Earlier this week I once again attended Knowledge 18, the annual ServiceNow conference, as part of the on-camera crew for IT Chronicles. It’s a great opportunity to meet and speak with industry leaders about their accomplishments over the last 12 months. Every year, however, something different happens or stands out. This year, it was an effort by a ServiceNow competitor, FreshService, to grab some publicity or maybe simply to get some visibility by the estimated 18k people in Las Vegas at #Know18.
The first instance of this marketing effort I completely missed frankly. I noticed the crowd but I had no idea what was going on. While taking an early morning walk down the Las Vegas strip, a long line had formed outside the Starbucks. There were a couple of people speaking loudly announcing something. Let’s be honest, if you’ve ever been in Vegas walking on the strip, you tend to avoid the hawkers trying to hand out service provider “business cards”. For me, the long line itself was something I wanted to avoid. My need for coffee was obviously not yet strong enough to wait in the crowd. I continued on my morning walk before the sun and heat could make this activity unbearable. I figured that the drama causing the line would be gone upon my return and the line shorter. I was wrong.
As I returned back up the strip and neared the Starbucks, the line had actually grown and the hawkers were still there. This time, however, I could recognize what they were saying. They were informing everyone in line that they were giving away $5 Starbucks gift cards. The question I needed to answer was, who was doing this and why? I assumed it was a ServiceNow Knowledge 18 sponsor. It was not. It was an IT Service Management (ITSM) competitor named FreshService making a bold move to get publicity amongst the throngs of ServiceNow customers, prospects and partners.
History Repeats Itself
I recall two major competitors trying to advertise and troll ServiceNow at previous Knowledge conferences with what I only believe was minimal success since neither are major players now in 2018. After some investigation, it turns out FreshService also played the part of mystery buyers of food at various restaurants for people who were wearing their conference badges and they also advertised on Taxi rooftop placards. They even held a conference after-party just outside the pool area at Encore where ServiceNow held their kickoff conference party.
Now I knew who was doing this and why. The new question was, would this type of shadow marketing attempt work? Would it garner positive visibility and possible clients or just appear as insignificant actions of another player in the ITSM space? My initial opinion is that the majority of people at Knowledge 18 had no interest in considering a different ITSM platform, especially one that doesn’t have a track record of competing head to head with ServiceNow.
FreshService is in business to sell their product. I don’t think it is to show up at competitor’s conference and give away free coffee, food, and drinks. Previous attempts don’t appear to have turned into noticeable success but maybe this time will be different. Maybe this will create enough buzz around their products to get some people to consider them as a viable option. The only way it translates into sales and clients of the FreshService product is if can deliver value.
But maybe “stealing” customers was not the intention. Maybe just being mentioned in the same thread with ServiceNow via blogs and at bars during the conference was the goal. For that, they obviously succeeded, but this couldn’t have been an inexpensive effort.
Will FreshService ultimately be associated with food delivery at competitor conferences or for fresh new attempts at marketing? Only time will tell. I guess we should all grab our free Starbucks gift card, go get a refill of coffee and wait to see how this story plays out.