As a young account supervisor at McCann Erickson working on the AT&T private data line business, I visited a tradeshow called InterOp. In the land of B2B, trade shows are a great place to learn what’s up? They still are, to a degree, for tasting, touching and gauging the veracity of people with whom you’re speaking. But the web has taken a little wind out of trade show sails.
At InterOp in the 90s, I trod the show floor asking lots of questions, meeting AT&T product people, competitors, chatting up salespeople and visiting presentations. When I returned home I had to do a write-up on what I learned. The paper was my first real “good doggy.” It contained an insight about InterOp that had to do with name badges. Every third badge said “consultant.”
At the time data interoperability was such a mess (think the opposite of open systems) that the business was in crazy turmoil. There was no leadership or firm technology consensus. So many geekuses were making a living solving individual problems, on an island kind of problems, and demand for consulting was great. It was getting messier and messier.
AT&T knew near term that if they fed the mess they would make some nice money. But if they solved the mess, they would make even more money. “Reducing the complexity” was a brand strategy that resonated in the market. So, you don’t always get your insights by talking to people; sometimes they can be found in the strangest places. “Hey, eyes up here.” JKJK.