This past week I was lucky enough to attend Digital Summit Philadelphia with my good friend Jesse Eldredge of Eldredge Brand Management. DS Philly was a two-day digital marketing conference that included speakers such as Seth Godin and Ann Handley. Besides the two keynote speakers the conference included a jam packed schedule of specialized speakers who gave actionable advice on topics such as analytics, Facebook Ads, email marketing, and much more.

After sitting through two days worth of content, certain trends and ideas started to emerge. After a certain amount of industry experts mention an idea, you start to realize that it’s probably very important for the future of digital marketing. This article is to explain those trends and ideas that I took away from the conference and hope to apply to my agency, SunStar Strategic.

However, this piece is not a review of the actual event. If you’re looking for advice on whether or not you should attend Digital Summit in your city, feel free to reach out to me personally at

Without further ado, my Digital Summit Philadelphia takeaways:

What Was van Gogh’s ROI?

Every marketer knows, explaining ROI is the most difficult aspect of the job. Half of our day is spent trying to persuade clients and bosses that we are doing good work. We come up with numbers and charts that as Seth Godin mentioned “have to go up and to the right”.

Business demands numbers, if your numbers aren’t going up and to the right, you might not have a job for too long. The problem with this mindset is similar to that of making the goal of a class to get an A, you’ll do whatever it takes to meet your quota. I’ve seen firsthand the types of manipulation that go into making numbers go up (never trust sports attendance numbers FYI).

I went into the conference hoping to come out with a better sense of how I can explain the ROI of what I do on a day to day basis, until Seth Godin made a statement that made me decide, maybe I don’t always need an ROI. Seth asked the audience what was van Gogh’s ROI when he made a painting? What’s the ROI of the building you’re in right now? He said that “ROI is not always the answer, the best work is not measured”. Sure, if you’re running an AdWords campaign and using thousands of your clients dollars then obviously you need to show what their return is. But in a job where there’s not a statistic that directly correlates what you do to success, maybe we should stop making up numbers.

We see this in the education industry with teachers. What’s the ROI of a great teacher? The effect a teacher can have on a child’s life is not measurable, yet we try to use statistics such as test scores to find a way to measure them.

The next time you find yourself being manipulative and inventing new statistics to help your cause, see if there’s another way to show your value.

Remove Friction

The chances are that if you’ve made it this far in my post, you work in marketing, or are related to me. However, if you’ve made it this far but you don’t work in marketing, this will hit close to home as a consumer.

Our job as marketers is to remove as much friction from the buying process as possible.

The second the consumer gets annoyed or feels disrupted when making a purchase, they will bail. Make it as easy as possible for them to see what you have to offer and get their order completed. This means setting up a shop on Facebook so that you can buy directly from the platform and not have to use a link to your website. One speaker recommended using “Facebook Insta Articles” instead of linking to your blog/website, because they can read your article on Facebook and not have to completely leave the site. Set up Apple Pay on your website so that mobile customers can automatically send you their payment and shipping information without having to type it in. There were also a ton of segments on artificial intelligence, voice search, and how we can further remove friction as technology advances.

For my fellow content marketers, don’t put up ads that make it difficult to read your pieces, we need to do the opposite. Do an audit of your offerings, how long does it take to make a purchase from your site? 3 minutes? Get it down to 1. Do better.

Market in Stories

If you aren’t storytelling, you aren’t marketing. This may not come as a shock, but people don’t care about your brands. What makes someone buy a $160 pair of basketball shoes over a $80 pair? It’s not the incredible features that make them jump higher and run faster, it’s what they represent. By wearing a new pair of LeBron’s Nike shoes you are representing what he stands for. The classic example is the difference between Harley Davidson and Suzuki. They both sell motorcycles, but Harley Davidson sells a community of outsiders than have a chance to fit in. Seth Godin mentioned how no one has a Suzuki tattoo, but there are a ton of Harley Davidson tattoos.

The great brands of our time are not about what they are. They are about what they represent. Apple, Sarah Palin, Harley Davidson, Tom’s Shoes… In each case, the reality of the product means far less than what the brand represents. The facts of iPod battery life, knowledge of world affairs, gas mileage and foot comfort are almost irrelevant. What matters is the Jungian rush these brands connote, their ability to allow us to identify ourselves and fellow tribe members, the sense of belonging and labeling and the journey we’re on (or not, our choice). Great brands represent something bigger than themselves. You can create this accidentally if you’re lucky, but you can create it on purpose if you try. – Seth Godin

“By telling your brands story, it puts your business in the context of what people care about” – Ann Handley. Don’t waste my time as a consumer showing me features I don’t care about, tell me your story, what do you stand for. Patagonia makes the same clothes and products as a thousand other companies, but Patagonia stands for sustainability and has a history to back it up.

I’m going to directly apply this to the NBA podcast I’m launching this fall with my friend Joey Balcom. There are a million podcasts with two white guys talking basketball, we need to develop out story of what sets us apart and why you should listen.

Solve the Right Problems

Is your company solving the right problems? Before I dive into the topic, here’s an amazing Harvard Business Review article on solving the right problems. Link.

The article mentions the “elevator problem”. This problem explains that the company’s problem is that their elevator is too slow. Instead of fixing the problem for their customers, managers tend to re-frame the problem and dumb it down for their customers. They don’t simply fix the slow elevator, they try to make the wait in the elevator go by faster with music and mirrors.

The idea of “solving the right problems” was a common theme throughout the event. Too often as marketers we tend to experiment with every bell and whistle, thinking we need to be specialist in every aspect of the industry and on every social media platform. This is why I follow the motto “simplify and solve”, simplify the problem, and then solve it.

Going back to my podcast example. The idea for me and Joey’s NBA podcast is that we were avid podcast listeners who felt like there weren’t enough entertaining NBA podcasts where you could get analysis while also having a laugh. That’s a simple problem that we decided we could fix.

Do the same for your business, stop trying to solve problems that don’t exist.

Thank you for reading my top takeaways from Digital Summit Philadelphia, if you’d like to join the Blogging The Journey mailing list and receive future posts directly to your inbox, please fill out the form below.

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