Why Storytelling Matters: Conference Recap of Digital Summit Seattle 2018
Storytelling seems to be the hot buzzword in marketing these days.
If you don’t believe me, check out the 2018 agenda for Digital Summit Seattle, where the word story appears in four different session titles alone.
As an attendee at said digital marketing conference this April, I wasn’t complaining.
Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I loved the emphasis on storytelling at Digital Summit Seattle. At 9 Clouds, we’ve actually been advocating for the importance of storytelling in marketing for years. Because isn’t that what marketing is — finding creative ways to tell the story of your brand?
A renewed appreciation for storytelling wasn’t my only takeaway from Digital Summit, though. I learned so much — and had so much fun — at this awesome marketing conference in the gorgeous city of Seattle.
Below is my complete conference recap of Digital Summit Seattle 2018. If you’re thinking about attending a Digital Summit conference yourself, read on to find out if it’d be a good fit for you!
All About Digital Summit Seattle 2018
What Is Digital Summit?
Self-described as “the definitive digital marketing gathering,” Digital Summit is a comprehensive, two-day marketing conference covering all things digital.
With 18 events all across the country, Digital Summit brings in thought leaders and speakers from the world’s top brands (like Facebook, Google, and Disney) to share their solutions on reaching customers more effectively via digital marketing.
Digital Summit sessions cover a huge range of topics, including:
- User experience (UX) and design
- Social media
Who Should Attend Digital Summit?
If you’re involved in marketing in any way — whether you’re B2B or B2C, agency or nonprofit, new startup or national brand — you’ll benefit from attending Digital Summit.
Attendees of Digital Summit hail from a variety of job positions, from C-suite executives to data analysts to content creators like me.
At Digital Summit Seattle, we had access to more than 50 sessions and workshops on tons of topics. Aside from the keynote speeches, each time slot offered four different tracks to choose from, meaning there was always relevant content to consume.
And since 93% of the 20,000 professionals attending Digital Summit each year would attend the conference again, the content truly is worthwhile.
Why Digital Summit Seattle?
With 18 different cities on the 2018 Digital Summit tour, you probably won’t have to travel far to attend one of these digital marketing conferences.
But since I live in South Dakota, the closest conference to me was still several hundred miles (and several months!) away. So, I looked for a springtime conference in a location outside the Midwest.
Here’s why I chose to attend Digital Summit Seattle:
- The speakers
- With keynotes from Rand Fiskin, founder of Moz, and Scott Dikkers, founder of The Onion, I knew my brain (and ears) would be in for a real treat.
- The sessions
- Along with sessions on content, social media, and — yes — storytelling, my pass offered access to one of three in-depth workshops. I chose the one on email marketing by Michael Barber, chief creative officer of Godfrey, and came away with pages upon pages of notes.
- The city
- If you’re going to a marketing conference, you may as well make it a fun spot to visit, right? Seattle has been a city on my bucket list for ages, so I was happy to finally check it off during my time at Digital Summit.
What I Learned from Digital Summit 2018
If you’ve ever attended a marketing conference, you know how hard it is to distill your takeaways into one blog post or email. I mean, you could probably write a piece on each presentation alone, right?
So instead of plodding through my 26 pages of notes (yes, I’m a freak, I know) — I’m just going to share the highlights.
Here are my top five takeaways from Digital Summit Seattle 2018, broken down by my six favorite sessions.
1. People Actually Love Email Marketing
Email marketing is getting a bad rap these days. With new social apps and marketing strategies surfacing daily, it’s easy to ignore this old-timer in the corner.
But as Michael Barber pointed out in his morning workshop, “45 Tactics to Take Your Email from Zero to Hero,” email marketing isn’t dead. In fact, it’s alive and well — and getting stronger by the day.
Over the course of four hours, Michael shared his best tricks of the trade, gleaned from years of experience touching several million marketing emails.
Here were just a few eye-opening facts I learned from Michael about the health of email marketing:
- People prefer email over any other marketing channel.
- When asked their favorite method of contact by brands, 61% of respondents in a 2017 Adobe email survey voted for email (up 24% from the previous year). The next most preferred method? Direct mail, with 18%.
- Email marketing offers the highest return on investment (ROI) for marketers.
- Regardless of industry or country, marketers consistently rate email marketing as providing a higher ROI than any other marketing channel.
- The future of email marketing looks bright — both for brands and consumers.
- Marketers are spending more on email marketing, not less: according to Email on Acid, 72% will spend more time, and 87% will spend more money. For good reason, it seems: 70% of consumers believe email will still exist in 10 years (the most of any other channel).
“The inbox is the one digital place we know how to control.” –Michael Barber
2. SEO Isn’t Dead — It’s Just Changing
Following all the recent changes to Google’s algorithms, there are a lot of myths about search engine optimization (SEO) floating around.
Fortunately, it’s Rand Fishkin to the rescue!
Rand, everybody’s favorite mustachioed master of SEO, helped debunk some of that misleading data in his keynote, “The Search World in 2018.”
He began with some surprising good news for SEO — like the fact that for every paid ad click on Google, there are 20 clicks to an organic result. Clearly, there’s still plenty of opportunity here!
. . . And then he brought some bad news — like the fact that SEO is changing, and a lot of those changes are out of our hands. As in, they’re in Google’s hands.
As the nature of search evolves, Google is trying to move from expressed to implied intent — AKA predicting (and answering) your questions even before you have them. By being so helpful, Google is basically aiming to get you addicted to itself. Cool, right?
However spooked you might feel, all of this basically means that we need be even more agile as digital marketers, paying close attention to — and adjusting for — Google’s frequent changes.
Rand pointed out eight broad areas of Google’s ranking algorithm that marketers need to optimize:
- Query satisfaction
- Quality of host domain
- User experience
- Technical and crawl data
“Google is willing to lose a lot of short-term revenue in exchange for addictive search behavior.” –Rand Fishkin
3. Viral Content = Great Storytelling
The idea of using storytelling in marketing content surfaced several times throughout the Digital Summit conference — notably in the sessions “Storytelling Is the Only Strategy” by Jeremy Gilbert of The Washington Post and “12 Principles of Viral Content” by Nadya Khoja of Venngage Infographics.
(See? I told you storytelling was a theme at Digital Summit Seattle!)
As a creative content strategist, I’m always eager to learn ways to make my content more engaging.
From Jeremy’s presentation, I was inspired to find and share unique, riveting stories — stories that make people stop what they’re doing and listen to (or watch) what you’re doing instead.
That might require you to try new, potentially risky ideas, like getting users to participate in the content (à la “choose your own adventure” stories) or creating alternate versions of the same story for different platforms (one for desktop, one for mobile).
Nadya’s session also shared some awesome strategies for creating attention-grabbing, share-worthy content.
To create viral content, try out these 12 principles:
- Solve a burning problem.
- Find hacks to common struggles.
- Bust a myth.
- Challenge the status quo.
- Reframe the question.
- Bring in a new perspective.
- Mash up multiple topics.
- Go outside your immediate field.
- Find niches and subcultures.
- Explore and visualize origin stories.
- Envision the “before and after” state.
- Include a reason to share.
“Make a show, and tell a great story.” –Nadya Khoja
4. Tactics Don’t Matter
What makes a high-performing marketing agency . . . well, high-performing?
Hint: it’s not tactics.
Because while many marketing firms employ the same strategies, the best-performing ones see two to three times the value from the exact same tactics.
So, what gives?
According to Matthew Sweezey of Salesforce, the number-one new idea of marketing is that marketing creates experiences, not messages. That was the premise of his session, “Five Key Traits for High-Performing Marketing Organizations.”
Creating a fantastic customer experience as your product is all about making the experience both memorable and seamless. And that starts at the top of your agency.
Here are the five key traits of the best marketing companies:
- Executive buy-in
- Bigger budgets
- Better technology
- Agile workflows
“The product is the experience.” –Matthew Sweezey
5. Outrageous Ideas Get Somewhere
The last big thing I “learned” at Digital Summit Seattle wasn’t a tangible tactic or strategy, per se. It was more of a motivation.
In his keynote “Building a Brand with Outrageous Marketing,” Scott Dikkers of The Onion didn’t have a deck of flashy slides to show us. Instead, he just got up and talked — and despite the lack of visuals, his session was surprisingly memorable.
Sure, it was nice to set aside my notes and simply listen to his hilarious stories of starting The Onion, the satirical news outlet we all know and love.
But it wasn’t just Scott’s humor that I enjoyed. It was his passion. Each of his stories revolved around the idea that to achieve in life, you need to “live your mission” — to find the thing you love to do, and do that . . . even if it means sleeping on a peed-on mattress in the basement of an acquaintance while you get your business up and running.
(Yes, he did that. All to see The Onion — and its employees — succeed.)
So for Scott, “outrageous” isn’t just a business model, though it clearly works. It’s also his philosophy on how to live life. And that’s inspiring.
“Be the most outrageous version of yourself you can be.”–Scott Dikkers
Going to Digital Summit?
So, what do you think? Does Digital Summit (Seattle or otherwise) sound like the right marketing conference for you?