Digital Summit Detroit: 5 Things We Learned

The 2021 Digital Summit Detroit returned to an in-person format, with a smaller attendee list but a bigger agenda than ever. Topics ranged from branding and email marketing best practices to Generation Z and content marketing. We have attended every Digital Summit since it first came to Detroit in the mid-2010s and learned more than ever before.

We have moved from B2B and B2C to B2H: Business-to-Human

GreenPath’s Donna Dickerson said the one line that resonated with us more than anything else: think of companies as being business-to-human, not B2B or B2C. As a business that prides itself on dealing in the B2B space, we are now left contemplating how to change our messaging to better fit that statement. This was the first time we walked out of the Digital Summit Detroit thinking that hard about a session.

Dickerson also talked about how silos in business are beginning to collapse and that it is critical for adjacent teams to work together toward a common goal. While Digital Detroit does not have too many different “teams” per se, we do believe in the destruction of silos when they exist and working together with as many relevant stakeholders as necessary.

The Digital Summit Detroit program book
The Digital Summit Detroit program from the 2021 event

Business-to-human is relevant today because it requires thinking of customers not just as personas, but as actual unique individuals. Marketing teams may not know everything about their customers, but that is why they must maintain strong relationships with adjacent teams. Talk to your sales staff and anybody who interfaces directly with the public. They have their pulse on the customer better than marketing teams – and they can provide a true business-to-human perspective.

Improving your email open rates go beyond the subject line and from names

This was not necessarily a “new” thing we learned at Digital Summit Detroit, as we feel like we are at the forefront of strong email marketing. But Emily McGuire from Flourish & Grit gave us a lot to think about in her session.

Sure, there are plenty of email open rate hacks and subject line “formulas,” but it all begins with a clean email list. Keeping your email list clean and delivering to the proper people will pay off for your email marketing in the long run. Create more niche segments. Conduct a reactivation campaign. Our personal favorite was the dividing of recipients into the most active, somewhat active, and dormant. Sending emails based on their activity level with your brand is smart and can lead to much more personalized experiences.

The big takeaways and reminders were that Gmail and Outlook may underreport opens due to their standard operating procedures. Outlook does not load images by default, and Gmail cuts off longer emails that have extraneous code. Cleaning email code is important. We easily forget this in the age of visually stunning editors.

If content is king, targeting is queen

This comes from our own Nick Mattar’s on content marketing and the care you should take targeting an audience. Everybody is doing content marketing today. How will your business stand out from the crowd? If there is one answer to that question, it is to develop a super-niche that is searching for something specific.

When conducting your keyword analysis, go beyond the typical search and focus on those low-volume keywords that are easier to rank for. Search volume of 100-200 is perfectly ok. In fact, honing your efforts on a small audience will give you a better chance and landing that SEO traffic and a better chance at getting a solid lead that is interested in your niche product or service.

Think about it. Would you rather spend endless hours maybe getting to page two of a high-volume keyword that has a massive, broad range of intentions? Or would you rather rank in the top five for a rare keyword where the user’s intent is obvious? We will take the latter every day.

Generation Z is looking for content-creating physical spaces

Upshot’s Liz Aviles shared one of the most eye-opening presentations of Digital Summit Detroit. Generation Z – focusing on climate change and gaming is setting the agenda for business on TikTok and at large. Some of her insights looked at your typical Gen-Z persona. But the real shock was that the youngest generation with purchasing power wants to go places they can create content. They want retail stores with content creation opportunities and visually stunning locales that promote creativity.

While gaming is still a huge part of this generation, we chose to keep our focus on the physical spaces and not the metaverse. We believe this is a great chance for stores to reinvent what many believe is a dying model. Sure, Amazon, Shipt, and other delivery giants are trying to shut down retail, but they cannot replicate the experience. And while millennials are settling with our families and delivery’s convenience, Gen-Z wants to share experiences through creative spaces.

Brands are moving from “servitude” to “attitude”

The most insightful comment from day two of Digital Summit Detroit may have come from Juntae DeLane. He talked about the move brands are making to be less about their product and more about their personalities. This is interesting to us because we have used Wendy’s Twitter persona as an example and best practice for years, but we could never understand how it pays off for them besides straightforward brand awareness. But now we have some idea.

Brands that stand out online have always been about an attitude to a certain degree. The stuff that goes viral is never going to be your typical product marketing or boilerplate text. It’s the experiences that break the rules and make people stop and do a double-take. We believe the best place for this to take place right now is on social media. Some brands have started taking risks and saying outlandish things to drive engagements.

If I had to compare brand attitude to one thing, it would be sports personalities. Skip Bayless, Kendrick Perkins, and our local radio villain Mike Valenti all are popular for one reason: hot takes. Brands that give hot takes without compromising their values will be the ones seeing their brand awareness soar.

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