What I learned at ExactTarget’s Connections 2013

September 20, 2013 Ashley Brucker Stepien

What a week!exacttarget connections

I just got back from ExactTarget’s Connections 2013 conference in Indianapolis- easily the biggest conference ExactTarget has had to date.  And it definitely had some “Dreamforce” undertones- big productions, remarkable speakers, and tons of customers.  There were over 60 break-out sessions, an outstanding keynotes from Jim Collins, author of “Good To Great” (http://www.jimcollins.com), Walter Isaacson, author of the popular “Steve Jobs” Biography (and many more for that matter) ( http://www.aspeninstitute.org/about/about-walter-isaacson) and Condoleeza Rice, 66th US Secretary of State.  And what conference would be complete without epic parties a.k.a. a “Cloud Crawl” and a star-studded concert with Imagine Dragons and The Avett Brothers?  It was an impressive production to say the least.  It’s a tough job to have to go but someone’s gotta do it and I did it for you.  And just for you, I took copious notes so that I could tell you what my key take-aways were.

Marketers need to be thinking all mobile, all the time

If you went to Connections and the word “Mobile” wasn’t drilled into your brain, well, you slept through every session then.  Yes, that’s right – there is a huge push for mobile and while there were some product agendas behind it, I don’t think mobile is something to be ignored any longer.

The case that was made over and over again is that people are walking around with computers in their pockets.  In the next couple of years, it’s expected that there will be 5 billion smart phones in the world,  That’s right – 5 billion.  My tiny brain can’t wrap itself around that number but what I do understand is it means that people are about to be relying solely on their mobile phones.  What does that mean to you?  It means your company better have a serious digital presence, you better be able to send mobile friendly emails, and you should really, very strongly, quite seriously consider building a killer mobile application.  Seriously.

This was driven home for me when Marc Benioff described how he was currently on a 2 week business trip and didn’t bring a computer.  Mind. Blown.  As I looked down at the laptop bag I’d been lugging around for two days, trying to block out the crippling pain in my one shoulder, he continued to go over the key applications that he uses on his iPhone and he ultimately made the case that he doesn’t really need a computer.  I instantly eyed my own iPhone (which was obviously in my hand at that moment because it’s ALWAYS in my hand) and I started to ask myself if I needed my computer?  It’s true, I have my email, my Chatter, my Salesforce, my Google Drive App all on my phone…. and my back hurts from carrying my computer around and I really hate taking it out at airport security.  Marc is onto something, my friends.

Someone else made a statement in a different session that really stuck with me too, it’s been replaying in my head, “Any company who thinks they’re not a software company better rethink that.”  This was epic.  Let me translate- no matter what your company does- shoes, groceries, databases- you have to start developing out applications for these mobile devices.  This makes you, brace yourself, a software company.  Welcome to the crowd!

A unified marketing platform…finally

The next thing I learned is that dreams can come true.  To be more precise, it looks like Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud is finally about to take shape in the form of a single platform.  There were numerous demonstrations and sessions on the newly rebranded “ExactTarget Marketing Cloud.” The main point here is that Radian6, Buddy Media, Social.com, and Exact Target will all end up on the same platform after much anticipation.  As someone who has been trying to wrangle all of these different tools in their own platforms with their own logins and their own interfaces, this is pretty exciting.  It means these tools will experience a renaissance since they’ll be more readily available, which means more customers are likely to adopt these sometimes intimidating technologies, which means all of my clients are about to start getting very innovative.  And I am all for that.

Dates were loose but it seems that they’ll be releasing pieces of it over time – some as soon as this fall, others by end of next year.  But progress is progress and I, for one, am happy to see it.

Technology alone is no silver bullet

I learned a lot about all of the tools, the roadmaps, and the future platforms but what was validated for the millionth time for me was the fact that there is no silver bullet.  What I mean to say is, no matter the technology, they’ll produce mediocre outcomes without the strategy behind them.  I spoke to many clients over the course of this conference, many of whom had adopted these technologies but they hadn’t begun to scratch the surface of what was possible.  I heard a common theme from people – they felt they needed to step back from their technologies and figure out what the heck they were actually trying to do.  And then the clouds opened up and I heard sweet angels singing hellelujah!

This is key, people.  It doesn’t matter what tool you’re using – it matters what your business objectives are, it matters that you have a consistent strategy across all of your channels, and it matters that you have a vision and a map for the road ahead of you.  And start by doing a deep dive review of your customer – how they’re changing, how they’re interacting with your brand, and how they’re buying.  Once you understand the customer lifecycle – take a whopping leap back and look at it: that lifecycle should identify all of the channels that you, as a company, need to be present and participating in.  And then take an even bigger jump back – the customer lifecycle plus the identified channels should THEN tell you what technologies you need and what your roadmap looks like.

All in all – it was a great show.  I do love this stuff and I can’t get enough of the energy these shows create.  There’s nothing like seeing a room full of 3,000 marketers go positively coo coo for coco puffs over the addition of a “Mobile Preview” button in an email editor – nothing.  I’m telling you, it’s the bee’s knees and you should see it by joining me at the show next year.  So until then, you know where to find me, on my mobile device.

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