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California Dreaming: My DMA andTHEN 2016 Field Report

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If you missed andTHEN this year, you missed a lot, including the name change. The DMA is now the "Data & Marketing Association." Perfect.

If you made the trip, I think you'll agree that the DMA Annual Event was a hit. Here are just a few of the highlights in my andTHEN 2016 Field Report.

1 - Speakers

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Kobe Bryant

For starters, there was this guy named Kobe Bryant. He's kind of a big deal. Kobe closed the show with his trademark focus and passion. He encouraged everyone to follow their own passion and pay attention to the critical details along the way. He also stressed the importance of highly targeted marketing and messaging with this comment, “If you speak very generically, you’ll get a lot of interest, but you’ll never be able to move people.” Kobe's raw energy and enthusiasm reminded us all why he was an 18-time All-Star and 5-time NBA champion.

Hear it for yourself at Kobe Bryant: 5 Ways to Up Your A-Game.

Follow Kobe on Twitter

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Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek encouraged us to use technology to bring people together, not to replace human interaction. A noted author and speaker (his TedX talk is the 3rd most-viewed), Simon explores the impact of technology on society and our brains. He reminded us that marketers must think differently about Millennials. Their upbringing and use of technology require us to carefully plan how we connect with them. “Millennials are impatient and want content in real-time and on their terms,” said Simon. “Marketers need to meet these expectations.” His comments fed into a pervasive theme at the conference: use data and marketing technology to understand each unique consumer and create an experience (products, services, marketing and customer care) that will delight them.

Follow Simon on Twitter

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Tyler Oakley

Tyler Oakley carried the banner for Millenials everywhere.  A YouTube mega-star with 8 million subscribers to his channel, Tyler stressed the importance of really knowing your target audience and delivering messages that are truly authentic. This sounds obvious but it's too often missed. Brands think they are being authentic, but they are clumsily pushing messages that don't really show an understanding of their target customers. Tyler Oakley is an example of how  brands are collaborating with individual content creators to connect with their target audiences. According to Oakley, as a result of these collaborations, "The audience has to feel the messages are true to the content creator, and if it’s an obvious ad placement it turns off everyone involved, including the audience, the creator and even the brand."

Follow Tyler on Twitter

2 - Sessions

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This year's sessions were packed with experienced presenters and actionable insights. In keeping with the DMA name change to "Data & Marketing Association," there was a ton on data, analytics, digital and marketing technology. Of course, the six different tracks allowed you to focus on one of the following if you so desired:

  • Content & Creative
  • Data & Analytics
  • Experience & Engagement
  • Integration & Attribution
  • Strategy & Branding
  • Technology & Innovation

While I certainly couldn't cover them all, below are a few of the best sessions I attended:

Session 1: Customer Experience Workshop

This was an excellent and in-depth workshop that included detailed case studies from Dell, Farmers Insurance, Shinola and StitchFix. It focused on optimizing the customer experience at seven critical stages (more on this in a follow up blog).

  • Key Insight: In the midst of all the customer and behavior data used in our analytics and marketing, we often lose sight of "human data." This includes explicit preference data that is self-reported by the customer. StitchFix and others are expertly combining predictive analytics with explicit preference data on a mass scale.

Session 2: The Machines Are Coming

This session was subtitled "How United Airlines Is Using Machine Learning for Next-Gen Marketing." This was an eye-opening session that addressed the complexities and rewards of using machine learning and personalized communications to generate better results. As you'd expect, this type of initiative requires big budgets and a sophisticated team. But, it's within reach.

  • Key Insight: This represents a shift from rules-based marketing to black box decisioning. To achieve personalization at scale, it requires you to execute "facet-based" modeling for each modular component of your personalized marketing content. This includes real-time customization of your subject line, cadence, copy, creative, and offer that you deliver to each unique customer at each unique place on their journey.

Session 3: Understand Your Audience to Deliver Better Customer Experiences

This was probably the best session I attended. However, the title was a little misleading. The actual content was more focused on how Lexus launched a new campaign by creating custom audiences in Facebook. As with United's session on machine learning, the depth and breadth of this campaign required a sophisticated team. For example, Lexus combined over 20 different customer segments with 23 different video ads across their Facebook custom audiences.

  • Key Insight: For acquisition campaigns, it's better to build your own lookalike audiences offline based on real purchase data. Facebook's default lookalike algorithms are optimized for clicks (not purchases). This makes sense because Facebook doesn't have access to each company's actual purchase data. Also, don't be misled by your attribution analytics. Your sales-based lookalike models and campaigns may underperform on Facebook's models on clicks, but you should overperform Facebook on sales conversions and campaign ROI.

3 - Networking

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Since andTHEN is home to thousands of marketers from around the world, it's a networker's dream. Here were some of the better networking venues:

  • Regi-Ception — It was a great spot to connect with old and new contacts at the start of each day.
  • Opening Party — L.A. Poolside. Eats and drinks. Say no more.
  • Pre-Concert Reception — I made a ton of great contacts at the reception, the concert and the speakeasy after the show.
  • Experience Zone Receptions — This was an interesting setup where you could hear speakers in the center of the room while re-hydrating between session. Good contacts made here too.
  • Community Breakfast — I was lucky enough to grab a spot at Optikal's breakfast on Tuesday morning. If you haven't heard of them, "Optikal is an omnichannel marketing agency that utilizes big data marketing in order to provide true 1:1 human-to-human connection for brands and advertisers." James Fink (CEO of Optikal) did a great job co-presenting with Google on mobile and digital topics. Key takeway: 51% of brand intenders switch brands after they search online with their mobile phones and before they make their final purchases. Are you impacting mobile search at this point in your customer's journey?

4 - Hospitality

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The hospitality was spot on. We stayed at the Marriott which was adjacent to L.A. Live. L.A. Live, which was adjacent to the Staples Center, was a clean, modern and open space that was loaded with retail and entertainment spots. The Novo is located here, which is where the concert (below) was hosted. The Staples Center is adjacent to the convention center. So, it was a five minute walk from the hotel to the conference, with obligatory stops at Starbucks.

Finally, if you like to discover "divey" restaurants and mysterious speakeasies I can recommend two without further comment.

5 - Entertainment

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Ah yes, live music in L.A. Does it get much better?

This may date me a bit, but I grew up with Sugar Ray (formed in 1986) and Third Eye Blind (formed in 1993). Combined, they've sold over 24 million records worldwide.

Hosted at the Novo in L.A. Live, these Double Platinum and Billboard Music Award winning bands put on an intimate and energetic show. Both bands demonstrated their trademark energy and passion, pounding out hit after hit, along with a few choice covers. What's more, the Novo's setup allowed us to get right up against the stage.

Here are two of my favorites. Enjoy.

Someday — Sugar Ray

Jumper — Third Eye Blind

What did I miss in my field report? What did you like about andTHEN this year? Put you comments below. I'd love to read them.

I hope to see you next year at andTHEN 2017 in New Orleans, October 8-11, where we will, as they say in the Big Easy, laissez les bons temps rouler!*

*(Let the good times roll)

David W. Wilson
David W. Wilson
David W. Wilson

David Wilson has over 25 years of experience helping leading companies improve their marketing results using digital marketing, direct marketing, database marketing, consumer data, predictive analytics and marketing research.