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Dana Drissel of Kaon Interactive: “Don’t use passive videos”

Don’t use passive videos — 90% of pre-recorded videos, or videos in general, should be saved for event follow-up. They should not be provided to someone attending your LIVE event who wants to speak (or hear) from someone regarding their current business challenges. As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To […]

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Don’t use passive videos — 90% of pre-recorded videos, or videos in general, should be saved for event follow-up. They should not be provided to someone attending your LIVE event who wants to speak (or hear) from someone regarding their current business challenges.


As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Drissel.

Dana is Vice President of Kaon Interactive, the leader in interactive 3D sales and marketing applications. Under her leadership, the company has experienced substantial growth and has introduced a vast suite of award-winning Kaon solutions, building a fast growing base of industry-leading fortune 500 customers.

With both agency and client side experience, Dana’s industry and vertical knowledge spans many arenas. Prior to Kaon Interactive, Dana was a strategic marketing innovator working at companies such as Harpell (tech marketing agency), Exact Software (cloud business software) and Centerstone Software (computer aided facility management software). She holds a BS from UVM.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in Allentown, PA and moved to Concord, MA when I was in the 4th grade. I was a total tomboy who loved anything outdoors and sports-related as well as listening to Billy Joel and Elton John.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

At the University of Vermont, while taking an undergrad class in Advertising, I had to do an internship at a small interactive advertising agency. Immediately, I was hooked. I enjoyed the creative aspect of the job, the ability to work with multiple customers, and collaborate with various internal departments.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It wasn’t a mistake I made, but a mistake of the times. I was working for a small advertising agency in the late 90’s and there was a lot of IPO money floating around. Companies at the time wanted to build awareness by hosting lavish parties. One budding software company we worked with decided they were going to rent out the House of Blues, pass out martinis, and hire the B-52’s to sing…all as a way to build name recognition and visibility.

Within a year of that event, the company folded. I quickly concluded that every penny counts. Budget needs to be spent wisely and ROI needs to be both defined and closely tracked to justify the spend.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

In 2002, the Oakland A’s won the most games in baseball, highlighted by a 20-game winning streak that broke an American League record. They had the third lowest payroll in the Major Leagues and were in an industry dominated by huge player salaries. So, how did the A’s become the best in baseball? They made data-driven decisions.

When recently watching the movie Moneyball, it brought to light the beginning of an analytical approach to winning. The A’s swapped the instinctual, traditional way of scouting players for one of the most unconventional routes at the time. By signing players based on data metrics that signaled success, they got the maximum ROI for each dollar spent.

The last 10 years, marketing has been focused on technology. I believe the next 10 years will be focused on analyzing this new swell of digital data and turning it into insights that help companies fuel their customer lifecycles and elevate buying discussions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,” a quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is a reminder that life, business and relationships come with many ups and downs, but those bumps are what make us compassionate, resilient, and dynamic people and partners.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?

From webinars, to virtual events, to face-to-face trade shows, to user groups, and internal business meetings, I have planned them all. With over 25 years in marketing, I’ve had the pleasure of managing every aspect of an event; including narrating and presenting thought leadership sessions.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?

My most recent focus (in 2020) was around content and lead generation for our live events. Our goal was to educate global B2B marketing leaders about the value of using digital sales and marketing applications to accelerate customer engagement within their virtual meetings, events and briefings.

I focused our live events on two elements 1.) customer engagement and 2.) relevant content. To accommodate for this, we tried to eliminate the use of passive PowerPoint slides and focus on ways to actively engage the attendees in the event. We utilized polling questions and shared digital experiences that attendees could engage with, putting them in the driver’s seat to experience our interactive applications, explore virtual 3D product tours and navigate augmented reality solutions. We invited industry innovators to speak and share case studies of their digital transformation journeys, which escalated registration (due to peaked colleague interest) and elevated attendee conversion numbers, averaging at 64%.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Rockwell Automation’s annual customer event, “Automation Fair,” went virtual this year due to the pandemic. As so many have learned this year, there are challenges in pivoting from a traditional in-person event to an all-virtual event — logistics, content, attendee engagement, success measurement. Attendance at virtual events this year has been high, but attendee engagement and satisfaction are low. But, if marketers rethink virtual events, they offer opportunities for those brave enough to go beyond digitizing a physical booth with imaginative, innovative experiences that generate educated and enthusiastic (and global) prospects. “Rockwell Automation At Home” is a prime example. It’s an interactive application that transforms the virtual event experience from passive viewing to active engagement at every touchpoint, immersing users into a photo-realistic tour of their Milwaukee headquarters.

The experience hosted thousands of user sessions during the three-day event. Attendees “walk” through the spaces (three replicas of full floors within the physical headquarters), explore interactive displays to learn about Rockwell solutions, and talk to subject-matter experts via live video conferencing. It’s the same experience as being on the tradeshow floor without leaving your home.

The Rockwell Automation at Home event and digital experience provided a lifelike event experience for Rockwell’s customers, partners, and employees, with more than 20,000 user sessions across 105 countries -– netting out to just over 2,000 hours of actual hands-on engagement across hundreds of thousands of interactions and counting. In the three weeks since the event, the experience has attracted more than 1,100 user sessions in 64 countries, with a 44% capture rate (sessions with engagement of three minutes or more). The capture rate is a vital metric as it measures highly engaged users as they interact with the application and, independently, move further down the buying funnel, indicating intent. The rolling virtual event will remain available on the web for employees, customers, and partners to access and explore in the following months. They did a fantastic job from beginning to end.

What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I believe there are two common flaws that companies made when quickly pivoting to virtual events in 2020. The first, is just focusing on the mechanics of running a virtual event as a digital version of an in-person meeting, which is insufficient and ineffective. Second, is the use of admittedly boring slide presentations and pre-recorded videos as the primary communication tool for attendees, which fail to engage customers or provide a true “transfer of enthusiasm or knowledge.” This led to attendees having a poor experience, which in turn, led to negative brand attribution.

Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?

In this new (and lasting) digital-first world, tools that just connect us (Zoom, ON24, WebEx) are not sufficient by themselves. It’s not JUST about reaching a company’s customers, it’s about authentically ENGAGING with them, transferring enthusiasm and effectively telling your value differentiation story online. Your customers are in your virtual meeting or virtual event. Now what?!

Regardless of the platform, companies need to rethink their virtual customer engagement strategies and start thinking about how to create shared digital experiences in all customer-facing virtual meetings, whether sales discussions or marketing events. Brands need to put customers in the driver’s seat so that they are able to uncover their unique value differentiation for themselves. Companies need to think about how they can stand out in this crowded virtual marketplace, elevate discussions and give themselves a competitive advantage.

Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?

Global B2B companies like AWS, IBM, Cisco, Baker Hughes, HPE, and Thermo Fisher Scientific are using digital customer engagement platforms and interactive storytelling applications to help engage customers and effectively tell their complex value stories in this competitive virtual marketplace.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Customer engagement is king: Just getting individuals to RSVP or attend isn’t enough if the customer isn’t seeing value from being there. Create small discussion groups so people can share experiences and best practices.

Mistakes will happen: Practice in advance, have a back-up plan, use technology that ‘just works’ and quickly improvise if a mistake happens. It is the response to error that counts.

Interactivity elevates buying conversations: Engage customers with something interactive that they can control themselves, for instance, have them actually drive an application or a game-like experience that helps communicate your business value.

Relevance will drive attendance: People aren’t getting wined or dined to attend events anymore. Your live virtual event must be relevant to your customers’ business needs to warrant an investment of their time. Case studies, thought leadership, group discussions, round tables, analysts, industry insights and collaborative sharing, all create community, spontaneous conversation, new ideas and real-time take-aways.

Don’t use passive videos — 90% of pre-recorded videos, or videos in general, should be saved for event follow-up. They should not be provided to someone attending your LIVE event who wants to speak (or hear) from someone regarding their current business challenges.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

More now than ever marketers are competing for the eyes of their customers. With many working from home, not only are you up against the entirety of the internet, and every avenue for media consumption available, but you are competing with your customers’ workloads, emails, children, pets, laundry… and who knows what else. Distraction is everywhere. So, the primary goal of your event needs to be getting and keeping your customer engaged, and you don’t have a lot of time to accomplish that.

Make sure your live event is focused on creating an amazing customer experience for a user that will ignite a lasting memory. Truly think about transforming traditional event models, those that relied on human connection, into truly engaging, digital, interactive experiences that create a spark.

If you want your product/solution to differentiate and be remembered at your event, you need to bring your buyer somewhere that will evoke emotion and cognitive connection. Start by asking yourself:

What is the objective of this engagement?

Do these buyers have a specific need that requires them to understand a complex process?

Do you want to show them specific products?

Do you have solutions that are complicated and difficult to visualize?

Once you answer these questions, you can start to dig deeper into what the virtual event journey may look like for your customer.

Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Small acts of kindness are free. If everyone can do something small, one thing every day for a friend, neighbor, family member or stranger our world would be better for everyone. The saying “good things come in small packages” is true in giving back. A little kindness can go a long way.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’ve always been fascinated by Serena Williams. She’s an inspirational woman, athlete, mother, and business person who has overcome so much adversity and experienced so much fame in such a short time. I recently saw a documentary on her and was ridiculously impressed.

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