Companies that get it right, are often caught looking left.

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Cisco + Avnet 2016 Katana Marketing Conference hosted at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. This was the first time Avnet and Cisco teamed up to produce a three-day long conference specially focused on marketing. The focus was around awareness of ‘digital transformation’ and to equip small businesses with the tools and strategies for our team.

I am pleased to say, overall, I was able to take solid pieces of information from the conference that I will be rolling out to my own sales team. The dynamics of the conference, as a whole, were interesting to me. Often companies that put on theses “how to” conferences are portrayed to be industry leaders in some way in that field in which they are hosting on. This, in my opinion, was not the case for either instance.

  1. Avnet in no way is an “industry leader” for how they have branded themselves, and actually at the conference announced they are going through a phase of re-branding in order to become better known in the distribution market place.
  2. Half the speakers at the conference had other use cases of “successful” branding and marketing for manufacturers that weren’t Cisco based.

With both of those points evident during the conference, I couldn’t help but think of the irony around holding a marketing focused conference sponsored by two non-leading marketing industry companies. However, what Cisco and Avnet got right was of far greater value. They were able to create a space in which small and large business salespeople and marketers could come together and share ideas. It takes more self-awareness for a company to put on display their shortcomings in order for them to build a better and more successful brand. Cisco and Avnet achieved this by crafting this conference around the idea that it was more of a forum than a “this is why we are the best” theme.

I was impressed by how little time was actually spent delivering stale elevator pitches or propaganda. There was a refreshing mix of social issue awareness with Girl Rising, acknowledgment of sales and market changes, and key note speaker Gary Vaynerchuck’s downright blunt honesty of do’s and don’ts for marketing management.

The very essence of the conference title “Katana” implies Cisco and Avnet wanted to equip us with tools to swiftly and effectively take out our competitors. These sessions at Katana did just that. It was three days of fostering thoughts and driving others to start thinking about the digital shift of not only the technology industry but how we are communicating in the world today and where is it heading in the days to come. Cisco and Avnet might be caught in the crossfire of an industry transformation, but what they are getting right is bringing partners together to help us all through those challenges. I look forward to attending next year to see how these two brands, and more importantly ours, have progressed.