We Put 100 Marketers in a Room for 2 Days. Here’s What They Talked About

6 minute read

Upland Admin

Q: What happens when you put 100 of the smartest marketers you know together for two days?

A: Some pretty remarkable conversations.

I know this because I had the privilege of witnessing many of these conversations first hand during the 2019 Content Operations Summit, which we hosted in frosty Boulder, CO this December. We intentionally kept the gathering intimate to encourage folks to have real connections and interact with speakers in a way that’s only possible in a small-group setting.

And connect they did! Between conversation-driven presentations and impassioned hallway chats over free-flowing coffee and smoothies, the luxurious St. Julien Hotel was abuzz with marketers discussing what winning with content will look like in the years to come.

Here’s [some of] what got people talking:

The Future of Marketing Is Inclusive

Sydni Craig-Hart, CEO of Smart Simple Marketing, reminded the group in her afternoon keynote that appealing to diverse audiences isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s now a business imperative.

Buying groups are more diverse than they’ve ever been, and as customers continue to be empowered, they’re increasingly unlikely to buy from brands that don’t reflect them.

But multicultural marketing is more than just pretty pictures—it’s about designing products for the wide array of people they may ultimately serve; it’s also about marketing teams that reflect the wide array of cultures, experiences, ethnicities, and more that make up your buyers and customers.

What does that mean in practice? It means that it’s not enough to look at data that indicates what a particular demographic may want—you must bring those voices into the room from the very beginning. And that you can’t do empathy marketing if you aren’t taking an inclusive approach. After all, how can you empathize if you don’t first understand?

It’s Time to Get Customer Obsessed

Being aware of your customers’ wants and needs is one thing—building a customer-obsessed culture is another. But according to Laura Ramos, Forrester’s Vice President and Principal Analyst, who kicked off day one with a buzz-worthy keynote, this new level of what she deems “customer obsession” is key to winning in the Age of the Customer.

True customer obsession is found at every level of your organization. It ingrains itself into every aspect of your business, from the technology you use to the talent you hire to the metrics you measure. Customer-obsessed organizations don’t just see their commitment as a bonus—they see it as a competitive differentiator and make constant change a core pillar of their company cultures.

The numbers suggest the investment is well worth it: Customer-obsessed companies have happier employees, more satisfied customers, and grow their revenue at higher rates.

Change Is Inevitable—How We Deal with it Isn’t

If the best teams iterate constantly, change isn’t just something we have to deal with on occasion—it’s something we need to build into our very way of working. Unfortunately, leading change proactively is easier said than done.

When we’re faced with change, says Trail Ridge’s Rachel West Rowell, who led an in-depth workshop, it’s our primitive “reptilian brain” that springs into action. However nuanced and logical we may be in other situations, the only thing we can do in moments when we feel threatened is to flee, fight, or freeze.

But understanding this phenomenon is the beginning, not the end.

Leaders have to work with biology, not against it, in order to guide employees and colleagues through transition successfully. In staying constructive rather than defensive and working with employees to reframe their perceived threats, leaders can move their teams into new, productive ways of working faster and more effectively.

We Must Create Demand, Not Just React to it

We should have known that Spencer Wixom, Vice President of Marketing at Challenger, would, well, challenge us.

His closing keynote brought two days of work together with a simple message: Effective marketers see it as their job to create and convert demand, not just react and respond to it. To do so, they must confront their audiences with commercial insights that challenge customers’ assumptions and introduce urgency. In other words, we must move people from “I don’t think I need this” to “I can’t live without it.”

That means putting content about product features on the back burner, and instead spend your time getting to the heart of prospects’ status quo assumptions and identifying the gap that separates what they think from what they should do. Your best content captures the key insight that bridges that gap between the two.

No One Has Cracked the Content Ops Code

(…but not for lack of trying.)

Sometimes the most valuable insight comes not from the inspirational talks and how-to guides; sometimes, it’s when someone who was a stranger two days ago looks you in the eyes and says, “We just don’t have it figured out yet.”

But it’s amazing how rarely this conversation happens.

At a massive conference, there’s a certain level of posturing we’ve all come to expect. People on stage feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to be prophets of marketing who have alighted on Earth to share their wisdom with us mere mortals. But in a small group, the barriers quickly begin to fall away in favor of real, raw, discussions of the challenges that plague us all.

That mentality was present everywhere at the Summit, but never more evident than during our panel of Kapost Award winners. Sitting up before a room full of peers, they celebrated their successes while still acknowledging, “We’re only 30% of the way there.”

And that’s our biggest strength as a community: Admitting that, though we may be in different places, we’re all in the grind together. This level of transparency allows us to have the meaty conversations that leave us with real insights. Our challenges are rarely unique, so how can we learn from what others have been through?

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