2019 Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit Highlights: Authenticity and Organic Relationships

Yet again, the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit (MAMS) did not disappoint. Each year, marketers from the DC metro area gather to learn and discuss the latest trends, challenges, and what’s on the horizon for brands. Hosted by Capitol Communicator and Potomac Tech Wire, MAMS has become the must-attend annual marketing event for the DC region.

Don’t worry if you couldn’t make it, though. I had an opportunity to attend the 8th annual MAMS in April. Here are some highlights from the sessions I was able to catch throughout the day.

CMO Roundtable: The Big Picture

The day began with the coveted CMO Roundtable in which leaders shared their thoughts on the top marketing trends for 2019. The panel included our client Sabra Willner, CMO of Lenovo Software; Molly Catalano, VP of Marketing and Communications at Five Guys; and Oliver Gray, Marketing Manager at Guinness’s brewery in Maryland.

Customer experience was a top theme. Molly talked about the success of Five Guys’ secret shopper program, while Sabra shared that customer experience can be key to driving business transformation.

Skepticism towards influencer marketing was also a popular theme. Molly said Five Guys is very cautious about the authenticity of influencers since the brand was built on word of mouth and customer service. Oliver feels that Guinness would need to heavily vet an influencer’s past to ensure they are congruent with the company’s carefully cultivated brand. And Sabra noted that time spent evaluating shiny new trends or fad marketing ideas is time away from the company’s mission.

Social media remains important for all three of these brands. The marketing team at Guinness spends a lot of time engaging with followers and responding to direct messages on Facebook and Instagram. Lenovo has seen success on Facebook as well as Twitter and LinkedIn, especially through InMail. And Five Guys discovered that organic content doesn’t perform as well for them. They do better with direct messages.

Social Media Outlook for 2019

This panel took a deep dive into how DC United and Marriott, Inc. are optimizing their social strategies to be more efficient and engaging. Panelists stressed the need to know where your audience resides and develop content with a purpose as opposed to trying to tap into all audiences at all times. For example, if your audience is mostly on Instagram, there’s no point in spending a lot of time developing content or dedicating budget to LinkedIn.

Both companies are steering away from influencers and instead are working to reward “brand loyalists.” Instead of paying or rewarding celebrity social media influencers who could easily leave for a competitor with better perks and a larger paycheck, Aynat Ravin from Marriott, Inc. discussed how they comb through their social media followers to find fans who love their properties.

The hotel chain’s “Surprise and Delight” campaign is a great example. Marriott awarded select members, avid fans, and frequent customers with prizes including a free boat ride at a property and Final Four tickets. Research showed that younger generations valued experiences and didn’t just want stuff. They believed these actions were much more authentic and, as such, were highly appreciated. The gestures were organically shared and promoted, thus garnering brand loyalty.

Luis Gonzales said DC United is focusing on organically engaging with followers and DC sports fans. They believe in developing authentic relationships and also want to support the DC sports ecosystem. They find that commenting on posts, supporting other local teams, and engaging with fans helps the organization gain followers.

Keynote: Driving Revenue and Elevating The Washington Post’s Brand

Miki King, the first-ever CMO of The Washington Post, delivered an insightful keynote. Miki is focused on growing the subscription revenue for The Washington Post and since joining in 2016, her team has driven digital subscription growth by more than 200%.

She believes that consumers value and are willing to pay for quality world-class journalism. Reporters are risking their lives in dangerous situations every day to bring news stories to consumers. This is worthy of investment, she argued.

Miki keeps her team nimble, quick to pivot when something isn’t working, yet free to try new tactics. She said her team is always testing to see how new concepts or messaging is resonating. Miki encourages them to think outside of the box and examine what other digital media companies, such as Netflix and Apple, are doing.  

Keynote: Adeline Cassin, CMO, CuriosityStream

The second keynote featured Adeline Cassin, CMO of CuriosityStream, a global nonfiction subscription video-on-demand streaming service. CuriosityStream airs nonfiction documentaries and series about science, technology, history, and nature.

Adeline talked about her passion for storytelling through technology and the methods she uses to connect with consumers. Much like The Washington Post, CuriosityStream is constantly conducting testing to see what resonates with the audience - headlines, images, video content - polished vs unpolished.

Mobile optimization is also important as more consumers stream content while on the go. This presents some challenges—for instance, Adeline’s team found they can only add one call to action on mobile experiences. But, she said, this also presents the chance to reach a much wider audience.

AMADC “Up and Coming” Marketers: Social Media Trends and Hidden Gems

REQ Account Executive Patrick Neligan sat on a Millennial panel alongside Kami Guiden from Amtrak, Emily Miller from the ONE Campaign, Kim Thomas from Georgetown University, and moderator Allison Moon from CSWE.

This panel touched on the need for authenticity. Panelists said they believe their generation cuts through marketing B.S. and just want to “keep it real.”

They want to see brands putting in the effort to engage with their audiences in genuine ways, not just handing over their social channels to an intern and letting them run wild. And while Millennials have been the target of many memes, patronizing them is not the way to gain their attention or their business.

This panel reiterated that organic engagement is the key to gaining loyal followers. It takes time but can result in truly dedicated fans.

The panelists also suggested nixing content calendars in favor of focusing on real-time audience engagement. Social media marketers should post in real time and have a conversation as opposed to “talking at” followers, they emphasized.

Patrick gave a great example of two different approaches targeting the same demographic: a Sephora campaign which focused on a lot of user-generated content, including real people using their products, and a MAC campaign featuring professional makeup artists. He said he believed that Sephora’s campaigned resonated more with the target demographic than MAC’s, which may have felt out of reach for them.

The Latest Thinking from B2B Marketing Leaders

One of the last panels I attended featured REQ EVP of Public Relations Elizabeth Shea, who moderated a panel of great industry leaders, including D.P Venkatesh from Cisco, Andre Yee from Triblio, and Tom Cole from RDA Corporation.

The panel examined the latest marketing strategies that businesses are considering today. Many believe that account-based marketing (ABM) will soon become the only marketing approach. The more AI plays a role and the stronger predictive analytics become, the easier it will be to qualify leads.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was also a point of discussion. D.P. discussed the difficulty of getting customers to double opt-in and how it can hurt a marketing program. Meanwhile, Tom believes the privacy law can be a marketer’s greatest tool because it allows marketers to build highly targeted lists from the ground up. Gone are the days of buying lists and having more than half of respondents bounce back or opt out. He said that if companies lean into GDPR, they can use it to their marketing advantage by talking about how much their company values its users’ privacy.

Finally, the panel touched on the sales cycle. D.P. noted that 75% of the buyer’s journey is done before they raise their hand to talk to a sales rep. He said no one wants to fill out forms anymore or click through ads, but while click-through rates are declining, he said other organic channels may be going up. People who see ads may not click on them, but they might go on Google and do their own research, which makes having a solid and consistent brand even more important.

Conclusion

All in all, I’d say that authenticity and human connection to the brand were the biggest themes of the day. Every brand is trying to connect with their audience on a deeper level and in pretty creative ways, especially when budgets aren’t extensive. At the same time, GDPR and AI continue to be themes that marketers are evaluating and figuring out how to incorporate into their long-term plans.

It’s so exciting to see how the marketing landscape is ever-changing and I, for one, can’t wait to see what awaits us over the next 12 months.