Once upon a time, the annual DMA conference was THE event of the direct marketing industry. Attendance was reported to be as high as 10,000 in the banner years, and plans were made months in advance. As attendance dwindled in recent years, the DMA announced it was rebranding the conference as “&THEN.” The shift left more than a few disillusioned. As we’ve observed before in SpeakingDIRECT, many responded to the change with a confused, “And then what?” Read on for a closer look at how this year’s conference tried to differentiate itself.
Tropical Storm Nate Couldn’t Stop the &THEN 2017 Faithful
When we asked clients, friends, and business partners about their plans for this year’s conference, many were on the fence about attending. While there’s some argument about whether this quote should be attributed to Sol Hurok or Yogi Berra, the observation that “if people don’t want to come, nothing can stop them” might have been applied to the 2017 &THEN conference scheduled for October 9-11 in New Orleans. And then (pun intended) the weekend weather forecast came.
Tropical Storm Nate would become Hurricane Nate upon its arrival in New Orleans on Saturday night. Many cancelled their plans to attend in fear of getting trapped en route or upon arrival in New Orleans. Others, with plans to travel on Sunday, decided to see what Nate brought with him.
I was in the “other” category and woke up Sunday morning to learn that Nate made landfall as a Category 1 storm before quickly heading north. In fact, he was moving so quickly, he was forecast to control the weather in New Hampshire on Monday. Ironically, by heading to the airport on Sunday afternoon, I would miss Nate entirely. Upon arrival in New Orleans on Sunday night, it was hard to find any trace (including even a puddle) to indicate Nate arrived before I did. Based on attendance at Monday morning’s keynote, many kept their travel plans intact as I did.
The Power of Data at Work—To Help, To Heal
When the event kicked off, the ever-popular motivational speaker Mel Robbins bounced onto the stage in her signature footwear (this year it was icy blue rhinestone-studded hi-top sneakers) and got the crowd going by pointing to the tagline, “Where Data Transforms Marketing.” DMA CEO Tom Benton had heads nodding when he said, “Marketing is all about relationships, and Marketing 101 teaches us to identify a need and then fulfill that need.” Many held up their phones—myself included—to take a picture of the big heart filled with DMA member logos, flanked by the phrase, “The power of data at work, to help, and heal.” In fact, more than 20% of DMA’s membership is charitable organizations including Sierra Club, DAV, Humane Society, Oxfam, Feed the Children, ASPCA, and more.
Benton talked about what makes &THEN so special by highlighting four unique aspects of the event:
- High-level intellectual curiosity
- Opportunity to learn from the success and failures of others
- Power of the collective
- Technology and techniques changing rapidly
Benton then introduced keynote speaker and DMA board member, Michelle Peluso, CMO of IBM. Peluso provided some great insight about the name change that DMA announced at last year’s conference. She said the name change was driven by the need to “open the aperture” and that “data is the objective lens to determine what’s working.” She used great examples from IBM to demonstrate that 1:1 relationships are now happening at scale.
But there’s more to the success of a trade association than the name, and DMA recognizes that. Four pillars form the foundation of today’s DMA:
Please come back on Friday when I’ll share more about &THEN and the most entertaining keynote I’ve seen in a long time.
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