The annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis for ExactTarget's conference Connections is always a highly anticipated event. I've been fortunate enough to participate in all of the company's conferences, even those first couple of affairs that were not branded "Connections." This year I enjoyed sharing the stage with fellow ClickZ columnist Simms Jenkins, who last week in this missive previewed the conference. Simms and I were joined by another ClickZ columnist, Melinda Krueger discussing advanced cross-channel list growth strategies.
Every year the conference gets bigger, more enlightening, and more entertaining. This year was no exception, with 4,000 global attendees, cutting-edge presentations from the likes of Twitter, Reddit, and Urban Airship; not to mention the inspirational keynotes from Michael J. Fox, David Blaine, and a panel of expert entrepreneurs. Connections is a must-attend event. And yes, there was entertainment too, which included private concerts and orange fireworks.
However, after all the fanfare, for me it's always about the content, as well as interacting with and being inspired by my fellow marketers and thought leaders, that keeps me coming back to this event. I thoroughly enjoy sharing ideas and hearing how the leading brands across industries are innovating to advance customer engagement and deepen client relationships.
With those ideals in mind, here are some of my favorite takeaways, facts, and moments from those very busy and productive three days that happened at the new tech center of Indiana (think Austin, TX, but more flat, more modern [I can see the talk back comments flames in my future - apparently there is some personalization rule that I refuse to employ that reads "Don't mess with Texas" :)]). OK, now back to our program…great content. Here are my favorite compelling moments from Connections 2012:
ExactTarget does a good job of making the content more about proven and emerging marketing tactics and less about a sales pitch. That said, it did proudly highlight some of its recent accomplishments, including:
Recent acquisitions of IGoDigital and Pardot. From my industry analyst perspective, both of these acquisitions strengthen the company's ability to be relevant across channels, and add behavioral-based predicative analytics and B2B lead-driven marketing automation. These additions smartly fill gaps in its platform that when combined invite much room for expansion. It furthers the notion of what my firm defines as "Connected Marketing."
Growth and global expansion. Announcing new offices and further global expansion, including France and the Scandinavian region, it has further solidified its application interface in multiple languages. The company continues to grow in many facets, all positive, but see its words for those details.
Product enhancements. It announced a plethora of new improvements; a blinding number of very useful things like "Playbooks" (you know those campaigns that everyone needs, well they're there and built for you), but for me the most important was opening up the platform to developers to build their own applications on. Based on its Fuel Platform, developers and partners can easily create new apps and fully extensible deliverables that can manifest in just about any form - except in the form of "a bucket of ice and a hawk" - for you non-Gen Xers, that was a "Wonder Twins…in the form of" joke. So OK, this Fuel does not give you superpowers, but it is a bit of a game-changer for this vertical of ESPs and interactive providers. Simply think "App Store."
But enough about that! There was so much other stuff going on, including:
Email is mobile and mobile is email. I was thrilled to hear so many people at the conference, on stage and off in the halls, quoting my firm's numbers about mobile adoption, which I detailed in this column. However, it's about how to connect the power of mobile, email, and transactions to make a difference for your business. This is one of the most inspiring and thrilling videos that I saw at this conference that underscores the potential power when it's all put together well. The agency responsible is DLKW Lowe for the client the Microloan Foundation. These are the brilliant minds for this inspirational use of technology. Watch this video. Do you agree? Wow! Refreshing to see others' work highlighted.
Social is everything. As I have been saying for decades, the telephone was the first social platform, followed by email and, yes, of course, spoken human interaction. See, what never changed in making purchasing decisions is that we rely on the advice of friends and family…before the "social" Internet - why did you buy that fridge, or select that daycare or realtor? Often on the advice of friends or family. Now the social 'net makes it so much broader and faster. For example, Gilt Groupe has become a master of marrying social to email. It leverages its own customer forums to capture client feedback in product development and overall client experience. Not necessarily a new idea, but the way it can now be measured and managed is so much more elegant than it was decades or even two years ago. Embrace, invite, and mechanize client feedback in nearly every stage of your business. Listen, be calm, respond, and carry on.
It takes a village. As I stated in my presentation at this event, our research finds that less than half of marketing organizations have common goals across all of their disparate channels. In fact, a recent survey done by my firm found that just 13 percent of marketers said that they're rewarded with common personal incentives across channels or initiatives, meaning that most marketing organizations haven't incentivized the notion of rowing in the same direction, in sync - at least for a merit/pay reward. As a marketing campaign adviser, I will bark, "It's always about the personal pocketbook people" - that is why free shipping and dollar discounts work so well. But this is also true of the marketing organization: give marketers rewards and incentives that are consistent across email, mobile, social, call center, and point of sale specialties/channels. Without such a financial sync, goals are unfortunately words on a wall, like a badly framed Successories inspirational photo (full disclosure: we have a couple of those in the office). Being out of synch with personal financial goals is the barrier to connecting channels. So get your house in order and figure out the value of your subscribers, as that is your currency to gain more budget and cooperation within the organization. To that end, at this conference there was a village of hundreds of partner solutions, over 70 exhibiting. Some of my favorite solutions were 89 Degrees, a data-driven agency in the cloud that took the best client design award at this conference; and the emerging Offerpop that extends social to email and back again; not to mention Liveclicker, which enables video commerce across platforms.
Certainly there needs to be specialists, but don't let them live in silos; get every unit including the call center on the same page, and then reward them for making your organization become digital, interactive. What is the ROI on email? It's huge. Matt Blumberg touched on those DMA email profitability numbers, which my firm can and has certainly substantiated. There is enough profit, so make sure the people making the programs happen get a taste with milestones and goals against your internal benchmarks. It is the simple carrot law of business, and most of all, it is fair. Take risks on new programs such as testing data-driven design, social/email combos, and video!
This event offers fantastic content for every level and every channel of marketing. For a marketer on every topic from email to social to mobile to industry-specific content to even application development - meaning yes, you can get your geek on - I highly recommend this collective of content that is known as Connections.
Get inspired to become more connected across all of your marketing programs.
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For more than 20 years, David has been an industry proponent. Direct Magazine said David is "one of the most influential experts in email marketing, if not the most influential." Co-author of "Email Marketing An Hour A Day," David has held senior level positions at Forrester and JupiterResearch, Apple, Anthropologie, MacWarehouse, Proteam, and retailers that dotted the early days of CompuServe. David advises many industry organizations including the OTA, DMA, eec, and has been a contributor to the Weekend Today Show on NBC. Learn more about connected marketing and download free research with registration here. Follow David on Twitter @emaildaniels and learn more at www.relevancygroup.com.