Digital East 2011 Conference: Relationships and Customer Experiences

3 Oct

Last week, I attended the second annual Digital East conference in Tyson’s corner. The two-day event, attended by digital executives, senior marketers, entrepreneurs, web strategists, bloggers, investors and consultants such as myself, explored the latest innovations and trends in the social media, mobile, cloud, analytics, e-commerce and online advertising worlds, among others. Panels and presentations were often peppered with subtle sales pitches and data points highlighting explosive growth and success of various companies, but the two things that struck me as the biggest takeaways were the acknowledgement of a shift from anonymous online profiles and strictly digital engagement towards real-world, local relationships, as well as an emphasis on creating compelling customer experiences.

“Can’t we use technology for something better than a coupon?” asked a Gowalla developer. In his presentation titled “Telling Better Stories”, Gowalla’s Director of Business Development, Andy Ellwood, discussed a macro shift “from relevance to relationships” that is driving change in the industry. The internet and technological innovations allowed us to create a thriving digital world, but now we see a resurging interest in engaging in the real world around us, enabled by powerful mobile devices, geo-location services, and creative – albeit unproven – business models.

The growing emphasis on relationships, rather than anonymity, manifests itself in various ways: Gowalla and Foursquare create a social diary out of everyday urban adventures; startups Banjo and Sonar enable users to identify and connect with others in their networks in real time; and myYearbook emphasizes the fact that in social games, WHO you play is as important as WHAT you play, and that gaming has moved beyond entertainment, towards a platform to build relationships.

It was also really interesting to hear everyone from Capital One’s VP of Digital Marketing to LivingSocial’s Marketing Director discuss the importance of creating compelling, “non-brokered” experiences for your customers. The emphasis on customer experiences is especially relevant to advertisers, who acknowledge that they no longer hold their audiences captive through forced viewing, but instead must provide an environment of choiceful, on-demand experiences. Consumers are seeking content, not commercials. Especially in an increasingly competitive environment where a seemingly infinite number of marketers must compete for the increasingly limited attention spans of consumers, creating compelling and engaging customer experiences will be the key to success in the digital marketplace.

It was exciting to see such growing interest in this sphere in the DC area, which, given the federal government’s role in the local economy, hasn’t exactly been known as a hub of technology and innovation. I don’t think Digital East will rival SXSW anytime soon, but I hope it continues to grow in both the number of attendees and the quality of the panelists and presenters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: