit your perfect persona and register for your event, but if they didn't go, that doesn't show as much intent as actually attending our sessions.”
Attendance and MQLs are one thing, but what about data proving how attendees actually experienced the event once they’d arrived.
“I didn't think you could get over 50, but our NPS score was 59,” laughs Melanie. “I really think a lot of this has to do with Goldcast and the ease for people to say, ‘Oh, okay, this track one session isn't for me, I'll go to track two. They could easily pop in and out.”
85% percent of respondents to Melanie’s post-event survey said they were ‘very satisfied’, rating the event a 5 out of 5.
When Melanie asked her staff and speakers what did and didn’t work about the event, she got answers like:
And the simple two-word response:
Looking back, Melanie and the event team at Kong are proud of how far they’ve come.
“In 2020, we were really in execution mode just trying to make this happen. Now, and you can see by the NPS scores, we're really focusing more on making it easier for the attendees and focusing on what the attendees want,” she explains.
Armed with the tools and analytics she needs to support a seamless partner event, Melanie is now free to turn her attention to elevating the experience even more.
And of course, what’s great for your attendees is great for your partners.
“The partners themselves will also have a better experience because they have more lead gen opportunities, and it's also going to be more fun because each partner will get to have swag and raffles,” Melanie explains.
“This time last year we were trying to figure it all out and get the foundation laid. Now that we have Goldcast, we're enhancing that foundation to make our virtual events a better experience for our attendees and our partners.”