The ad:tech conference and exhibition is ‘the event for interactive marketers' according to the show guide. ‘Interactive marketers' in essence means the young, ambitious advertising agency types, who came in their droves.
I have never seen such a long queue to get into an exhibition. It snaked virtually the whole length of the Olympia exhibition centre—maybe 100m long with 250 people in the queue. And this was the ‘pre-registered fast track'! Dot-com boom times must be here again. Interactive marketing must be hot.
Maybe it was the aggressive promotional campaign that accompanied the show that got the people there—I was "pushed" at least 10 email and text reminder messages leading up to the show. Ironically this is the opposite of what good digital marketing is, which is all about listening to, and being "pulled" by customer needs, and giving them what they want.
In the exhibition hall it was bedlam. People everywhere with noisy presentations and music bellowing from every angle (I must be getting old… ). Eye candy cavorted seductively—the blondes with short skirts from White Label Dating and dotMailer were on every red-blooded man's ‘must see' list. For the ladies there were Roman soldiers (visualise Russell Crowe in the film Gladiator) and American Football players in helmets and padding. Well—this is the advertising industry I suppose.
Many were at ad:tech to catch the free vendor seminar presentations on Online Marketing / Ad networks, Email Marketing / Video, Search / Web Analytics, Social Media / Targeting, and Mobile Marketing. The ardour for attending these subsided as the day went on as audiences tired of these 30 minute races to impress listeners and gather up business cards. Maybe the really good stuff was reserved for the pay-for conference.
An interactive marketer for an online retailer (who should therefore know what he is talking about) commented to me "the show is confusing isn't it? I am definitely the target audience and I don't know what to look for and who to talk to". So true. All the stands were jumbled up rather than being clustered by category, so it was difficult to work out who did what.
But mostly both the vendors and the attendees were happy. Lots of buzz, and lots of good quality punters. At last year's show many bosses sent their junior executives to find out what digital marketing was all about. This year they came themselves, and seemed to be talking with vendors on the stands, rather than just slipping in and out of educational seminars.
The digital marketing space is very exciting and offers lots of opportunities for end customers and advertising agencies. Digital marketing allows all companies the ability to identify, target and track potential customers on the Internet, so they can offer their products and services in a personalised, relevant, and timely manner. In other words, the promise is of better sales engagement and customer experience, especially on company web sites. And measurable too.
Every single company needs to improve in the digital marketing area, so I forecast lots of market growth as marketing budgets are switched out of traditional print adverting and into digital marketing. The vendors' own marketing and messaging also needs to improve, especially in terms of selling customer solutions rather than undifferentiated products and services.
The best-of-breed category champions will emerge and market consolidation will start to take place over the next couple of years. The big players such as Microsoft, Google and AOL will undoubtedly make more acquisitions (they are already well represented in this market, albeit through some non-branded acquisitions). Google has thrown down the gauntlet and made advertising a key strategic battleground for software vendors and media companies alike.
Lou Gerstner once likened new dot-com companies to "fireflies before the storm". This statement has resonance with the latent emergence of the big players in the digital marketing arena. ‘The best is yet to come' in other words.