Are you looking this summer search engine marketing conference that’s deep on education and networking, with cross-marketing sessions on social media and usability, that’s easy on the budget, happening in many locations and no pushy salespeople? You’ll want to check out Online Marketing Summit’s Regional Tour. Starting July 15 and covering 11 cities in 5 weeks, OMS’ Summer Tour touts brand new content as well as industry leading speakers, brand practitioners, and educators. OMS is billing it as “the only purely educational event of its kind,” expecting over 2,000 marketers will gather to share ideas, hear from expert practitioners, and learn the best practices in online marketing.
I had the opportunity recently to interview OMS Conference Director (and managing partner of BusinessOnLine) Aaron Kahlow to discuss the upcoming tour, the 3 big issues he predicts online marketers will debate at the conferences, and how online video is becoming ingrained into each marketing discipline.
Grant: Has OMS done a regional summer tour before?
Aaron: This is our second regional tour. We did a tour last year of 11 cities. We are doing the same format. We are going out to the major cities across the U.S. and providing the same level of in-depth content. It’s the same format for each city, but with new speakers and new content this time around.
Grant: Are there going to be some different speakers for each city?
Aaron: We’ve now posted the full speaker agendas online. In each city there are unique speakers to those cities. But there is a core group of people who follow OMS around in terms of the majority of the cities, along with unique speakers in each city, including some unique keynotes for each city as well.
For example, in New Jersey we’re having Peter Shankman give a Keynote on Social Media, who is a very well known pundit in that space. In Chicago, we’re having the folks from Google come in and do a presentation. In Milwaukee, we have Jeanniey Mullin, the Founder of EEC doing a Keynote and Networking Lunch. So we have certain folks whose schedules and locations allow them to come in, and we also have certain folks who are the foundation of the tour.
Grant: Is it beneficial for someone to go to more than one event in different cities, especially if there not too far from each other, like say Milwaukee and Chicago?
Aaron: Absolutely, and there’s two reasons why. One: about 30% of the speakers are new, as well as new topics. Two: We have dual tracks. You’ll find yourself going to one track in Milwaukee, and wishing you could have gone to all the tracks. This way you can see one set of speakers one day in one location, and then see the next set of speakers that you missed on the first day.
Grant: Another benefit I see is the cost, which you’ve been able to reduce significant for each event being for one full day – just $195 regular price and $175.50 for the early registration price. Are there other benefits to attendees to this type of tour arrangement?
Aaron: Yes, the benefits to the marketing professionals who are attending the tour itself are reflective of the economic conditions today. It’s a lot easier to just drive to a local event, even though it’s shorter, and get a taste for it. Also, it’s a great way to preview what our 3-day events are all about. So for those who first need to justify the costs and prioritize their budget, they’re getting a peek of what we do on the one-day tour; and it really gives them a good indication of what they can expect from our “granddaddy” 3-day event in San Diego.
The other nice item is that the tour is customized for each city to a certain degree. We get local thought-leaders who have a greater sense of what’s happening with online marketing in their own city. We do that because we know there are unique challenges with online marketing specific to each city.
Additionally, we feature speakers from the local big brands, so attendees can hear directly from them on how they’re marketing themselves both locally and nationally; and that can have an extra importance to marketers, knowing you’re hearing from a brand in your own location. So to summarize, its a great value on getting a bigger event without having to spend the big dollars.
Grant: One thing that has attracted people to your events is that you don’t feature exhibitors, and keep the concentration on peer-to-peer education and networking. Has OMS ever had to refuse anyone other than a vendor to its events?
Aaron: Absolutely. That question is a great one because it addresses the two things that are unique to OMS: One: We really shun the sales folk or recruiters away from the summit. So if you are not someone coming to OMS with the primary purpose of learning, more times than not we are going to tell them, “Thank you for your interest, but this is not an appropriate conference for you.”
For example, when we did this conference in our first year, we actually rejected about 30% of the applications, because they were more sales-focused than they were marketing-focused. Since then we’ve be somewhat more flexible and accommodating such as if someone does sales but also does marketing.
However, we won’t allow for any booths or any areas for people to solicit. Soliciting is looked very down upon, as opposed to other conferences where that’s kind of expected. Each has a point and neither is better or worse; it’s just that’s how we’re different.
Grant: Your conference covers a range of big online marketing channels – search, social, usability, website development, online apps, email marketing – as well as a lot of topics big for those industries and overlapping into the others. What do you foresee being the potential big issues brought up during this regional tour?
Aaron: Just my having spoken on the circuit continually and being very fortunate to run into people on a daily basis, I think there are three major issues that face brand marketers and their agencies out there.
First big issue: prioritization of budgets. Everybody needs help with their website, their search engine marketing campaigns, and everybody is trying to figure out strategically how social media fits into the mix. The real question people are going to try to be figuring out is, where do I spend my resources and my limited budget FIRST, to get my highest return on investment and scale it from there? I think that really is the #1 thing; the majority of people don’t need a wake-up call about the importance of online marketing; they just need to figure out how to allocate resources.
Second issue: I think the execution side of social media is a big question. Marketers want to know, how do I go about actually doing some of this social media stuff? Yes, social media is growing, it’s amazing, and its changing the face of marketing. But what marketers want to know is: How do I and my company figure out what to do? They’re trying to figure out questions like, do I get a forum, do I get a blog, do I advertise on a social network, do I build a social network – its all around, what do I do FIRST that’s going to be most effective, as opposed to getting caught up in the hype?
Third big issue: The last piece comes down to getting back to the grass roots. If people don’t focus on the basics and first do the surface level marketing and get their site built for the user experience, they’re going to have a really hard time accomplishing what they set out to do. Finally after my 7 years of my being out there and preaching such concepts, I really see it resonating now and people are starting to understand the customer-first mindset, and what is the best way for them to go about doing it. For them that could be A/B testing, usability testing or diagnostics, redesigning their Website –really kind of shaking loose what’s going to get them to the “promised land” first.
Grant: Let’s discuss online video, which also appears to be an area that is really taking off. Earlier this year at your national conference in San Diego it was a subject that was pretty well discussed and presented in some sessions, but not with much advance billing. Can we expect more coverage of online video at your conference?
Aaron: Yes. The way online video is typically approached at OMS is the way it’s tied into the other components of online marketing. What I know is happening at a couple of sessions on our social media track is that we will have speakers there talking about how video fills in with some of the viral effects, whether you’re launching it on YouTube, or as part of a major call-to-action on a website (such as downloading the video or engage other ways in the product or service appearing in the video) – online video is now based into everything. Video is already well integrated so there’s no specific session about it per-se. It’s more about issues such as: how do you integrate video into your social media efforts? How do you best use video to enhance your website? How do you tag video for your search engine marketing efforts? Video is based throughout the sessions, and I think you’ll hear it discussed a number of times – more than most other subjects – as it relates to those disciplines, as opposed to it being featured here as a discipline unto itself.
Grant: Will you being doing any more video coverage of the events?
Aaron: Yes, there will be video coverage, and we’re working on the logistics of that right now for the upcoming regional tour. We have video recorded our past events have a video library of every session at the national conference. Its great because while you’re at the sessions, we have a large video screen with the PowerPoint presentation right next to the speaker, almost as if you’re right there in front of them and being in conjunction with the actual speaker itself.
Our video library is great recorded material for people to use, and attendees are also able to download. People are able to access, for no additional charge, the video content to the event they registered for and attended. We haven’t gone about trying to monetize the video, just as we haven’t gone about trying to monetize the conferences themselves. We don’t consider ourselves in the conference business per-se; we’re in the education business. We use it as supportive material for furthering everyone’s education instead of a sales product.
Grant: I find it interesting that there’s no mention about the video library on the OMS site.
Aaron: Yes, I think the challenge with that is we don’t want to advertise it at first too much, otherwise people may think that they can just watch the video and don’t have to go to the sessions. The post-registration process – – of video supporting that is where it’s a big piece. I don’t think you’ll get half of the education process by just watching the video. Online video is supportive of the conference, but certainly not a replacement of it.
Grant: Often times I found that people who are told there’s video and just expect to watch the video, end up not even watching the video at all. Perhaps that’s because when people know its going to be available, it takes away some of the incentive to attend and participate?
Aaron: I call it the “snooze-alarm” effect. What I mean by that its, everybody hears the alarm on what they need to get educated on, and then they hit “snooze,” versus just waking up – simply because they do just enough to make themselves feel good about doing something, rather than following through on it. What happens then is not only do they end up not watching the video, but they miss out on the greater benefit of attending in person – the direct engagement, asking questions, networking with your peers, etc. I think at these conferences, the networking capabilities and opportunities – whether they’re experts or your peers, are of far greater value than even the sessions themselves, and certainly than of any digital recording of that session.