If last month’s Digital Summit Phoenix had an unofficial theme, it might have been “Technology never stands still.” That’s one of the many lessons Pennington Creative took away from our first year at the conference, an annual gathering of experienced marketers, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders from a wide array of industries.

The future was never far from our minds as our team took in nearly 50 talks, sessions, and workshops over two tightly scheduled days in downtown Phoenix. The future of marketing, the future of technology, the future of SEO—nothing was off-limits as one speaker after another delved into the newest trends, the most innovative practices, and the most effective strategies in the realm of digital marketing.

The voices we heard from at Digital Summit were as diverse and unpredictable as we could have hoped for. Attendees got to hear the stories of the people behind brands we all know, from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to the Golden State Warriors. Marketers involved in branding and social media work for companies as varied as GoDaddy, IBM, and Ellevest all had lessons to impart to us. When we see those brands’ names from now on, we’ll see them in a different light—as we think about the time, energy, and creativity that went into deciding just how to present them to the world.

To be effective, marketing has to reach the widest audience possible. Marketers have to be fluent in the language of the 21st century—which means knowing the same memes, the same slang, and the same celebrities who pepper our daily conversations, both online and off. So it’s no surprise that many of the sessions took a loose and punchy approach to serious topics, drawing freely on familiar names from popular culture to make their points.

What could Hank Moody, the protagonist of “Californication,” have to tell us about email marketing? What could Mick Jagger teach us about producing content that lasts? And what could we learn from Beyoncé about how to keep our customers happy? Each of those concepts inspired its own session, and all of them had razor-sharp lessons to impart. Michael Barber’s talk on Beyoncé was a highlight of the conference, as the seasoned marketing consultant rolled out one epic marketing fail after another, then zeroed in on each of them to explain how experienced marketers could have gone so wrong.

The social media giants that dominate the online marketing universe were part of the conversation, of course. Quinn Tempest’s involving talk on “The Art and Strategy Behind an Effective Instagram Account” highlighted the shifting role of the web’s most popular photo-sharing app. In an increasingly polarized, contentious online environment, Instagram has become a calming and placid alternative to Facebook. The platform’s ease of use is essential to the unique relationship its users have with it, Tempest explained. She quoted a line from an article in The Atlantic: “It is so simple as to be almost serene.”

More than one session focused on the expanding role of artificial intelligence—AI—in marketing campaigns. Loren McDonald of IBM explored the ways in which AI has been used to speed up the services we enjoy every day, from music recommendations on Pandora to facial recognition for Facebook photos. But the technology isn’t an end in itself, he emphasized—it’s a tool. “The challenge is to leverage the power of those machines for our greater benefit as a marketer,” he said.

Anne Gherini of Affinity focused on the importance of holding on to the human presence in a marketing era that is increasingly reliant on automation. Noting that 85% of all customer interactions are expected to be handled without a human agent by the year 2020, Gherini said that many companies that use chatbots forget the difference that direct interaction with customers can make. She argued that businesses should use the time saved by AI to focus on creativity and forging stronger relationships with their customers.

Never mind “thinking outside the box”—this was a venue to take apart the box, study it, and put it back together in a newer and better form.

There was a chill in the Phoenix air that week—it may be Arizona, but it was still winter—but there was also a palpable sense of excitement as the attendees crowded into one talk after another, often scrambling to find available seats. There was, too, a shared sense of being on the frontier of an industry that continues to evolve and reinvent itself with every passing year. Our team returned feeling eager to take on the challenges of the coming year—and beyond.

If you’re looking to rethink the way you approach your online content, it’s time to start strategizing with Pennington Creative. We specialize in helping small businesses, medium-sized businesses, and agencies get the first-class content they need to stay visible on the ever-expanding world of the web. Send us a message through our website to get started today!

About the Author

Justyn - Digital Marketing Manager, Special Projects
Justyn Dillingham

Digital Marketing Manager, Special Projects