Five big themes for marketing at DMA 2012


Standing in my own crosshairs as my own target market means that almost all work that I do can be a learning opportunity, and going to DMA2012 was certainly a biggie. What I saw and experienced at the show reaffirmed the idea that it’s never been more exciting to be a marketer, and that marketing has never been more important to the lifeblood of all organizations- large and small.

If you’ve never been to the DMA annual conference, it’s a colossal bazaar of just about anything that might interest marketers, and the opportunities to see, hear and experience the best of the best are seemingly endless. As a result, I fully realize that my recap of the five big themes at the conference puts me at risk of falling far short of this event’s full value because there’s literally only so much that any one person can do. That said, please read on with that thought in mind.

  1. Data is fundamentally important to customer-centricity and relevance, but it’s meaningless when not also paired with smart marketers.
    Analytics can transform how we engage with our customers, but only when it’s at the hands of knowledgeable marketers who are plugged in and paying attention – tweaking and revising when they spot errors or false positives based on their broad knowledge base. This was a recurring theme to be sure:

    • DMA’s acting President-CEO Linda Woolley presented some moving examples to underscore her point that marketers can change the world with data.
    • Chris Anderson, Wired Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief also made that point explicitly during the Monday keynote session.
    • That same point came up again as practical examples in the sessions with Disney’s Steve Whittington, Staples’ Jim Foreman and the last-day panel with Zappos execs.
    • Scott “Unmarketing” Stratten gave numerous examples of awesome possibilities of data used by marketers with the right attitude, and other examples of disastrous outcomes that are equally possible and the key variable is the person – not the data itself.
  2. Marketing today is a balancing act – on multiple fronts.
    Big data and all its implications came up over and over again at this conference, and what I heard from the speakers is that knowing what to do often comes down to balancing goals and key considerations.

    • With so much of our lives happening online, the data streams are both overwhelming and unbelievably valuable. A wise use of data is for insights and profiles like we’ve never had, whereas an unwise use is revealing too much and creeping out the customer.
    • The ability for analytics to turn Big Data into gold makes it easy for us marketers to delude ourselves into thinking that achieving perfection is within reach. But holding out for perfection is seldom right answer. Jeffrey Hayzlett put it succinctly in the Wednesday keynote panel when he said: “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.”
    • Both Staples’ Foreman and Disney’s Whittington made the point that there are limits to what you can do with data. The balance is struck by the individual that understands when you reach diminishing returns, or if you’re reaching the wrong conclusion.
  3.  Marketers need to be respectful of the customer and their need (and right) to privacy and dignity
    If we do not control ourselves, others will do it for us.

    • DMA’s Linda Woolley called it out in stark terms with a specific listing of 20 pending bills in Congress that materially impact data-driven marketing. What happens in Washington and in all capitals around the world matters, and we should not misbehave to the point of driving legislation. Validation of this big point came via Twitter since my simple tweet about this ominous sign was one of my most re-tweeted during the conference.
    • Scott Stratten put it in simple, everyday terms when he differentiated between being “awesome” and being “un-awesome.” Misusing the power of data is one of the quickest ways to offend a customer, and in our social-savvy world that misuse could easily mean alienating large swaths of your hoped-for customers.
    • David Fischer, Facebook’s VP of Business & Marketing Partnerships painted a future vision of great possibilities based on social data that’s very compelling based on Facebook’s sheer size, and perhaps unwittingly served to remind us just how powerful (and dangerous) access to customer data can be.
  4. Marketers need to match the dynamism of the market to drive innovation.
    Zappos’ cross-functional panel vividly shared stories of how they evolve, collaborate and stay focused on their priorities – no surprise that customers and culture are 2 biggies for them. Jeffrey Hayzlett’s fellow panelists in the Wednesday keynote offered great variations on that theme:

    • Google’s Retail Industry Head Stephen Arthur talked about innovation coming from putting all individuals on the same plane regardless of title.
    • Tommy Hilfiger’s VP of E-commerce Jared Blank urged us all to rethink how we’re organized as a way to find new sources of innovation.
    • Salesforce's Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Ragovin suggests that we be willing to pivot when needed and getting all functions comfortable with digital-social.
    • Gilt Groupe’s CMO Elizabeth Francis sees more collaboration across organizational lines as the future of marketing.
  5. Mobile marketing is far more than just another channel.
    In addition to big data and on-line real-time marketing, another theme loomed at DMA2012 in a way that will surely grow for all marketers: mobile. It came up over and over again in sessions, roundtables, keynotes and hallway conversations and as consumers continue to depend more and more on smartphones, it stands to transform how we live (and therefore how we market).

    • The T-mobile roundtable led by Eric Helmer addressed how they are using analytics to drive retention by merging campaign management with social network analysis techniques,
    • Scott Stratten showed multiple examples of bad uses of QR codes to drive home the point that misusing an innovation is also the quickest way to give it an early death – it’s all about the customer experience. Here are some of the biggest sins of the QR code that will drive people to start ignoring them:
      • Embedding it in an email where they can’t scan it because they’re reading it on their device,
      • Putting it on the back of a bus (causing you to text-and-drive),
      • Using it in a subway car ad (where there’s no wireless signal), and
      • The big kahuna: pointing the QR code to a site that’s not mobile-friendly.
    • Gilt Groupe’s Francis called out a key point her fellow keynote panelists agreed on: few companies today are organized to seize the mobile opportunity.

 Those are my big takeaways and I’m certain I missed a few. If you were at DMA, please leave a comment with your thoughts about what I’ve shared and let’s hear about others I may have missed.


About Author

John Balla

Principal Marketing Strategist

Hi, I'm John Balla - a Digital Marketing Principal here at SAS focused on Content Strategy. I co-founded the SAS Customer Intelligence blog and served as Editor for five years. I like to find and share content and experiences that open doors, answer questions and maybe even challenge assumptions so better questions can be asked. Outside of work I stay busy with my wife and I keeping up with my 2 awesome college-age kids, volunteering for the Boy Scouts, keeping my garden green, striving for green living, expressing myself with puns, and making my own café con leche every morning. I’ve lived and worked on 3 contents and can communicate fluently in Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian and passable English. Prior to SAS, my experience in marketing ranges from Fortune 100 companies to co-founding two start ups. I studied economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got an MBA from Georgetown. Follow me on Twitter. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Leave A Reply

Back to Top