This past Monday, I had the opportunity to attend the Direct Marketing Association’s annual conference & exhibition, DMA2011, being held October 1-6 in Boston. Its tagline, “the global event for real-time marketers” is a slight tweak on last year’s tagline of “the global ROI marketing event” signals a continued transformation of both the organization and the event. Lawrence Kimmel, who took over as CEO of DMA just over a year ago, has been working to strengthen the organization and provide more benefits to members, while also changing the face of DMA to be more visible to the digital marketing world. Kimmel opened up the show with a keynote extolling the progress that DMA has made under his leadership, and he makes a pretty good sell. Looking at the sessions being offered and the mix of exhibitors on the show floor, it’s clear that digital and cross-media marketing are instrumental to the success of the DMA and its members.
The major keynotes at DMA reflect its transformation. Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, spoke directly after Kimmel’s opener via Skype, which seemed to throw attendees off quite a bit as the perception was that Stone would be there live (his wife is expecting a child soon, which is why he couldn’t make it). Nevertheless, the entrepreneur gave a good, thoughtful talk about the founding of Twitter, its adoption by marketers, and the “a-ha” moment that marketers had about listening and engaging with people (in real-time, of course).
After Biz’s talk, his floating video presence was joined by Scott Kirsner, technology columnist and blogger for the Boston Globe, and Gary Vaynerchuk, owner of WineLibrary and consultant to brands about using social media. The crew discussed the finer points of how to leverage social media in smart ways to deliver a great customer experience. That afternoon, Facebook’s VP of Global Marketing Solutions, Grady Burnett, talked about similar concepts in how the social Web transforms business.
The session tracks more than hinted at an increased focus in digital marketing. These tracks included topics like “Acquisition & Lead Generation,” “Real-Time & Trigger Marketing,” “Mobile Strategies,” and “Data, Measurement, & Attribution.” Each track also had courses broken out by knowledge/skill level to help guide people to the most relevant ones. DMA had a pretty stringent submission and review process for sessions this year, resulting in higher quality content that provided real value to attendees.
The show floor also represented the continued shift to digital and cross-media marketing. More and more print service providers are coming to DMA, pitching their marketing-centric services to attendees. Quad/Graphics was showcasing its new Interactive Print Solution, which combines multiple mobile response technologies, including mobile barcodes, image recognition, augmented reality, and near-field communication, into one integrated solution. Many vendors in the digital print space were in attendance, presenting their solutions for direct marketers. There is also an influx of digital marketing solution providers large and small. On the large side is IBM, which has made many acquisitions in the digital marketing space including Unica and Coremetrics, which were on display. There were more niche vendors, as well, especially related to mobile marketing.
There was a sizable, enthusiastic crowd in attendance at DMA2011, and while I was only able to attend the show Monday, one thing remained crystal clear: those that want to continue to be successful with direct marketing, whether it be from the service provider or the marketer side, need to embrace digital and cross-media marketing. These areas are the fastest growing in the industry, and will be the future of direct marketing.