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A Whole Bunch of Buzz Words and Very Little Substance: A Tale of Digital Marketing Conferences

I am often asked whether or not I will be attending or speaking at various digital marketing conferences. My answer is invariably the same; no. I’ve been to these conferences dozens of times in my career both as a VP of Marketing and as the owner of a digital marketing firm. The takeaway is always the same and the content rarely varies. The only thing that changes are the buzz words used to attract people to them and the profit margin of the people hosting/promoting them.

As digital marketing has evolved from a smart strategy to must have part of your marketing mix, more and more conferences have popped up. They are promoted as “can’t miss events” or “cutting edge”. Every time I have been sucked in it is the same thing. Marketers competing to see who can use the newest buzzwords to describe the exact same strategy from last year and digital marketing firms shamelessly plugging themselves. These are the firms that are usually lacking one thing; a solid client base. Their best tactic is to get into the breakout sessions and speak as though they have discovered a new and amazing way to reach your audience.

But alas, I leave disappointed and wondering why I allowed myself to get drawn back in. Recently, I had several clients texting me from one of these conferences asking me questions and coming to the same conclusion that I have.

Here are a few of the buzz words and questions I got during this recent event and my response.

1. Client 1- “Jason, we need to start doing Dark Posts on Facebook, everyone is talking about them”

My response- “We’ve been doing those for a long time. These are just posts that we aren’t publishing to the page but instead are only displaying to a targeted audience “Dark Post’ is just the new buzz word for those whom have yet to learn how to use them.”

Client 1- “Is that all they are? That’s a rip-off, I thought I was really learning something.”

My response- “No worries, but that’s funny!”

2. Client 2- “We need to develop a UX design for the website. Everyone here is talking about that.”

My response- “Remember when we built your site and I told you home page segmentation was everything? That’s UX Design. Your bounce rate went from 71% to 11.35% with an average number of page views of 5.73 from 1.25. Tell the person running that session those stats, it’s in the report you get every month.”

Client 2- “Hahahahahahaha!!! Never mind! They were just quoting some stats they have been getting for their clients and they aren’t even close.”

My response- “I’m sure I can guess.”

3. Client 3- “Should we be doing more SEO? Because these guys are talking about it non-stop and they seem like they know their stuff.”

My response- “Your site is fully optimized. The concern with taking an all-out SEO approach is that SEO is a dying strategy. We took your site from slightly over 1,100 hits a month to 8,000 per month in the last 6 months leveraging our approach. We would not have done that taking a purely SEO approach. Google the phrase “SEO is dying” and tell me what you think. Usually, that approach is driven by Traditional marketing firms that sit behind the technology curve.”

Client 3- “Exactly right. Traditional firm. And you’re right, I always get sucked into this stuff! Forge ahead!”

My response- “Absolutely.”

And my personal favorite:
4. Client 4- “This is basically a commercial for Hubspot. We used HubSpot before we hired you and it wasn’t good at all for us.”

My response- “Hubspot is a great tool… for some businesses. I can see why it would be tough for yours. That’s the difference between a customized digital strategy and just selling a commoditized tool. It’s also why we knew a purely inbound approach wouldn’t deliver enough ROI for you.”

Client 4- “Amen to that!”

These are just an example of a few of the exchanges I had. If the firm telling you that a particular strategy is the way to go generates more of their own revenue with direct mail and billboards than with digital, it’s likely the case they are behind the technology curve. A true digital firm understands the buzzwords fall behind the technology, not lead it.
Those of us that have spent a career understanding, adapting to and driving technology also understand that most firms adopt technology only as the markets begins to force them to. That is usually a result of for-profit conferences and growth in popularity of buzzwords.

The moral of the story is that a gathering of industry professionals can often lead to great information and the adoption of real understanding for the core competency. I just can’t wait for that to be the case in digital marketing. Most people that host these things do so as a profit driver but they almost always also own a digital marketing firm. Check out their company’s revenue before you jump right in and buy what they are peddling.