Yesterday I attended at #Meshcon – or the Mesh Marketing Conference 2013 – in Toronto hosted at the brain-stimulating Toronto Reference Library. A quick note on libraries: that place is beautiful and in the afternoon when I was leaving, it was packed. Every table had a group of students working at it, every computer – and there are many – was occupied, and all of it was flavoured with that delicious dusty aroma of stacks of real touch-them feel-them books. Long live libraries!
Ok, calm down.
After the first few sessions in at Mesh I actually started to feel more observer than attendee. I have been to quite a few conferences – primarily in the marketing, digital and ecommerce spaces – and probably spoken at more than I have been simply in attendance. Therefore, in the same way my English Lit degree means I can’t read any written work by someone else without correcting spelling and grammar, I had one eye on the content and one on the delivery and overall attitude toward to the audience, topics and big-M marketing world.
Fear not, because overall presenters have gotten better over time. The world of YouTube and Slideshare has really raised the bar for presentations because people have increased access to see what strong supportive visual are really like as a slide deck, meaning no more endless bullet points. There is also a general improvement in engagement with the audience rather than talking-at.
What struck me initially though was that I heard this all before: social media, join the conversation, engage-with don’t talk-at, you don’t control your brand anymore, monitor and engage, is there ROI in social media, your website sucks, etc. I’ve been attending that conference on different sides of the planet for the last half-decade. I’ll admit that I was initially quite stunned that these messages were still so dominant in the discourse amongst marketing professionals. Everyone should know that song by now. Furthermore, the constant spec sheet pissing contest of ‘I use this tool and that tool,’ ‘have you seen this tool,’ ‘that new tool is really great’ shows that the spec sheet battles of mobile phones really is bleeding into how we look at everything. It really is, as my colleague Vlad says, an uphill battle against the “war of checkmarks.”
All of that said, time and distance gave the opportunity for reflection and I think there actually has been movement and growth, and that there are those who are winning this battle. Something the panelist from Uberflip mentioned might not have stuck with many given that he was on a panel literally devoted to the litany of tools available and the panelists were part of a audience participation game to puke out the names of as many online tools as they could. However, he was almost anti-tool by saying that they’d tried a number of tools, but ended up using something that covered a few bases and gave them one place to manage several aspects of their marketing stack. This goes against the concept of do one thing and do it well, but in practice I think marketing practitioners are looking for something that does a few things that does them pretty well so that they can get insights in a connected manner and at a level greater which they currently have which is not at all or highly limited. Its not the best car, but it gets me to work, and right now I’m hitchhiking every day – kind of thing.
Also, if you were patient with the sessions, and started the connect the dots, the main thrust 5 years ago was that you had to be online, you had to be listening and you had to engage. Wrapped in all of that is the necessity that you had to treat social media like you would a social event: don’t enter, approach and speak, but rather enter, hover and mingle, listen and then contribute, then stay and repeat. Now, this is still the point of reminder and the context, but all the talk of online tools, aligning sales and marketing, website optimization, and the rest have at their core the concept of capturing, consuming and auctioning data. Yes, if you’re not doing the basics – the new basics you could call them – then start there, but everything you do is generating data – every spend, campaign, touch, event, interaction – and you need to
- have the awareness that its out there,
- the forethought to know what to look for and why you want it,
- the systems and processes to make it visible,
- the tools to capture it,
- the tools and/or people to make it intelligible and consumable,
- the analytical aptitude to make sense of it and make it relevant against what you were looking for,
- the persuasiveness to make it matter within the business, and
- the knowledge and capability to act on what you’ve learned.
Abstracting out the side conversations and formal presentations from #Meshcon I can say that #1 is still a major focus but its increasingly ‘sold’ based on case studies showing what is possible as you get to #6 where the data becomes intelligible and relevant against pre-defined goals and business needs, and as a result the bulk on the time is spent getting people from #1 to #6 through a discussion of tools. Yes, there’s data, and you can do great things if you have it, so here are some of the tools to get you there effectively. Makes sense. Tell me what’s worked for you.
The big gap here is establishing clear KPIs linked to what are meaningful and critical business performance outcomes, but while some can be generalized – and should be – these will depend on the type of business and the sector they are in, not to mention the stage in the growth lifecycle. I’m sure some would contend that KPIs are too specific to a business to generalize, but this assumes that the general approach is a known. Its not to general to say that walking people through key KPIs as they relate to the customer acquisition funnel down through conversion/revenue and back out through retention and referral and looking critically at which KPIs through that process are major outcomes and indicators, and which are simply drivers of these major indicators, or even just vanity metrics, would be valuable. Otherwise, you get a mountain of data, some tools to help build that mountain and make it possible to see what’s in the mountain, but its an entirely unfulfilling endaevour if you don’t know what you’re looking for.