Five Key Takeaways from ad:tech San Francisco

With 50+ sessions to choose from and 6 keynote speakers, ad:tech San Francisco proved to be an incredible learning opportunity. More importantly, it offered many different flavors of inspiration for marketers. In this post, I've summarized the five key takeaways from the conference based on the sessions I attended and all of the keynote speakers.

Consumers are in the drivers seat more than ever.

We've all heard this before, but nearly every session and keynote speaker mentioned this at the beginning of their presentation. But there is a significant difference between hearing this and embracing it. It's not about "allowing" consumers to be in the drivers seat as much as it is about companies adjusting their internal culture to fully embrace the idea. Jaime Cohen Szulc, CMO of Levi Strauss, spent the first 15 minutes of his keynote emphasizing the importance of this issue. Jaime talked about how Levi's recognized they can't control dialogue, but could provide consumers with solutions to help manage dialogue. He went on to say, "Companies have to lose control to gain other advantages in the marketplace." As an example of how Levi's has embraced the concept of consumers being in the drivers seat, he referenced Levi's "Go Forth" campaign (Wieden+Kennedy).

Throughout the campaign (TV, print, online), consumers were encouraged to visit the Go Forth website to help rewrite the Declaration of Independence - an idea that quickly tested whether or not the internal culture at Levi's was truly ready to put consumers in the drivers seat. While execution of the concept hit a few bumps in the road along the way, Jaime considered this campaign to be a huge stepping stone for Levi's in the right direction. Overall, the campaign creative delivered on the key insight of exuding a sense of individual empowerment and emotionally connecting people to the roots of American history. A great place for Levi's to step in and provide a platform to manage dialogue.

Innovation starts with strategy, not technology.

The Levi's Go Forth campaign example above is a perfect example of how good marketing is based on key consumer insights. Levi's wanted to make America fall in love with Levi's again (straight from the RFP, according to Jaime). W+K was able to deliver on this by uncovering the key insight that the target audience highly valued a sense of personal independence and sought empowerment to demonstrate their emotional connection with America to others.

The idea that all good marketing is based on a key consumer insight was also discussed during "The Bleeding Edge of Advertising Innovation" session on day two at ad:tech San Francisco. The moderator for this session, Adam Broitman of, kicked off the session by talking about how it's easy for interactive marketers to immediately jump to technology solutions (tactics) before clearly articulating the key consumer insight (strategy). There's a plethora of shiny objects to distract brands at any given point in the interactive space and it's our job as marketers to think hard to see the forest from the trees.

Marketers must look to the outside for inspiration.

As I was scrolling through my Twitter feed on my way to day one at ad:tech, I came across the following post by Stuart Foster at Mullen.

"So true," I thought to myself. So I quickly retweeted Staurt's post and received many @replies from people within the industry saying they totally agree.

This is a good example of someone saying what people in advertising think out loud. I also completely agree with this statement. Just because it's not your agency's idea doesn't mean it's not a great idea. In his keynote presentation, Jaime Cohen Szulc said, "It's very important to look outside of your company and advertising and think more about consumer experiences." He went on to give examples of work that he's been inspired by, such as Luv Jozi - as seen in the You Tube video below. I recommend we all take Stuart and Jaime's advice and look to the outside for marketing inspiration. Outside your agency, outside your company, outside of advertising.

Technology solutions with "sustainable attention power" win.

During the second keynote of day one at ad:tech, Chris Anderson (Editor-In-Chief at Wired Magazine) talked about "How Tablets Will Change Media." You can view my video recap of Chris' keynote presentation in an earlier post. While the technological advancements Wired is making with devices such as the iPad are impressive and sophisticated, Chris' idea of "sustained attention power" is impressive in a more simplistic way. He talked about how there's a scarcity of attention in the publication industry due to technological advancements and how people are choosing to consume content (shorter format, less depth). However, while it may be difficult to capture one's attention in today's emerging media world, books and video games are able to capture people's attention for extended periods of time. Chris went on to say that he thinks the iPad will have a similar effect on consumer behavior. I think the idea of sustainable attention power is a good one and is applicable to the interactive marketing industry as a whole. Are you creating experiences for people that have sustainable attention power?

Innovation is creativity with a job to do.

At the beginning of the session "The Bleeding Edge of Advertising Innovation", the speakers recognized that it's difficult to define innovation in the interactive marketing world. Interactive marketing and technology by nature are innovative because there's always something being created that hasn't been done before. But does this really mean it's innovative? Bob Gilbreath kicked off the session by offering up a different way to think about innovation. His first slide read, "Innovation is creativity with a job to do." It's an interesting way to think about innovation and really sharpens the focus on the "with a job to do" portion of the definition. This gets at the point I made earlier about consumer insights fueling good marketing. Giving creativity purpose means developing experiences based on a key consumer insight. Again, it's easy to be distracted by the latest shiny objects in the interactive world, but we need to stay focused on delivering utility to people based on what we'd like them to accomplish while interacting with brands.

It's difficult to define innovation. At Colle+McVoy, we created a website to have people help us define innovation in their own words as we pushed to get a panel at SXSW 2010. Innovation is hard to define because it's always changing itself. Especially in the interactive world. However, thinking about innovation as creativity with a job to do in the interactive space increases the possibility of an outstanding user experience. Something we all strive to accomplish on a daily basis.