U2, will.i.am, Melinda Gates And MC Hammer At Dreamforce

What do you get if you cross a philanthropic billionaire with U2, will.i.am, Melinda Gates and MC Hammer? Apparently it’s Dreamforce 2016.

Catriona Hay
Posted by Catriona Hay

For those who don’t know, Dreamforce is Salesforce’s annual conference in San Francisco. It’s the largest technology event in the world with 170,000 registered attendees held over four days this week.

The opening keynote by CEO Marc Benioff on Wednesday was streamed around the world by 15 million people. That’s 15 times more than the number of Australians who tuned into the new season of X-Factor earlier this week.

And boy do they know how to turn it on. Just check out the photo gallery above.

Salesforce has been the market leader in CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software for many years. But if you still think Salesforce is merely a CRM player in the market, you’ve been living under a rock for the last four years.

Salesforce have an ad studio where you can use your CRM first party data to activate your mobile, display and social advertising. And this capability will nicely compliment their close partner, now acquired data management platform Krux.

They have a lead and pipeline product, a digital commerce offering following the acquisition of Demandware this year, e-mail and messaging technology, an app development cloud, connected technology products, a social media tool, community capability and a customer service offering. Plus a new artificial intelligence power (Einstein) that drives it all. 

Got all that? The impressive part is that the majority of this has been built or acquired in the last four years.

It doesn’t seem like there’s any agencies here (or at least I haven’t met any). But agencies should take note as all of your customers are here. We’ve heard from Mastercard, Uber, Fitbit, Philips, Uber, Amazon, Aldo, Lilly – the list of major brands is endless.

Lee Hawksley, SVP & GM Salesforce Marketing Cloud JAPAC at Salesforce, says agencies need to evolve.

“They’ve been trusted advisors with large brands controlling large spends but the revenue models need to evolve. And they are largely still using very labour intensive techniques.”

As it tends to be the case with a few of these large technology conferences in the US, there’s an evangelical feel. I don’t know what they’re pumping into the water but trying to find any criticism or problems that marketers are experiencing over the last three days has proved challenging, nigh impossible.

According to Hawksley, marketers don’t face any problems today, only opportunities.

Social responsibility

Corporate and social responsibility has been a common thread throughout the week.

Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff is well known for his philanthropy. He opened his key note quoting Albert Einstein, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

Yesterday Benioff pledged $1 million to HIV/AIDS non-profit (RED), founded by U2’s Bono in addition to the $2 million that will be raised at the conference this week.

Grammy award winner will.i.am spoke to a packed auditorium and said instead of B2B or B2C he wanted to talk P2P, people to people.

He urged the crowd and the 15 million watching around the world at Dreamforce parties to get more involved in public education.

“Until there is education reform at a government level, it’s up to us to inspire and encourage inner city ghetto kids to take an interest in computer science, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and technology. Geeks could change inner cities forever,” he said.

Will has adopted 65 kids from the neighbourhood where he grew up and all of them have now graduated from college. Seventy-five per cent of them specialised in robotics, computer science or a technology field.

Melinda Gates rounded off the day speaking with ABC’s Good Morning co-host Robin Roberts  about her work with husband Bill Gates on immunisation in Africa and the foundation she co-founded. But urged others to act too.

“Everyone in this room has the ability to change somebody’s life.”

Gender and Diversity

Gates also chatted about the importance of creating a diverse workforce today to impact tomorrow.

She argued technology is pervasive. Data and artificial intelligence is enabling early diagnosis in medicine, self-driving cars, precision in medicine and if we don’t have women and minorities in representation now while the technology develops, it will take decades to overcome this.

The businesswoman and philanthropist questioned why all the virtual assistant technology that’s coming out like Siri and Alexa are women’s voices. “Why don’t we put women in expert positions and let’s recognise that the workforce also has male assistants?”

She went on to talk about photo recognition software. Diversity and data has to be built into the system from the beginning. Otherwise we could end up with something that doesn’t recognise differences in skin colour and eye shape.

Gates praised the Salesforce CEO for leading the way and opening his books to ensure equal work is also equal paid. Benioff has just recently appointed a chief equality officer for Salesforce, Tony Prophet (previously Microsoft and HP).

Customer Experience

If I had a shot for every time I heard “customer”, “experience” and “heart” in the same sentence, I’d probably be half way to Mexico on a week long bender like the last B&T journalist that came here.

Salesforce vice chairman, president and COO Keith Block stated this morning, “We have a very special relationship with our customers. They love us.”

And I must admit that all the evidence from the last few days confirms this.

It’s an enviable position to be in. Putting customers at the heart of the Salesforce business seems to be working, and it seems to be working for their customers too.