June 11, 2012, 1:42 PM — I've never actually seen this done before-not sharing the keynote, mind you, which is common even for companies like Apple. While most IT companies offer the stage to other IT executives, HP shared with one of its most important customers.
This showcases a subtle industry change. The big companies are looking for ways to more tightly connect with their big customers in order to avoid competitive migrations and assure future growth. It appears we are moving into an age when customer loyalty may be the biggest competitive differentiator. As a result, loyal customers could become the most effective part of a firm's sales effort.
Let's explore how HP demonstrated that concept this week.
Whitman Long on Framework, Short on Vision
A CEO keynote at a customer conference such as HP Discover should do two things-set a framework for the show, so attendees can better figure out what areas of core coverage to engage with, and provide a vision for the company going forward. The latter can be important, as it helps IT folks frame things in the interval between conferences and figure out where vendors like HP intend to focus.
More from HP Discover 2012: Whitman Works to Assure HP Customers as Company Cuts Staff
Whitman did a good job framing the key topics of the conference- cloud services, security and data analytics-and explaining them, respectively, as the place data is going so it can be everyplace people want it, ensuring that only authorized people get that data and actually being able to something with that data to make better decisions.
This should sound familiar. It's the basic framework for every large-scale IT vendor at the moment. To that end, Whitman peppered her chat with examples of customers who adapted and, as a result, experienced both massive financial benefits and short-term investment recovery.
On the other hand, the HP Discover keynote lacked real vision. That isn't uncommon in situations like this, though. From my days at IBM, I don't recall former Chairman and CEO Lou Gerstner ever doing a real vision pitch. Like Whitman, Gerstner came on board to right the ship and reestablish strong executive leadership that would have the time to develop and articulate a vision. Eventually, he did.
DreamWorks' Katzenberg Brings It Home
Then again, perhaps the vision was more subtle and tied to HP's customers. That seemed to flow through the Katzenberg keynote. Here he praised HP for making DreamWorks possible and for helping create up-and-coming technology that would help DreamWorks corner the animated video market.