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Inside ICE's pandemic pivot

Due to the COVID-19 pendemic, ICE (Ellie Mae at the time) needed to shift their annual conference from a live event to create their first virtual conference.

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Ellie Mae, the leading cloud-based platform provider for the mortgage finance industry, faced a considerable challenge in executing their annual conference. Due to COVID-19, Ellie Mae needed to pivot from a live in-person event to create their first virtual conference, Virtual Experience 2020.

The challenge

The online event ran from April 20 through the end of May 2020. Ellie Mae had to accommodate over double the number of attendees they typically would expect for the in-person conference. There were 7,500 mortgage professional registrations. For each registration, Ellie Mae made a charitable donation to GetUsPPE.org, an organization funding purchasing and management of personal protective equipment (PPE) that ended up totaling $50,000.

Ellie Mae had three primary objectives for the in-person event:

  • Engage their audience by driving attendance at breakout sessions and get feedback.
  • Bring the Ellie Mae community together by uniting their partner network for cross-selling and new business.
  • Provide attendees with product updates, training and education certifications.

The solution

“The reason to go with Contentstack to build this site out versus pulling in an agency or using some other service was the headless component of Contentstack," said Auden Hinton, director of Digital Experience at Ellie Mae. "The API-first headless CMS approach is the main reason for moving to Contentstack. It’s incredibly flexible. We’re fortunate enough that within our department, we have an engineering team that can quickly build things out, but Contentstack helps them be flexible and pivot, especially in times like this.”

Through the API, we can use whatever is right for what we’re trying to do, and with Contentstack, we’re able to innovate and pivot quickly.

Auden Hinton | Director of Digital Experience, Ellie Mae

“With a headless CMS, we’re not stuck to one piece of technology on the front end or the back end, for that matter," Hinton said. "Through the API, we can use whatever is right for what we’re trying to do, and with Contentstack, we’re able to innovate and pivot quickly. The experience that we built out would not be anywhere near where it was if we had to focus on implementing a new vendor or having an agency build it out.

“All the content that people are engaging with for the Experience event site is coming from Contentstack. Ellie Mae uses Contentstack as part of what we do now as a business for all of our online content digital experiences.”

The team builds the user conference website every year, but not to this extent. Before Contentstack, the amount of time to get from design to market was about double what it is now, including getting to market and maintenance after going live. For example, Ellie Mae didn’t have as robust a CMS running the Experience site previously. Any update would require a ticket being sent to the developer’s queue, and the team would have to do a production push and change the code.

When pivoting from in-person to the Virtual Experience event, what was helpful is that Ellie Mae already had content in a CMS. Because the CMS was headless, they had the opportunity to be flexible. When you go to the Virtual Experience site versus the in-person Experience site before, you see two completely different properties. A lot of that content was the same, so Ellie Mae didn’t have to rebuild the content or go in and change a schema or a database; the content was already there. This leveraging of content enabled Ellie Mae to pull content into the templates needed to match their goals or whatever the intent was for a specific page. Ellie Mae only had four weeks of runway to get this project off the ground.

One of the biggest benefits of Contentstack is the ease of use. Once we build it out, we can train other non-technical people to manage the content, and that’s powerful.

Kevin Yang | Senior Web Development Manager, Ellie Mae

For Virtual Experience 2020, success was measured based on how much of the event the team could virtualize and how effectively they could engage attendees. Ellie Mae set a goal to collect the same data that they would typically get at the in-person event. Surprisingly, they found that they could get more data by virtually hosting the event because it was easy to track what a user does once they got into the application.

Because Contentstack integrated with whatever was best for the user experience versus re-implementing, Ellie Mae could build in great features, such as commenting, bookmarking, liking, etc., improving the user experience. So, it wasn’t just that it reduced the amount of time to get to market. It allowed the team to focus on things that matter to their customers.

“Using Contentstack significantly cut the cost of this whole project in general and allowed us to be flexible and save money at the same time,” said Luke Legins, digital marketing specialist. "There’s a lot of content going back and forth, such as coordinating speakers’ bios and headshots, tracks and sessions. Contentstack worked as a centralized place that empowers stakeholders to manage content.”

In moving to the virtual event, Ellie Mae chose to make all content prerecorded and on-demand. However, two weeks into the event, Ellie Mae made the bold choice to incorporate live content. With the event site set up and the structure in place, Ellie Mae had confidence in Contentstack’s flexibility. Now, the team was given a week to put together a live streaming service so that users could watch live presentations, comment, and set up “Town Halls” to receive real-time answers to their questions from the experts. The dev team went into Contentstack and made changes to make the site support live content on the fly.

Using Contentstack significantly cut the cost of this whole project in general and allowed us to be flexible and save money at the same time.

Luke Legins | Digital Marketing Specialist, Ellie Mae

And there were other live components of the event to support. Some fun events were added, such as “Cocktails and Conversations” to bring celebrities or people of interest to have some back and forth with the audience.

Ellie Mae had more than website tied to the Experience site. For example, the advertising server that runs on top of Contentstack was set up to push digital advertisements out to various properties, such as within Ellie Mae’s product and customer resource center.

It’s all built in-house on a framework centered around Contentstack. All the comments, liking, bookmarks, metrics, tracking, alerts, emails and authentication were built from the ground up in four weeks.

“If we didn’t have the CMS that we have, we would not have had time to build all that in, and we would have had to settle for a suboptimal online event,” Hinton said.

“One of the biggest benefits of Contentstack is the ease of use," said Kevin Yank, senior web development manager. "Once we build it out, we can train other non-technical people to manage the content, and that’s powerful.”

The team had a debriefing call with about 50 people to find out how they thought the personal experience went. One of the main things that came out was that Contentstack gave stakeholders — including the development and product marketing teams — the ability to go into the system and manage their content all in one place. The team was also thrilled that Contentstack made it possible to pivot from in-person to virtual, with their content remaining intact.

The results

  • With over double the registrations, Ellie Mae collected 100 million data points regarding user behavior, data, and engagement.
  • The “Town Halls” and “Cocktails and Conversations” events had close to 9,000 unique views with approximately 2,000 hours of video watched.
  • More than 50 percent of the online attendees were considered engaged users.

Our goal was to deliver the right content at the right time for the audience regardless of what technology we’re using. Contentstack was a critical piece to the success of the event. I don’t think that we would have been able to pull this off within four weeks without having such a flexible CMS. And if we did pull it off, It wouldn’t have been as great of an experience for our attendees as it was. There’s no way it would have been.

Auden Hinton | Director of Digital Experience, Ellie Mae


ICE Mortgage Technology (formerly Ellie Mae) is the leading cloud platform provider for the mortgage finance industry. ICE enables lenders to originate more loans, reduce origination costs, and shorten the time to close, all while ensuring the highest levels of compliance, quality and efficiency.


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