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PHOTOS: Dangerous Productions; Granbery Studios
IBM's WoW Factor
IBM Corp. demonstrates its Watson artificial intelligence with an elaborate private trade show that proves the technology can predict weather, understand emotions, design dresses, improve chocolates – and produce 15,000 leads. By Charles Pappas
Private trade show
Company: IBM Corp.
Event: World of Watson
Objectives: Attract a projected 50 percent of World of Watson conference attendees to a private trade show. Generate sales leads and increase sponsorship dollars.
Strategy: Create a private trade show as part of a conference that illustrates the wide range of data-mining applications the Watson artificial intelligence is capable of.
Tactics: Divide the trade show into individual zones focusing on different examples of how Watson has been used by real-life companies to cut costs, increase sales, or improve products. Employ augmented reality and multiple live examples in the zones to convey the overwhelming range of industries, from airlines to chocolatiers, that Watson has successfully helped.
Results: Attracted more than 90 percent of conference attendees, generated 15,000 leads, and contributed to a 37-percent bump in sponsorship dollars.
Creative/Production Agency: George P. Johnson (a Project Worldwide agency), www.gpj.com
Budget: $5 million or more
After the IBM Corp. computer system known as Watson trounced two of "Jeopardy's" greatest human champions in 2011, the brains behind the artificial intelligence (named after the company's founder, Thomas Watson) took it on a series of ever-increasing challenges faster than you can say "I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations." The combination of software and hardware lent a hand directing a movie trailer about a thinking machine and co-wrote a cookbook with the Institute of Culinary Education called "Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson."

In its spare time, Watson also scrutinized the prescriptions, medical records, and fitness-device data of CVS Pharmacies Inc. customers who had volunteered to see which among them the computer would forecast were at a pronounced risk for chronic maladies, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Anything humans could do, to invoke the old Irving Berlin song, Watson could do better – and a billion times faster, too.

Silicon Strategy
But when IBM faced the challenge of increasing the percentage of attendees who visited the exhibit hall at its World of Watson (WoW) event, the Armonk, NY-based company turned not to the silicon super-genius Watson, but to flesh and blood humans, and face-to-face marketers in particular. WoW was a combination of two analytic- and cognitive-computing events that overlapped like a Venn diagram: the original IBM World of Watson (WoW) and IBM Insight.

Premiering in New York in 2015, WoW was a two-day coming-out party for Watson, attracting 1,400 attendees who learned how to create data-analysis applications for the artificial intelligence. By contrast, IBM Insight possessed a wider focus on the overall aspect of analyzing big data, drawing a crowd of 14,000. To IBM, the merged conference (which would be held in Las Vegas and retain the WoW name), could help cement its mover-and-shaker status in analyzing big data, the paralyzing excess of information generated by what research firm Gartner Inc. expects will number 20.8 billion linked devices by 2020.

Working with the experientialmarketing firm George P. Johnson (a Project Worldwide agency), IBM would allow WoW to stray very little from the company's tried-and-true conference template. As structured and formatted as a résumé, the conference would encompass high-profile keynote speakers, prominent presenters, technical sessions, hands-on labs, and certification classes. These would all prove a vital part of capturing the attention of thousands of influential C-level executives, data scientists, information-technology experts, app developers, and academics for a 25- to 30-hour span. In such a setting, IBM could show attendees the mindboggling depths and breadths for which Watson could be harnessed.

But even more critical, IBM felt, was the necessity of presenting the captivating stories of the scores of companies that have used Watson to unearth obscure connections and discover hidden truths in big data. That is where a private trade show entered the picture. The show, which IBM dubbed the Cognitive Concourse, would be held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, along with the conference sessions, classes, labs, and so on. And, while the aforementioned conference would supply educational content on topics such as Bayesian Machine Learning in IBM Analytics, the Cognitive Concourse would offer a variety of colorful, even quirky, vignettes about Watson, such as its ability to read emotions and predict buying patterns.

Over the course of three days, the private trade show would run a total of 31 hours, enough time to allow those attending dense, informational sessions to visit the comparably lighthearted, high-touch show floor. It was that balance of germane and gripping content that IBM hoped would inspire attendees to think about what Watson could do for them. IBM hoped to drive roughly half of WoW attendees to the private trade show, generate actionable leads, and increase its sponsorship dollars.

So roughly 90 days before the newly combined conference opened in October 2016, IBM launched a series of promotional salvos. It crafted more than 80 different types of customized emails that it divided among a targeted audience of 20,000 former conference attendees, business partners, and industry leaders. Additionally, it used Facebook, Twitter, and the main IBM home page to drive traffic to the World of Watson website, producing nearly 768 million tweets hashtagged #WorldofWatson.

Welcome to Watson
Before entering the Cognitive Concourse proper, attendees first stepped into the purple-lit Watson Welcome Immersion, where a dozen real-world vignettes highlighted the artificial intelligence's unique track record in industries as diverse as candy and couture.
In the Zones
When WoW opened in Las Vegas last October, 17,000 attendees – an impressive 85 percent of invitees – entered the Mandalay Bay Convention Center expecting the usual Sin City buffet of content. IBM didn't disappoint, serving guests an almost Harvard University-size curriculum of seven celebrity-studded keynotes (New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra among them), 24 speakers' panels, 127 hands-on labs, 373 certification classes, 784 breakout sessions, multiple nighttime events, and much, much more to herald the most anticipated team-up of man and machine in business since Henry Ford and the assembly line.

But as important as those elements were to guests, they had no more sex appeal than a circuit board next to the Cognitive Concourse. The private trade show comprised 500,000 square feet divided into a welcome area and four main zones – Transforming Industries, Reimagining Professions, Monetizing Data, and Redefining Development – which collectively told Watson's story.

Before entering the Cognitive Concourse proper, attendees stepped first into the Watson Welcome Immersion area. Inside the oval enclosure with wood-like vinyl flooring, LED up-lights bathed the space in the purple-plum hues used in Watson's branding. Projected on the walls were a dozen real-world vignettes showing how Watson has transformed companies in the same manner – and with a similarly sizeable impact – as the IBM PC did in the 1980s.

Primed with the welcome area's introduction that teased them with the sheer da Vinci-like scope of Watson's Renaissance-man talents, the visitors flowed from that section onto a 400-square-foot responsive-tile walkway. When they stepped on the flooring, weight-triggered sensors beneath the 24-by-24-inch tiles activated a media server, which then triggered a projector to flash marketing messages onto the fabric structures such as "You Envision/Watson Discovers." Each of the zones was bordered by walls of extruded aluminum and tensioned fabric sheer enough to glimpse the intriguing activities inside. Topping each zone was a 20-by-20-foot white ceiling element with the zone's name printed on it in a mega-size IBM-blue font easily viewable across the entire show floor. But for all the visual flash, it was the storytelling, the art that Homer and Aesop had perfected centuries before the word "computer" even entered the lexicon, which attracted guests.

"We wanted to connect to attendees in a deeply emotional and human way, so we brought something everyone loves: a great story," says Robin Kleban, vice president and account director for George P. Johnson's IBM global conferences. "By introducing rich storytelling that illuminated very different moments of transformation made possible by cognitive computing, we sought to deepen the connection between attendees and the technology that could enhance both their work and their world."

Riding the Short Bus
Attendees could take a spin around the concourse in Olli, an autonomous, 3-D- printed minibus partly designed by Watson. Once they boarded, they could chat with Olli about anything from its technical specs to its tourist recommendations.
Floor It
Leading the way to the Cognitive Concourse was an interactive floor whose directional and promotional messaging was activated by the weight of attendees stepping onto the pressure-sensitive tiles.
Transforming Industries Zone
Over the last two centuries, a handful of inventions – steam engines, the telegraph, the barcode – have altered the business landscape with the irrevocable impact of an asteroid. In the Transforming Industries area, IBM began demonstrating how Watson could have as sweeping an effect. Attendees grabbed any of the iPad Pros and iPad Minis on hand whose augmented reality (AR) apps spun the tales of several businesses employing Watson technology. One narrative told the story of 1-800-Flowers.com Inc.'s messaging service/concierge nicknamed "Gwyn" (which stands for Gifts When You Need), whose encyclopedic knowledge of 7,000 products and ability to converse like the most charming and competent waitress left such a good impression with customers that 80 percent of them wanted to engage with "her" again. Another story detailed Aerial Group B.V.'s Aerialtronics's commercial drones, which employed Watson to visually identify loose or frayed cabling on cellphone towers.

Competing with Gwyn was a mash-up of an 1895 invention and 21st century marvel named Olli. An autonomous minibus, Olli was designed in part by Watson and then 3-D printed and assembled by Chandler, AZ-based startup Local Motors Inc. Designed as an on-demand transportation device that passengers can hail with a mobile app just as they would an Uber, the electric-powered Olli gave up to eight attendees at a time a brief ride around the show floor.

Once guests boarded Olli, the minibus acted like a souped-up Johnny Cab from the movie "Total Recall," using 30 sensors and a natural-language interface to chattily field questions on the fly, including, "How does this bus work?" and "Which restaurants nearby would you recommend?" After a short five-minute jaunt, passengers disembarked the driverless shuttle and then extended the experience at an interactive digital kiosk upon which rested a scale model of Olli. Here, guests learned how Olli can be printed and put together in about 10 hours and will first be used on campuses and at airports before, perhaps, being rolled out for city-wide transportation.

Reimagining Professions Zone
Thomas Young, an 18th century polymath, was once described as "The Last Man Who Knew Everything," but the Reimagining Professions Zone seemed intent on proving Watson had inherited Young's mantle as not just a jack of all trades but also a master of them, too. For example, few industries are as ancient – and as seemingly unlike computer processing – as dressmaking. But in the Reimagining Professions Zone, IBM proved convincingly how computers and couture go together like peas and carrots.
"We wanted to connect to attendees in a deeply emotional and human way, so we brought something everyone loves: a great story."
On display was the Cognitive Dress that Watson helped create for the Met Gala, New York's extravagant annual fashion event. Collaborating with fashion designers from Marchesa Holdings LLC and software developers from Inno360 Inc., Watson assisted in designing a white tulle gown embellished with 150 LED-connected fabric flowers. During the event Watson monitored tweets using the #MetGala and #CognitiveDress hashtags, then painted the dress in kaleidoscopic hues via the LEDs, which glowed rose when Watson detected joy and aqua when it sensed excitement.

When Watson wasn't occupied selling flowers, driving buses, or designing haute couture, it was discovering how to make confections even better at the Cognitive Chocolate counter. Sifting through data provided by Bon Appetit magazine, it custom-designed chocolate truffles for Nunu Chocolates LLC. In a 10-by-10-foot space, the Brooklyn, NY-based chocolatier showed off how Watson was blending foods whose molecular structures were similar to create serendipitous sweets. Lucky chocoholics got to taste test a trio of truffles: brown ale, espresso, yoghurt, and lime zest; strawberry and cranberry; and lemon and Earl Grey tea.

Monetizing Data Zone
Nearly 2.5 exabytes of data are generated worldwide every day, an amount equal, some estimates say, to 250,000 Libraries of Congress. That flood is expected to increase 20-fold by 2025, according to International Data Corp. (IDC). And there's gold in them there hills of data: MarketsandMarkets Research Private Ltd. projects the market for big-data analysis will be worth $67 billion by 2021, while IDC also forecasts it would swell to more than $203 billion by 2020, a sum larger than the gross domestic product of the Czech Republic.

Finding the gilded nuggets of useful information in that Himalayan-size heap, though, can be as difficult as grasping one's shadow. To illustrate how Watson can turn a mountain of data into one of dollars, the Monetizing Data Zone offered A Day in the Life of Weather: a custom-illustrated 8-by-20-foot infographic wall with backlit LED lighting and three 32-inch touchscreens. Each screen showed an animation that demonstrated how IBM's Watson-powered Weather Company division could discern obscure insights in reams of meteorological data for companies from bee keepers to retail establishments. One vivid example showed how Watson monitors the 2,000 electrical storms taking place at any given moment around the globe, helping planes swerve around turbulence that costs airlines a whopping $100 million a year in delays and damages.

More down to earth was the Cognitive Cosmetics section. There, in a Sephora-like setting, attendees were introduced via graphics, kiosks, and iPads to a global cosmetics company that used Watson to reduce the time it needed to conduct product-data research for the required regulatory filings by 80 percent, and shrank the time necessary to launch products in new local markets by 94 percent.

Last, at the Cognitive Bakery, guests sampled tempting confections from a bakery display case while learning how Watson did the yeoman work of tracking sales patterns (even tying them to weather fluctuations) and anticipating when customers might hanker for some baklava or crave a buttery brioche.

Redefining Development Zone
In many ways, the stripe of Watson is the story of a battalion of unsung developers who understood the technology was conceptual clay that could be shaped into 1,001 uses both serious and silly. Dedicated to these individuals who had cooked up a stir fry of uses for Watson from mechanical persons to mixologists, the Redefining Development Zone illustrated how Watson's info-inspecting prowess and human developers' cleverness made for a combo every bit as delicious as the computer's chocolate concoctions.

In one area, visitors approached a table on which stood the foot-high Marvin the robot, who challenged all comers to a contest of Rock-Paper- Scissors. While the guests might have defeated Marvin early on, the little Cyclon, who spoke as if he'd inhaled a balloon full of helium, shrugged off the losses, remembering and analyzing every match he played, eventually crushing the puny humans in the popular children's game.

To wash the bitter taste of losing to a robot out of their mouths, guests moved to a custom-made bar where they answered a series of six questions on an iPad, including queries about their favorite foods and what time of year they tend to drink beer. Once Watson evaluated their responses, it suggested three craft beers. While guests taste tested the three brewskis, Watson displayed information about Beer A, Beer B, and Beer C on the 36-inch screen mounted to a back wall. When they finished quaffing their refreshments, the guest tipplers set the beverage cups down on a capacitive surface and ranked each on a 1- to 5-star scale by pressing a designated button. With each iteration, Watson became more adept at pinpointing the brew that its human audience would most appreciate.

"The level of interaction at this event was off the charts, and each of the engagements helped demonstrate tangible uses for this hard-to-grasp technology."
Besides enjoying better-tasting chocolate and enhanced weather predictions, attendees could ply experts manning "Ask Me Anything About:" stations with any question they had on developing Watson. In addition, they could visit hands-on labs where they put Watson APIs (that is, software that lets one program work with another) through their paces.

The private trade show made a seismic impression with analysts who chart the speed-of-light shifts and changes in the computer industry itself. "IBM has created an entire category from scratch with WoW. And by showing how every industry would benefit, IBM helped attendees understand the art of what Watson makes possible," says Ray Wang, founder of Constellation Research Inc. and author of the book "Catalyzing Innovation." "As a result, Watson is now synonymous with the cognitivecomputing category."

Corporate Event Awards judges concurred with Wang's admiration. "IBM created a unique experience for its audience," said one judge, in summing up the far-reaching – and riveting – examples of what Watson could do. "The level of interaction at this event was off the charts, and each of the engagements helped demonstrate tangible uses for this hard-to-grasp technology."

Elementary, My Dear Watson
Once described as a genie that escaped from its bottle, artificial intelligence looms like a magical being that can grant wishes for prosperity and success by knowing and understanding more than mere humans could ever imagine. Similarly, WoW seemed to fulfill IBM's ambition to meet and even exceed its goals. In keeping with its pre-event plans, IBM increased its sponsorship dollars by 37 percent. More importantly, more than 90 percent of the 17,000 conference attendees visited the Cognitive Concourse, almost double what IBM had thought might be possible. Furthermore, the strategy generated 15,000 leads, which will likely amount to millions of dollars in increased revenue for the tech giant.

Years ago, the popular sci-fi show "The Six Million Dollar Man" used a much-imitated catchphrase about its hero, Steve Austin: "We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster." With Watson, IBM showed its audience that it has the technology to rebuild them like Steve Austin too, making them better, stronger, faster – and more profitable. E

Say Yes to the Dress
Designed with Watson's help for the renowned Met Gala, the white tulle Cognitive Dress included 150 LED-connected fabric flowers. Watson then read the emotional content of tweets about the outfit, triggering the LEDs to illuminate in different hues based on the tone of those reactions.
Chat Room
Resting on acrylic bubble chairs, attendees tried out the Virtual Immersive Data Analytics (ViDA) project, where they could converse with Watson in natural language on various topics. Watson uncovered unorthodox information and insights for the participants, then graphically depicted them with both 3-D and 2-D objects in the virtual world.

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