Marketing Bootcamp

3 Key Marketing Takeaways from Digital Summit Denver

It’s no secret that digital marketing conferences often bring a mix of new ideas, outside-the-box thinking and wild marketing strategies that come to life after listeners have a few drinks along with their networking. For entrepreneurs, these new ideas can be monumental for proactively driving your business forward. 

That was my experience at Digital Summit Denver. Below are three marketing takeaways shared by Gary Vaynerchuk, Ann Handley and comedian Al Madrigal, ideas echoed by other speakers throughout the two day summit .

Gary Vaynerchuk: You Have the Power to Change -- But You Don’t.

In his typically boisterous style, Gary Vaynerchuk imposed his opinions on today’s marketing landscape -- and entrepreneurs should pay close attention.

The summit’s first keynote speaker suggested that marketers ruin everything, email marketing is waning, banner ads stink and mobile is still the future because desktop activity continues to subside. (He also called social media a buzzword for the current state of digital marketing.)

Vaynerchuk challenged digital marketers to change their stubborn behavior by adapting to trends sooner. As an example, he described a time when many marketers were hesitant to adopt Facebook as an example. “By show of hands, how many of you are using Facebook that said you never would?” he asked.

Hundreds in the audience reluctantly raised their hands. “The industry will evolve whether you want it to or not," Vaynerchuk continued, "and nobody is going to remember the marketer who plays by the rules and fails to adapt to the latest trends. You all see the industry changing, but you don’t do anything about it. Banner ads and tv commercials suck, billboards are increasingly ineffective; people’s eyeballs aren’t there; eyes are on the mobile phone (even while driving).

"Why are you still forcing old marketing tactics on people who aren’t paying attention?”

Vaynerchuk continued to berate marketers who stick to more traditional marketing efforts or the safer path during their careers.

Takeaway: Evolve or die. As entrepreneurs, you're likely in a strong position to experiment with more innovative strategies and influence the marketing industry. So, take full advantage of your agile state and begin breaking the bounds of traditional digital marketing strategies and trends.

Ann Handley: Your Story Needs to Set You Apart (and Focus on Empathy).

While marketing can sometimes be a painful, self-promotional and spammy experience, for those with genuine intentions and empathy for their audience, marketing can bring rewarding relationships and even influence customer action.

Day two keynote speaker Ann Handley shared examples of how organizations can create content wins. And, she said, they can do that even without massive marketing budgets. This was an important point for startups and entrepreneurs alike. Here, Handley used an example of an emotional short film from Mutual Rescue, Eric and Peety:

The Humane Society of Silicon Valley created this film to share the story of how pet adoption not only saves the animal, but the human as well -- an element seldom shared but deeply felt by those passionate about rescuing pets. These animal-loving individials also happen to be the Humane Society's target market, making its short documentary a clever marketing tactic.

While the goal was to create buzz around local shelters and inspire funding, the organization, rather than directly ask for donations, focused its marketing efforts on telling Eric and Peety’s story -- and it executed beautifully.

Handley explained that the key to creating powerful, inspirational and ultimately influential content is having emotional empathy for your audience. Good content is not about promoting your brand, imposing your will, creating a high abundance of drabble or spending the most money on advertising and outreach campaigns; it’s much simpler.

Takeaway: Content should focus on empathetic storytelling. Entrepreneurs should not feel limited based on budget restrictions. These challenges are hidden opportunities to create really special marketing wins and showcase your unique talents. Your brains can overcome your budget -- and that starts by having empathy for your audience. 

Al Madrigal: Nobody Cares About Your Social Oversharing (Brands, Take Notice)

In a much-needed respite from the all the networking, buzzwords and monotonous business chatter, Comedian Al Madrigal took the center stage to mock digital marketers and social oversharers.

Madrigal propelled hundreds of marketers into bellowing laughter with a comedic bit that once again proved that there is often a painful truth in satire. His opener? “Great, I’ve always wanted to do a gig where the entire audience was face-down in their phones.”

As marketers who are constantly monitoring social notifications, emails, bleeps, bloops and ring-a-dings, we may be the most susceptible to oversharing, and to an unhealthy addiction to our mobile phones and now watches -- oh, really?

Madrigal continued: “Look, nobody cares about your social oversharing, your lengthy three-star Yelp reviews or any other bulls**t that you are posting about yourself online. When did you become the restaurant review expert -- and why should I care about your incessant insight? No . . .seriously, nobody f’ing cares!”

While my writing cannot do Madrigal’s comedic timing and tone justice, believe me, his words offered harsh lessons to our addiction on both the social and mobile front; however, entrepreneurs and small businesses may have an advantage here.

That is that smaller organizations often struggle with social media. They spread themselves too thin trying to reach as many people on as many channels as possible, thus diluting their overall social marketing effectiveness. This problem may come from following the marketing tactics of larger brands -- but you are small; you're not a larger brand. While you can glean insight from big business, remember that you should scale your social efforts only as you begin finding success and revenue from it.

If you are a small business owner or even a solo-preneur, at what point does all of your social media effort become too much?

Are you trying to be too tapped-into your digital world? Are you failing to listen your audience around you? Are you quick to respond to customers in a brand-approved manner, almost in a robotic, buzzword-filled or automated voice?

Think about the “content” that you are publishing and promoting. Does it serve purpose other than views, retweets and awareness. Or does it provide real meaning to the people around you? Are you uniquely engaging with, and helping build, a community, or are you copying what other larger brands or marketers are doing because “it works”?

Takeaway: You shouldn't share for the sake of sharing; you should share to reinforce your purpose. Entrepreneurs and small businesses should not over-concern themselves with how big oganizations manage their digital marketing or social media. Rather, they should focus on telling their story, engaging customers one-on-one and finding clever ways to scale their efforts with their business needs.


As an entrepreneur, my observation at Digital Summit Denver was that that experience was positive, both for myself and my fellow colleagues. I found the many inspired speakers refreshing and would recommend the event to other entrepreneurs and entry-to-mid-level marketing managers interested in learning deeper insights about the quickly evolving digital marketing industry.