The State of Marketing 2019

I was wandering around the Ellie Caulkins Opera House last week, moving from stage to stage at the Denver Digital Summit, a conference for digital marketers, and I decided to swing through the VIP lounge to see if there were any cookies.

Not sure how exactly — maybe because I’m a many-times alumnae of the conference? — but I always get a free upgrade to VIP, and the lounge has free snacks and drinks throughout the conference.

No cookies at that point, but as I was passing through, I saw Seth Godin just chillin’, chatting with some people. I had to do a bit of a double take, but yep, it was him.

Thought about taking a picture, but didn’t want to come off as a creep. (I have strong feelings about celebrity culture…)

Later that day, he was our second keynote of the conference, and he not only gave a great talk, answering questions from the crowd off the cuff as eloquently as he delivered the prepared portion of his talk, but he also made me feel really good about the state and future of marketing again.

That’s kind of a big deal, because a couple of years ago, a different famous marketer (who will remain nameless here) was the keynote speaker, and I left that talk feeling like I needed to take a shower. He was all about the hustle, how to get bigger faster, how to game the system, fool the algorithm, predict the trends.

It was so bad, it colored my whole experience of the conference, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to buy a ticket the following year.

But I’m so glad I went this year. Each of the keynote speakers was inspiring, the breakout sessions were almost universally interesting and helpful, and I walked away feeling better, not worse, about my chosen profession.

So I thought I’d round up some of my biggest takeaways from this year’s summit for you here:

Organic content is still king

I can’t tell you how many times over the last seven years I’ve heard that “blogging is dead” — but we must be zombies because we just keep right on kicking! And, interestingly enough, several speakers highlighted that organic content was absolutely their marketing bread and butter, including the director of marketing for Merrell shoes and for Wired Magazine.

However the important thing to note is that all of these powerhouse marketers were leading with organic, and then backing it up with paid advertising. They all had a formula or a threshold for when a particular piece of content was doing well, then backing that content with some ad spend.

The summit also shared some fascinating statistics around content:

  • 72% of marketers say that content creation is the most effective SEO tactic
  • nearly half of marketers say that blogging is still their most important content strategy (not video or social…)
  • and on average, content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and delivers 3 times the amount of leads

So if you thought blogging or content marketing in general was dead… think again.

Takeaway: A strong content strategy starts with creating great organic content and then supporting it with ad spend.

Give your people something to believe in

Another trend I saw mentioned across several talks is that purpose within a brand creates loyalty and community. In other words, brands that stand for something beyond their products tend to command more loyalty than brands who don’t.

That means, regardless of what you sell, when you take a stand for something — be it social, charitable, political, whatever — you might lose a few people, but those you retain will be more loyal and more vocal about their loyalty to you.

I think a great example of this I’ve seen lately is the Penzey’s spice brand. It’s a fairly obscure brand that operates little spice shops where you can buy your cooking herbs and spices in bulk. With the 2016 election, the owner came out with some very vocal — and well written — political opinions. Sure, they lost some customers that way, but the bounce from the customers it resonated with has been huge. He’s continued to write and post these missives on their social media channel, usually in conjunction with a special offer in the store, and regularly sells out of the offered product.

The other half of this is that more and more brands are seeing great results creating community spaces and opportunities to help fight social isolation. This might be real-life meetups or online spaces and groups, but the trend is that brands are seeing great results going beyond the transaction to build communities they care about. WIRED has done this by creating a Facebook group for parents. Seem like a stretch? Not really; they found they were getting a lot of technology questions from parents, and so they created a community to help people connect with answers.

People want to identify with your brand in order to say something about themselves. What does it say if someone wears Nike shoes and Nike supports Colin Kaepernick? What does it say if someone chooses to use Lyft instead of Uber? What does it say about them when a customer chooses to work with you?

Takeaway: Think about what you and your brand stand for beyond your product or service and work to build community around that. Tap into your customers’ purpose that is in sync with your own.

Go back to basics

I’ve been beating this drum a bit this year, but I heard several speakers extolling marketers to make sure to go back to basics, either because it’s been a while since you’ve updated things or because you may have skipped a step altogether in the past.

Two different sessions I attended on email automation hammered home the point that you cannot do effective automated marketing sequences without deeply and truly understanding your customer journey. Consumers want their needs to be anticipated and the right offer to be made at the right time — but the only way you can do that is with a strong understanding of the customer journey they’re on.

Likewise, a presenter on Instagram Stories mentioned understanding your brand ethos and translating that to your strategy for Instagram. What do you want to be known for? How does that translate to each of your marketing channels?

Takeaway: If you’re not 100% clear on your brand message or your customer journey — or if things have shifted since you last did those exercises — it’s time to revisit them to ensure that your marketing is more effective.

Marketing isn’t sleazy

Finally, and maybe my most important takeaway from the conference, was Seth Godin’s assertion that marketing is not evil. It’s not sleazy. It’s not manipulative.

People have come up with tons of marketing tactics that are sleazy, manipulative, and even evil — but marketing itself doesn’t have to be.

Godin said that marketing is the most important function in a company, because marketers represent the customer in the room. Someone asked how they could get the other departments in their company to take marketing seriously, and Godin said to go out and record their customers complaining, and bring a 3-minute video of it to the next meeting.

That would certainly get my attention!

But his point is that when something isn’t working, the problem isn’t with what we’re tweeting about; it’s with the product. Marketers have the power to find out what the customer really wants, and then help deliver it.

Some of Godin’s finest points:

  • Ask yourself what change you’re trying to make in your customer, and what change do they want to see in themselves.
  • How do you tell a story your audience wants to hear? You find a thread of interest and reflect it back to the people who are interested.
  • That means that you need a much smaller audience than you think you do; when you truly connect with them through marketing, you don’t have to be huge.
  • Create something people want to talk about and that will raise people’s status with their community — that’s how you make an impact with your message.

Finally, Godin said, “Show up with a bold idea that scares you.”

(Oooooh, shivers!)

I’ve often said that my own marketing strategy is to show up and be useful — and honestly, sometimes that can be scary. But I’m going to challenge myself to be more bold and really embrace the ideas that scare me, because that’s how we truly make an impact with what we do.

What about you? What will you do that scares you?




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