DMA Retires Annual Convention, Launches & THEN
When it comes to improving and upgrading an annual convention, sometimes a radical makeover is the best option. That’s what the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) did this year to its meeting.
DMA started by surveying its members to identify their unmet needs as marketers. The results revealed a strong preference for new information about marketing strategy and integration, as well as the more digital, online and data-driven aspects of marketing. They also wanted new ways to interact and learn from – and with – their peers.
“The appetite for an event that unifies the marketing industry rather than segments it by channels and that celebrates the power of data confirmed what we felt in our gut about the reinvention of our annual conference,” says Tom Benton, DMA’s CEO. “The research gave us the confidence to literally break the mold of our annual and create what the market wants and needs. For DMA – just two years shy of our 100th anniversary – to be bringing this level of innovation to the marketplace and acting more like a startup is exciting for us, our members and the marketplace.”
The bold new approach starts with a new name – “&THEN – designed to prompt the question, “&THEN what?” DMA Senior Vice President of Communications Lindsay Hutter says the event will answer this question through a wide range of new offerings that feature forward-thinking speakers and ideas.
Another huge shift is in the target audience. DMA members are experts in using data to help develop marketing strategies, and this approach spans marketing across all channels – not just traditional direct marketing.
The DMA research segmented potential attendees into three groups:
1. “Loyals,” who always come to the annual meeting;
2. “Lapsed,” who used to attend the annual meeting; and,
3. “Non-attends,” who don’t know much about DMA or the annual meeting.
By changing the message about the show and launching an aggressive marketing campaign to all these groups, DMA has already attracted half its registrants from the “Lapsed” and “Non-attends” groups – a sure sign that something positive is happening.
“&THEN is not just about DMA – it’s about marketers and data-driven marketing,” Hutter says. “It’s a non-traditional experience by design that’s focused on marketers – not the association. You won’t see the typical speeches from association leaders and grip-and-grin awards and recognition ceremonies. Volunteer leaders and award winners will be recognized, but in a more sophisticated way.”
For starters, DMA hired CNN contributor and syndicated talk radio host Mel Robbins to emcee the keynote sessions each day. The keynoters are also not the traditional mix of speakers. They bring diverse strategic perspectives: Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Chairman Kevin Roberts and IBM SVP of Marketing and Communications Jon Iwata will deliver their views as professional marketers. But Blake Mycoskie, founder and chief shoe giver of Toms (a company that sells shoes and has donated 35 million pairs of shoes to needy children around the world during the past 10 years) and musician John Legend will talk about their more organic approaches to marketing and how they succeeded.
On the exhibit floor, a central area called “The Hub” provides the event-long networking forum for attendees to connect and learn from each other.
And in an extremely bold marketing move, DMA is running the “Ultimate $100,000 Marketing Challenge,” where it offers $100,000 to the person who can convince the most people to register for the event (with a minimum of 20 people required).
The show-biz feel of &THEN also features a shark-tank-style startup competition for young disruptive ad-tech and mar-tech companies called The HOT ZONE. A half-dozen judges from Facebook and other leading companies will dole out cash prizes up to $25,000 plus other benefits.
Ever heard of “GenD”? DMA has. It’s the digital-era generation, masters of technology and inventors of new ways to leverage it to reach new goals whose mindset comes from attitude and not age. &THEN taps into this mindset and integrates its thinking into meeting content. DMA even created a GenD Anthem to capture the spirit of GenD.
DMA also is leveraging the brand star-power of its speakers, highlighting high-level innovative brand names such as Google, Twitter, Instagram, Yahoo!, LinkedIn, Adobe, Oracle, McKinsey & Company, Nielsen, Accenture, FedEx, and the Harvard Business School. Hutter encourages all meeting professionals to use this approach, since big brand names attract attention and give a conference credibility.
As &THEN nears (it will be held October 4-6, 2015 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center), marketing trade publications are reporting on the event’s radical new approach, creating buzz that is driving registration. DMA also expects marketing reporters at major national media to take notice.
“Many of our attendees are people who are new to DMA,” Hutter notes. “So our branding, marketing and programming for &THEN is succeeding. We’re excited about what it brings to the marketing industry and how it is repositioning DMA for the future.”
Al Rickard, CAE, is president of Association Vision, a communications company, and serves as director of communications for ConventionPlanit.com.