When we first made the decision to attend Social Brand Forum, I asked a few locals what is there to do in Iowa. Well, it will not surprise anyone to hear that the first and only answer I got was “Take a photo by/in a cornfield.” Thanks Macy Koch of Brand Driven Digital and Event Manager for the inspired response!
But, while the rolling corn fields did not disappoint, the caliber of speakers and sheer networking opportunities offered at this great social media and marketing event were unparalleled. Kudos to Nick Westergaard, Macy and the entire team at Brand Driven Digital for making this second-year conference a class act among a heavily populated conference world.
A Shared and Approachable Learning Environment
It is a single-track event which means everyone, even the speakers, all stay in the same room and hear the same thing for the entire conference. This creates a shared experience which makes it easy to discuss with anyone what you have learned and to brainstorm how you can get started using the ideas learned in your business. The Midwestern setting and smaller venue than most conferences of this type also add to its intimate nature and invite everyone to get to know one another and learn from each other. It was a welcome break from the big city events we have attended in the past where the spotlight shines bright on the ideas and the people vs. the bright city lights and the parties. But this is not to say there was less partying, just a little more down to earth.
Students and Professionals Network and Learn From Each Other
One other unique and enlightening aspect of this event is its large attendance by students and faculty of nearby colleges. They asked great questions, contributed to hallway and twitter conversations and made for an interesting mix of academic and professional mingling that you rarely see. It also kept all of us on our toes since there is no question that college kids today know a great deal more than the rest of us on how their generation is truly using social media.
But in case you are wondering what you missed, I have captured the major speaker themes followed by a personal story or two from my time in Iowa to demonstrate why the suggested marketing concept works so well.
“Is your marketing so useful, people would pay for it?” asks Jay Baer, opening keynote speaker and author of the New York Times best selling book, Youtility. This idea was echoed by Laura Fitton of HubSpot: “Social media in two words: Be useful.”
The most useful example (pun intended) was Hilton Hotels Suggest twitter strategy where they created a new twitter handle @HiltonSuggests and actively find ways to help people with the questions they are asking to add value in someone’s life – even if it is not travel related.
In this example you can see how Hilton helped someone locate a charity in Dubai. This is so not related to their core business objectives to sell more rooms but then again, when Dr. Ons is looking for a hotel next time, don’t you think Hilton will be the first brand to come to mind? If you can be truly helpful to someone, you will build a personal relationship that will likely turn into customer loyalty, word of mouth and business growth.
My Iowa Be Useful Story
Speaking of hotels, we were at the hotel bar and were craving hard cider. When in the Midwest during October, who wouldn’t?!? But the bar was lacking it on their menu. Luckily our resourceful bartender did not skip a beat as he jumped in to create his own version of a hard apple cider, if we were game. And game we were. Kudos to Adam, the bartender at the Marriott Conference Hotel in Coralville, IA, for mixing up some vodka, apple juice, club soda and lemon for a new crave-satisfying apple cider. Way to go the extra mile to be helpful to his customers and needless to say, he had our loyalty for the rest of our stay. Not to mention the fact that I can now make this recipe at home to share this story with my friends – on the web and in my kitchen!
Be The Best and Most Trustworthy Answer
In a related vein, many speakers including Lee Odden, DJ Waldow and Marcus Sheridan spoke to a closely related subject: Be the answer to the question your customer is asking. But not just any answer – ALL the answers. Today we look to 10+ sources of information before making purchase decisions. This is up from half that in 2010! So, if someone is going to 11 different places to research and make their decision than ~75% of the choice has already been made before they talk to your actual sales team. But if you can answer all their questions up front – even the scary ones about how your competitor might do something better than you – then you invite trust and perhaps a quicker decision. And a quicker decision means the sale is much less likely to fall through the cracks by a confused or annoyed customer who cannot find the answers to their questions. So define your target market, then understand their pain points, questions and buying process inside and out. At this point you will be ready to help them make a better decision which in turn will grow your business. And by sharing the good, the bad and the ugly, you will also be a more trusted resource for this and future purchases.
This concept is also perfectly aligned with our core mission at Cover Story Media: “To deliver information and create online communities that improve people’s ability to make better, more educated decisions.” But can we work harder to fulfill this mission? Yes, every single day we should strive to do it better.
My Iowa Be the Answer Story
When we were pulling into the hotel it was almost 5pm. So I was starting my nightly spiral into food obsession and right there, within walking distance of our room was a local brew pub. BackPocket Brewery, a local Iowa beer company, has smartly built a restaurant complete with a full brewery that you can tour right there. And did I mention that the hotel is a conference center too? So there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the building at any given time and only a stone’s throw from this cleverly placed bar. So for me, BackPocket Brewery was most definitely THE ANSWER upon arrival – promising a local experience via food and drink. Oh, and they have Nutella pizza with bacon – BEST. IDEA. EVER!
Be Funnier, Be Mobile & Be True to Your Moral Compass
These were among the other themes discussed during the conference that should also guide your marketing plans in 2014 and beyond. After all, these are pretty universal themes in life and in business.
Use Humor to Personalize Your Brand
Tim Washer, former SNL comedy writer and current humor video developer at Cisco, shared his tips on how to inject humor into your creative. The #1 takeaway was find the best storytellers in your organization and empower them with the tools to tell your brand’s story, even if it may seem a little off your core business plans to start. In Washer’s words, “Start telling more interesting stories.” It may just lead to great things and will most certainly make your brand more memorable with your customers. Oh yeah, and another great tip was to partner with a film school and/or improv theater group in your local area to get started. Do not be afraid of video or you will miss out – YouTube is the second most used search engine on the web today. So if you are not in video, you are missing some important customer opportunities.
Tim Hayden explained that according to Nielsen, comScore, Pew and several other research organizations, ~60% of Americans age 12 and older now have smartphones and more than 70% of all phones are within arm’s length at all hours of the day (Edison Research). So the time is now to embrace mobile as a part of your strategy. Sure this seems kind of a no-brainer but when the crowd of 250 marketers in the room was asked to raise their hands if they had a mobile strategy in place currently, only 25% or so raised their hands. This is a HUGE disconnect.
As technology continues to grow for mobile devices at breakneck speed and we continue to expand the ways we are using our phones at this same rapid pace, it becomes more and more crucial to your business’ success that you find ways to make the experience customers have with your brand via smartphone better, smarter, more intuitive and easier. And, bonus tip, there are many ways to use other marketing in conjunction with the phone (not just hashtags people!) since it is always in hand or in pocket.
Follow Your Moral Compass
Marketing has always gotten a bad rap for being a little slimy around the edges but for most of us this is just unfair. However, a few slimeballs can make a whole industry look bad and now the bad guys are everywhere you turn online. But, Gini Dietrich shared that this offers a huge opportunity for us as marketers to be honest, transparent and ethical so that we stand out as the trusted resource in our area. If you create genuine conversations with your readers, customers, the media, etc. that are helpful, than you will be rewarded with more honest press opportunities and more loyal customers. After all, aren’t we all seeking more honesty in today’s fast-paced world? The easier you make it as a marketer for your customers to cut through the crap and get to the honest answers, the more they will want to buy from you vs. your less reputable competitor. As Dietrich said, “always go back to your moral compass” and for me, this was a refreshing and compelling reminder for each of us to stay true to who we are as brands and, most importantly, as people.
Share Your Experience
Did you attend this event? We’d love for you to leave a comment below about what you enjoyed most about the Social Brand Forum in Coralville, Iowa in 2013.