8 Takeaways from the 2016 Digital Summit

The 4th annual Digital Summit, sponsored by Laughlin Constable and the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University, took place on Thursday, February 25, 2016. The daylong conference brought marketers and college students together to learn and discuss the newest trends in the digital landscape. Speakers from companies across the country provided key insights into how digital is the ultimate game changer in the marketing landscape.

Here are our main takeaways from the 2016 Digital Summit.

1. Technology has enhanced the perpetual importance of storytelling.

A compelling story that captures an audience’s attention has the power to make consumers listen to your brand. The many ways we tell stories have evolved immensely over time, thanks to innovative technology that has changed how consumers search for and digest stories.

Dan Williams, Midwest Sales Director at Spotify, expressed this concept with the emergence of the Streaming Revolution. Millennials are “soundtracking” their lives and curating playlists for specific moments or activities. For example, there are over 40,000 active “Shower” playlists on Spotify, averaging over 550,000 streams per day. Brands that strategically tap into these precise moments and weave their story with the consumer’s story will be reap the benefits of user loyalty and advocacy.

Laura Markewicz, VP of Digital Strategy at Laughlin Constable, touched on major technological advances, both historical and recent, that have changed the way stories are communicated. However, while technology changes, the power of a good story does not. As marketers, we must never stop using new technology to continue to tell stories and create experiences people love.

2. Meet your customers where they are searching.

Today’s rapidly evolving technology has introduced new media for consumers to search for anything at any given moment.

Joe Veverka, Search Insights Manager and Melissa O’Brien, Account Executive from Microsoft stressed why marketers should begin to consider the significant impact that mobile personal assistants such as Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Now and Apple’s Siri are making on paid search and digital advertising. Veverka and O’Brien emphasized that marketers should be adapting their pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns for voice search by using question words in certain keywords, such as “how,” “why” and “what.”

Veverka and O’Brien also explained that by 2018, Cortana is predicted to be the primary personal assistant for one billion Windows 10 powered devices. As mobile personal assistants continue to change the way consumers search through mobile devices, marketers must continue to adapt their paid and organic search strategies to optimize the reach and relevance of their content through this new search medium.

3. Stay authentic.

Now more than ever, it is crucial for brands to evolve with the quickly changing digital landscape, but stay true to their roots at the same time. Whether brands stay faithful to their heritage, are transparent at every consumer touchpoint or give back to the community, being authentic is the key to earning respect among brands’ target audiences.

Brad Heidemann, CEO of Tahzoo, defined the Experience Economy, where people value brands based on the experiences they have during their interactions with them, as the new market in which brands must compete to provide the most valued experience.

Patrick O’Brien, CEO of Paris Presents Incorporated, expressed the same idea with the Real Techniques brand partnership with Sam and Nic Chapman, two makeup artists and sisters from the United Kingdom, selected by Paris Presents Incorporated for their genuine interest in educating women on makeup tips. In their makeup tutorial videos, the Chapman sisters often use other makeup brush brands, allowing them to keep their audience’s trust and provide an authentic online experience with honest reviews, thereby growing their popularity and credibility as experts.

4. Dare to be different.

How can brands truly differentiate themselves and cut through the noise in their industries?

Laura Markewicz challenged her audience to pay close attention to what the competition was doing and find ways to do the opposite. For example, when other airlines charged their passengers more for tickets, luggage and assigned seats, Southwest Airlines took an entirely opposite approach. They chose to focus their whole brand around the customer experience. Southwest passengers have the liberty to choose wherever they would like on the plane and check their bags for free. As a result, brands like Southwest Airlines found competitive advantage through an entirely different approach than its competition.

When marketers choose to stop making minuscule changes, and instead strategically shift their approach to differentiate from the rest of the industry, the reward is often worth the risk.

5. Plan for your brand’s future.

As the digital universe grows, the potential disruptions in the future will have major implications for marketers. Instead of avoiding these major innovations, marketers must adjust and react to keep their brand competitive.

As Mark Carlson, EVP of Strategic Planning at Laughlin Constable stated, “If you hate change, you’re really going to hate irrelevance.” As technology evolves, marketers cannot afford to wait for the next big change, because if they do, they’ll fall behind.

With the example of Facebook’s new “reaction” buttons allowing for different expressions online (e.g., love, haha, yay, wow, sad, angry), Carlson discussed how marketers will have to continuously monitor how Facebook’s new reaction buttons will evolve what these human, everyday emotions mean in a social media context. In short, the brands that analyze, predict and adjust to changing digital consumer behaviors will triumph.

6. Experience is the most valuable currency.

Customer experience (CX), as defined by Augie Ray, Director of Research at Gartner, is more than just customer service. It’s about providing value beyond your product or service, and ultimately making your consumer feel better, safer and more powerful.

An example of a brand with superior customer experience is the ride-sharing company Uber. From its founding, the renowned and beloved brand found a way to disrupt the transportation industry by providing a ride to the user’s location when he or she wants it, making both riders and drivers feel secure and empowered with ratings and reviews accessible to both parties. This innovative concept disrupted a stagnant taxicab industry that was in dire need of innovation.

Overall, marketers must place value in each interaction a consumer has with their brand, and work to make every experience one to remember.

7. Connect with your customers in the moments that matter.

Google’s La’Naeschia O’Rear, Matt Eschert and Marisa D’Amelio discussed how mobile is now a behavior, not just a technology. On average, people check their phone 150 times, or 177 minutes, a day. These instances of needs-based mobile moments are opportunities for marketers to capture mobile users at their moment of need or want.

An example of this is how YouTube has become a hub for influencers to reach consumers with useful, interesting content that provides value and answers their needs-based moments, in the moment, from any device. Brands like Lowes leverage YouTube to empower DIY enthusiasts to complete home renovation projects on their own.

Marketers must identify these micro-moments where consumers are looking for support during their needs-based moments, and support them with the content they need.

8. Think like a human, not like a marketer.

Marketers have a tendency to focus on selling products and gaining profit instead of delighting their customers.

Erin Ulicki, VP of Sales at Okanjo, provided key tips for reaching consumers through native commerce, or serving up shoppable ads that correspond with the content of the article or webpage. Putting themselves in the customers’ shoes can give marketers insight into how delivering the right message at the right time in the right place is crucial to delivering a superior customer experience.

Laura Markewicz proved this point further by rewinding back to the first banner ad ever, created by AT&T, which had a 44% click-through rate. Over the past two decades, marketers have ruined digital banner advertising through oversaturation, with today’s benchmark CTR at only .07%.

Despite evolving technologies and online consumer behaviors, marketers must be the customer champion by always keeping their consumers’ best interests at the forefront of every marketing effort.

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