OMS in San Diego – Extended Coverage Series

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The Online Marketing Summit? Wasn’t that all of… what, last week? Feb 21-23rd, actually, in sunny (and rainy) San Diego. with so many conferences these days being covered in real time by rapid-fire bloggers, I decided my own coverage would need to buck the trend and throwback to the days of reporters who actually had real time to write a real story. Before I actually pounded away at my laptop, I’d act like how real human beings used to at marketing conferences. Before I wrote a single word… I’d actually watch the speakers with my own eyes, network with people during lunch hours (yes, actually taking a lunch), do one-on-one interviews and small round tables with the speakers and fellow online marketers, return home, take a few days off, follow the feedback online, do a few post-session interviews with speakers, sift and winnow selected blog coverage and data, take yet another day breather, and THEN, ONLY THEN… I’d write up some articles that I might actually remember come morning. I know… Sick, huh?

Granted, bloggers do play an important role for satiating our immediate information fix. So I’m hoping there’s still enough people out there who won’t be agitated from my throwback approach – to be more measured and judgmental than stream-of-consciousness — with more time for reflecting, and less for regurgitating.

Now, without further justification on my part, let’s begin our “fresh” coverage of OMS in this multiple article series. Where better to begin than with an overview of the conference setup and format itself.

OMS Conference overview

OMS, a not-for-profit organization billed as “the premier educational event for online marketing professionals,” was hell-bent on providing just that, but in a flexible and fun format. As their press release certainly made there clear, “There will be NO vendors, NO Salesment, NO Exhbitors/Booths, and NO pitching allowed. (I’m surprised they didn’t ask us to turn over our business cards as contraband. ;) Along with one-on-one course labs, case studies with easily accessible speakers, and lunch roundtables on topics of interest, OMS’s setup really did drive genuine interaction, networking along with the course learning, in what felt very natural and not at all forced. Attendance by OMS reports was between 350-420, which kept things at a good balance between personal attention and audience diversity. Aaron Kahlow, Founder and Chair of OMS, even made an open call to the audience at one session for someone to walk right up on stage and join the panel — which one did. (Considering how hard it can be lately for most people t apply to be speakers at other marketing events, this action definitely was thematic to the open format.)
Those who followed the blog coverage may have heard about the friendly “booing” we were encouraged to do whenever a presenter may come even close to making a pitch. (I would later find this to be so contagious that I was even “booing” my own self, or “self-booing” when people asked about my own company during the roundtable lunch breaks.)

Being the videophile I am, kudos to OMS for bringing in a 2-video camera setup to record both the presentations, and the presenters giving them (plus audience Q&A). I will be interested to see how OMS makes these recordings available and if they adopt a split-screen setup, so we can match the body language and vocal expressions with the digital presentation, giving us a much better context for the information. I’m surprised that other conferences don’t also do this setup. If attendees know that the information is being saved for them, they don’t have to be constantly taking notes and they can focus all attention on the speaker. (That being said, I still took copious notes since I still have a deadline and there’s never a guarantee over what will be available when.)

Behavioral Marketing and the Online Shift

What I took from OMS was how all of their tracks – search, usability, social media, emetrics, email, and website planning – all tied in to behavioral marketing (aka, behavioral targeting). Behaviorial marketing is simply about marketing to consumers based on their (recent) behavior. While this has often been the applied term for online advertising, my expanded definition for online marketing activities would be: “analyzing and targeting consumers based on their expressed interests, habits, and actual activities online.” Why should you care about that? To take a direct quote from OMS Founder and Conference Chair, Aaron Kahlow: “Behavior is driving marketing decisions now, not the big agencies.”

OMS was very good at at making the point that our consumers are not existing in silos, but interchanging easily and rapidly across multiple areas online – search, social, email, chat, streaming video and audio, etc.. This requires today’s marketer to not treat their own marketing efforts as silos, but to gather, compare and exchange data from multiple online sources and even “gasp” — dialogue with their customers themselves! (I thought that’s what old-fashioned traditional marketing use to do – hey, anyone remember that?)

Here are some other mentionables Aaron made in his opening remarks and presentation:

“The online shift is happening, and it’s significant. We see this in companies like Microsoft and Intel putting 50% or more into their online budgets” than in previous years.”

“50% of brands will spend 50% of their budgets on ‘alternative’ media by 2011.” – Advertising Age.

“If you’re not good at networking off-line, you won’t be good online.” OK, so would they suggest their conferences include an educational track on in-person networking, too?

“Businesses should begin to think of competition in terms of what takes up your customers’ time. According to a quote from Jim Stengel, CMO of Proctor & Gamble, “Time is the most precious asset right now. If we can be worth [the consumer’s] engagement, that’s the highest benchmark for advertising.””

This last statement rings so true consider how much online and offline media is every-growing and ever-competing our attention, and our days aren’t getting any longer. While consumers are better at adapting to this environment, it is still at a very small fraction at all the media that is available to them and being thrown at them. This goes back to why its essential for the online marketer today to not operate in a silo, follow there customers to wherever online AND offline avenues they congregate and participate in, and participate in the discussion – without pushing a sales pitch. (Not at least until you have earned your right to as a trusted member.)

So, what was missing from this OMS?

Even with the all-inclusive, all-accessible format I very much enjoyed, I would still like to see some improvements for the next OMS conference:

  • Make presentations available during the conference whenever possible, not weeks after. That’s a pet peeve I have, maybe more so than the average marketer when I have to assume the role of reporter on deadline. But I also realize that many people who attend these events are also expected to have reports quickly available for their companies. Not having access to the presentations forces people to make extensive notes during the live presentation time, which takes away their focus from the speakers and inhibits their learning faculties. Next time I would hope OMS could at least having presenters provide accessible drafts or at least a presentation outline, so attendees can be better prepared.)
  • Allow presenters to do their own video recordings of their presentations in advance (which can involve screen capture and audio notes for their presentations), so they have a “control” product that covers everything they want in case they miss anything during the actual presentation. OMS would still have the actual live presentation recorded, but they could do it right from the computer and mike, rather than dedicating an entire camera all the way across the large room on it. I think this would have been especially helpful for some speakers who found themselves rushing through their presentation, and made it nearly impossible to take good notes and follow the speaker at the same time.
  • Throw a bone to the virtual world side of social media. In my opinion, virtual worlds like Second Life are as Web 4.0 you can get (socialized and personalized behavioral targeting), and with sizable and increasing audiences – with search and advertising already in place (even optimized video content). Yet the only mention I heard about it was from one speaker from IBM, in passing. Aaron seemed to have dismissed the potential of Second Life with his response to the audience, “Work on your first life.” I agree Second Life is a huge step for most online marketers to engage in, but it clearly deserves broader coverage in the Social Media space, and not just for programmers and gamers. (Also following the pattern, the following week’s conference I attended, SMX West, which I found no mention of it whatsoever on any panel, including social media and video).

Overall, I found it to be an excellent conference and I am looking forward to their next one. I better practice my booing.

About the Author

Grant Crowell is the CEO for Grantastic Designs, a search marketing and usability firm, and Senior Analyst of ReelSEO.com, a video solutions publication for online marketers.

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