INTA’s Digital Transformation—An Interview with CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo

Published: June 15, 2020

INTA will reach a major milestone in its multi-year digital transformation in the coming weeks when it unveils its new website, marking a welcome enhancement to members’ increasingly online lives.

INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo sat down with the INTA Bulletin to discuss the digital transformation project as well as other steps being taken by the Association to support and engage the INTA community as the COVID-19 crisis continues to change the way we live and work.

One of the major initiatives in INTA’s digital transformation is its new website, which is going to be unveiled shortly. Without giving away the “surprise,” what can visitors expect?
Our digital transformation is really about rethinking our business, and what we’re offering to our members. In terms of the website, which is kind of the first step of the digital transformation, I think members and others who visit our website will find it far more user-friendly and far more intuitive.

The current site is also purely computer-based, not at all compatible with tablets or mobile devices. That’s something that we absolutely needed to address. The new site has a responsive mobile-friendly design, accessible across all devices.

We also made it a priority to enhance the search functionality. It’s going to be easy to search and find exactly what you’re looking for, and that information is going to be far more relevant. This is something we should have done many, many years ago. But of course, you know, like everything in life, there were other priorities, and now one of them is digital transformation.

Clearly the digital transformation project is more than a website. Can you talk about its broader scope, and tell us what the ultimate goal behind the project is? 
The ultimate goal is really to provide an even better service to our members and to add value to the community. That means that we need to perhaps do things in a different way. Society is changing, technology is advancing, and our members are evolving. We need to evolve as well. When we talk about digital transformation, it’s really about the people and the processes. It’s about the service we provide to our members, and it’s about projecting ourselves into the future.

Can you offer more details of how the digital transformation will enhance the overall member experience? 
Absolutely. So for example, we’ve announced that our 2020 Annual & Leadership Meeting will go virtual. We made this decision in response to the situation that we’re facing, but frankly, even if we weren’t in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, INTA would have embarked on a more hybrid type of event.

Importantly, one of the trends that is very clear is that people have less and less time to digest information. In terms of the information we provide we need to be more concise. The message needs to be simple, and it needs to be straight to the point.

As such, our digital transformation is about taking a holistic view of the member experience and enhancing that experience through technology.

INTA is the heart of the global trademark community. How will this project help INTA to continue fostering community spirit around the globe?
The Annual & Leadership Meeting going virtual is a great example of that. We’re facing a totally unprecedented, unexpected situation where the majority of associations have decided to cancel their meetings, and I have a lot of respect for that. But that was never an option for INTA. Why? Because we’re a global community, and we know that despite the fact that our members have significant budget constraints, despite the fact that our members cannot travel, they still want to engage each other. Perhaps more than ever, they want to feel part of a community. We’ve always provided that, and we’re going to continue providing that now. We’re going to provide it in a different environment—a virtual one.

With the physical world under lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital world has become even more important. What steps is INTA taking to keep members engaged virtually during a time when in-person events are not possible? 
I’m going to give you a few examples of what we’ve already done and what we will be doing. I think all organizations, INTA included, have expanded their webcast offerings, and are trying to speak about hot topics and issues that are relevant to their members. But in addition to that, one project we’re very proud of is Virtual Speed Networking. We know how networking is important and critical and key to our members, so we’re facilitating sessions where people can network one to one, in small groups. It’s proven to be very popular and sessions have been selling out. From what I’ve heard directly from members, it’s been a great experience. Look for this initiative at our Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting.

Our Unreal Campaign Committee has taken this pandemic as an opportunity to rethink itself. Instead of physically going to schools, the Committee members making virtual presentations and they’re building content to be shared with students in different schools with great success. All of a sudden, we’re able to reach audiences that we were not able to in the past!

As another example, four weeks ago we had an anticounterfeiting workshop with Corporate Members from Asia. Around 40 to 50 corporations participated because it was virtual. Had we done that at a conference or in-person meeting, many of them may not have been able to travel and meet us. So this is really opening us up to opportunities we had never thought about.

Sticking with the topic of virtual engagement, what can registrants expect from the virtual Annual & Leadership Meeting? 
The 2020 Annual & Leadership Meeting will feature a very strong educational component. There’s going to be an equally or even perhaps stronger networking component. And finally, there’s going to be a virtual Exhibition Hall.

Now, let’s say we have 10,000 people at the in-person Annual Meeting. Out of the 10,000 people, a good 9,000 come for networking opportunities. Sadly, they do not take advantage of the educational sessions that are taking place at the Annual Meeting.

This year is going to be different because you know that all sessions, no matter whether they’re live or on-demand, are going to be recorded. You’re going to be able to digest them either before or after the Annual & Leadership Meeting. You can have access to great educational content that incorporates tracks to guide your selections, and that is going to be looking into relevant topics. We’re going to be talking about counterfeiting, regulatory issues, brands around the world, and about how you manage your brands in times of crisis. We might be talking about brand resilience, and we’re also going to be talking about soft skills. In the future, there might be more oral legal hearings that are not going to be in person anymore. They’re going to be conducted via video conferencing. That will probably require lawyers to develop new skill sets. We are going to provide training on that. From an educational perspective, I think that’s going to be a great experience.

From a networking perspective, we know that the meetings that take place between Corporate Members and their external councils are critical to our members. We’re going to be able to provide that within the platform.

But on top of that, we’re going to create some speed networking opportunities. We’re going to transform our Table Topics into networking opportunities. And we’re going to have an artificial intelligence–empowered matchmaking solution so that our members are going to be able to network one to one with people they do not necessarily know. This is similar to how it happens every year when you visit the convention hall: you meet someone for the first time, and you start a conversation. We’re going to be able to replicate that in a certain way.

Last but not least, sponsors, exhibitors, and firms that normally have hospitality suites are going to be able to have that same environment through videoconferencing on our platform. It’s a major investment in terms of technology, but a very worthwhile one.

How will this lay the groundwork for future events?
This is not just for this year. This is really going to be an opportunity for us to build for the future. Of course we want to come back to in-person meetings, nothing is going to replace a hug. Nothing is going to replace having a beer together. That said, we will still have in-person events, but on top of that, we will also have some kind of virtual offering. In the future, I foresee probably 80 percent of our registrants will be in person, but there might be up to 20 percent of them who might want to do that remotely. And that might allow us to attract more registrants to our Meeting and bring more people into our community.

I’ll share with you a very personal experience. In 2012, I was still working for the (European Union) Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market. The day before INTA’s Annual Meeting, which took place in Washington, D.C., that year, I had to cancel my participation for family reasons. I was extremely sad not to attend the Meeting and disappointed not to be able to meet all the new friends. Had we had a virtual offering at the time, I would have been able to connect with friends and colleagues, and I would have been able to participate in the educational program and other activities. That’s going to happen in the future.

This is going to be applied to a more immediate conference coming up on June 22–23. The 2020 New York Conference has been converted from an in-person event to the Association’s first-ever virtual conference. What can we expect? 
The Project Team has been working tirelessly to bring the event online and it hasn’t been without its challenges. But it’s exciting and it’s a great opportunity to keep our community engaged around very relevant topics. It’s also an opportunity to use the technology that we will be using more and more in the future.

As you rightly say, this is going to be our first experience in running a fully virtual conference, and that means that we will ask our members to excuse us for any kind of minor glitches that might happen. Like every time you adopt new technology, there are always some things that perhaps do not work 100 percent, but we’ll adjust to that.

More importantly though, the theme of the conference is extremely relevant. We’re talking about brands in society and about our concept of building brands for a better society. It couldn’t be timelier.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

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