Putting a group of big-brand marketers in the same room can sometimes result in friction, factiousness and fisticuffs. There are so many different opinions flying around about brand marketing and communications while so many diverse marketers duke it out about their passion, that it can often be counter-productive and unwise. I know; I'm a passionate marketer myself.
But a new organization called The Digital Collective (DC) has been created to be the 'new guard' of Digital Marketing & Media.
Launched in January and founded by DMG, a marketing event and content driven company based in San Francisco, this elite conference is for those senior marketing executives who drive strategy at $1 billion plus organizations. DMG's "ad:tech" is also one of the bigger, digital marketing and technology trade shows.
Designed to educate through sharing by the most senior digital marketing minds, The Digital Collective also gives its executive participants the opportunity to organize their own gathering at different times of the year in different cities. Often having authors or marketing consultants as speakers in addition to their own speaking contributions, these events really revolve around the close-in gathering and mingling -- producing meaningful conversations -- which occurs at Digital Collectives.
At a recent DC event in New York City, some of the world's top consumer brands were present: Google, Estee Lauder, Showtime, PepsiCo, Hasbro, GE, Gilt Group, Anheuser-Busch and those were just the speakers; many more big brands such as HP, Macy's, Mercedes and others were listening.
I sat down with Chris Curtin, HP's VP of Digital Strategy, Corporate Marketing who talked about his insights into the founding, growth and thrust of the DC.
"Susan MacDermid, who runs DMG," Curtin started off, "went to an erasable board and wrote 'what event is missing?'" To explain the founder's thinking, Curtin continued, "Susan thought an event for a group that buys digital media for a living was missing. The way digital media can advance a business -- doing deals to advance a corporation and its consumers is a mutual interest. Susan thought getting the right topics, setting the agenda and producing unusual insights would have a lot to offer senior people."
Curtin said, "I'm proud of this group; the wind was at our chest. There's an over-abundance of events that take time away from doing the job but succeeding here derives benefit for everyone."
One central component of what everybody is calling 'digital media' is really 'social network marketing.' On that, Curtin observed, "It would be impossible to deny the younger generation is defining the social media revolution for products and services." Is the Facebook 'like' button a valuable tool for Curtin and HP? "I wouldn't hang my hat on the 'like' button; though I'm a big believer in the 'like' button. We link our FB page to an offer in our web presence and link our web site into a FB offer to create an HP branded experience."
When I talked to Bonin Bough, PepsiCo's Senior Global Director of Digital and Social Media, he spoke excitedly of what the DC meant to him.
Bough, who has deep experience in website and digital development for brands both on the agency and client side, first attended a DC event in Los Angeles. "This new event provided me with a rare opportunity to sit with marketers from a wide swath of brands sharing war stories and exchanging ideas. And, it has the highest quality digital attendee list I've ever seen. We're all like-minded but the consumer is transforming, so the crucial question is: how do we connect with the consumer?"
Indeed, how? "It's all about integration... it's about shifting from an impression-based mindset to a connection-based mindset," Bough stated. "Uncertainty and change is the norm today. But what is constant is that technology will be an active part of the consumers' lives -- we are approaching a 100 percent digitally connected society."
Is Pepsi's demographic focus on only the younger sector? Bough answers with a question of his own, "Is there more connectedness between the younger generations? Of course. But I actually think that the older people are getting to know their grandchildren better and staying closer to them on Skype, chat and text."
Bough then closes by talking about what PepsiCo is doing to support technology development and startups: PepsiCo 10, an intriguing initiative nobody would imagine coming from Pepsi. And, Pepsi is partnering with a number of other key partners such as Highland Capital Partners (VC); Mashable (Social Networking); and marcom partners like OMD Ignition Factory, Weber Shandwick and DMG. They've recently announced their "10 Tech Start-Ups" for the pilot.
I think this is a crucial, counterintuitive focus on entrepreneurship and digital tech by a beverage company ... a beverage company.
My final chat was with my personal favorite, Jennifer Kasper, Group VP, Digital Media & Multi-Cultural Marketing for Macy's. Ms. Kasper was my favorite because of her charming and disarming personality and the way in which she continuously suggested she was learning more than she was bringing to the DC. I thought quite the opposite.
Kasper started off, "I'm very new to this and right now in the process of building a (digital) team out at Macy's. What's really useful to me is hearing from my peers about what challenges they face. Right now, all marketers, all my peers here at the Digital Collective are wrestling with selling our initiatives through to the C-suite at our companies."
"I was thrilled when Macy's CMO Peter Sachse suggested that this (the DC) was something I should get involved in and really own for Macy's. As he told me, 'There are not a lot of brands that have coalesced around one person doing it internally.' That told me I could build a team internally while learning externally at the DC."
Ms. Kasper was very enthusiastic about the things she heard and learned during the sessions earlier that day. But she then went on to convince me she's not as new at this as she thinks.
"The whole concept of online shopping is pretty new -- it's only about 10 or 12 years old -- but still rather new," Kasper smiled. "Macy's central online consumer functions are to inform our consumers and then support their consumer transactions. We're still learning about it, because our customer is still learning about it. It's still evolving."
Macy's, Kasper is quick to point out, has a strong and venerable brand. "Shopping is an act of discovery," she pondered, "and Macy's has 150 years of story-telling. Our brand is this confluence of shopping and community. After all, we have the 'Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade,' the 'Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks' and there's few more powerful brand images than Miracle on 34th Street."
Ms. Kasper was on a roll and I didn't want to stop her. "Macy's is very customer-facing; we put out 'push messaging,' TV, print and online advertising and we're merging push marketing with more nuanced search marketing. We look at how people are consuming and the way people consume is always changing."
"For example," Kasper pointed out, "we're very intrigued with the 'Millennial Customer' from 13 to 30 years of age. The way that the Millennial Customer is using social content is radically changing and that changes how we try to engage them. It's about sharing our brand with customers who have an affinity for it and then providing a platform for them."
As for the grisly, numbers-oriented marketing tasks, Ms. Kasper doesn't miss a beat. "We're, of course, focusing very hard on search marketing activities, so we buy search terms and work on SEO within our product and brand categories. At Macy's we have an enormous amount of data and data is human."
Closing on the note of what the DC's benefits are for her, Ms. Kasper was ready, "For me there are a combination of benefits: the DC has bolstered my confidence; I feel like I'm headed in the right direction after listening to my peers; I get to hear senior managers working for treasured brands; and also get to come in contact with a number of service-providers who are offering cutting-edge technologies which help me work smarter." Can you give an example? "Yes, Outbrain was very interesting," she concluded, "and Peoplebrowsr kind of takes what Klout does and adds a new platform to it."
As a marketer myself, I know exactly how competitive a bunch we can be. We love to out-do each other and finish first. We all hold strong opinions, defend them vigorously and are usually innately stubborn -- a tricky mixture of characteristics. And when we all come together at industry conferences, we are all civil. There is however, in spite of talking a good game, very little real sharing of innovative marketing strategies.
The Digital Collective has somehow managed to teach very high-level senior marketers how to play nicely in the sandbox together whilst showing them, that there really are some things they don't know.