Digital Summit Dallas 2016: Notes and Takeaways

Here are my full notes from the Digital Summit Dallas 2016.

The setup is like this:

  • The main takeaways are in bold or italics
  • What’s left are notes that stood out to me.
    This is something I wanted to take with me from the session in case I didn’t get the slides or — more likely — never looked at them.
    These “extras” are what’s not included in my LinkedIn summary of Digital Summit Dallas 2016.

Here are the sessions noted:

  • Comprehensive Search & SEO Strategies (Michael King of iPullRank)
  • Opening keynote by Seth Godin
  • Improv Rules for Award-Winning Video Content (Tim Washer | Creative Director, Cisco)
  • Know Your Numbers: Using Data to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Marketing (Dave Fryer | Product Advocate, Domo)
  • Lunch keynote by Ann Handley
  • Be More Funny! Using Humor to Elevate Your Brand (Michael Albanese | Comedian, Writer & Producer)
  • How to Get Real and Cut the BS in your Millennial Marketing (Hassan Ali | Creative Marketing Director, The Onion)
  • Lessons from the Frontier: Trends and Tactics from Today’s Content Powerhouses (Jean Ellen Cowgill | President, Atlantic Media Strategies)

Comprehensive Search & SEO Strategies

Michael King, iPullRank


Key takeaway:
More robust content strategies lend to more visibility and perform better in search engines.

Additional notes:
Make the meta description more engaging.
Semantic relevance matters more than keywords.
Flesch-Kindcaid readability levels that are higher (76.19+) rank better.
User journey > Keyword data > keyword portfolio


Persona and need state need to be done by hand<


Affinity segments. See where Google put you. See in GA the affinity segments coming to your site.

Opening Keynote by Seth Godin

Attention. Everything we do as marketers is fighting for attention.

Permission: giving anticipated personal connections to people waiting to get them. It’s the privilege of talking to people who want you talk to them. Permission moves you from scarcity to digital abundance.

Remarkable. The purple cow. The recipient is the one who decides if it’s remarkable. If people talk about what you make, the word spreads. The permission spreads. The attention spreads. Around the cycle goes.

At the beginning, only the weird people do something. Not the average ones. Find the guts to make stuff you care about for weird people. They’re the ones who’re listening.

We all have a different worldview. Line it up with what people believe. FLASH — Fear Loneliness Anger Shame Hunger — to get ahead.

We tell stories to people who want to hear them. To people who resonate with it.

In marketing, we find small threads of connection and interest, and amplify it. Work to change the culture. That’s what marketing is. Who am I seeking to change? And once I find them, how do I change them? Go from here to there. Ex Harley Davidson wanted to change disconnected outsiders to connected insiders for people who’d miss them.

As marketers, we’re scared of speaking our truth, of making an insertion that someone might not like, of creating something that might not be received.

We’d like to believe that we can never make anyone change. But there are footprints on the moon. We’re capable of more than we believe.

Fail in generous ways as we try to figure out how to succeed in what we’re creating for those who need us.


Then Seth opened it up to questions. He did so by letting people throw around a padded cube. Not overly successful.

Here are his responses to people’s questions:

Seth on blogging:

No single better way to get your head on straight than to blog every day. Explain your thinking. Even if no one reads it. Best day to start is 25 years ago; second best is tomorrow.

Seth on The Grateful Dead:

Create an experience you can’t get anywhere else. Do it for weird people. Give them a story. Make it easy for other people to come back into the tribe. Did it for the art they wanted to make, not the money.

Seth on big data:

Look forward. Not just at data. If we A/B test to death, we’ll ultimately all have porn sites (per Fred Wilson). A little data is helpful, but belief and the desire to go to the next level is what really matters.

Americans don’t care about privacy. They care about being surprised.

Seth on bots:

The best marketers are generous marketers. If it solves the consumers problem, do it. If it solves your problem, don’t. Short-term yield is not the business we’re in. Long-term connection is.

Seth on the free prize:

The free prize is what you paid extra for. Every car drives. You’re buying the stereo. Every restaurant has food. The hostess is extra. Every human wants more than what’s in the RFP. It’s always about the free prize.

Placebos: Red wine is a placebo. In double blind studies, people can’t tell. But nothing is double blind. The placebo is what you pay for. The free prize.

Seth on branding & misusing the megaphone:

Brand is the promise of what we expect when we buy for you. Many people mean awareness, not branding.

Lots of challenges with internal B2B marketing. Do small experiments around the edges. If it works, give your boss all the credit. People like to get the credit. After a while, you do enough around the edges that the organization can’t live without it. Someone who cares enough does the work and lets others bask in the benefits. Brands die by annoying the few people who will tolerate them enough.

Seth on his most recent marketing mistake & what he learned: 

Interpersonal marketing vs. spending a lot of money. Being nice vs. rude. People need to make a living, but they also need to make a life. How you present yourself to others is self-marketing. You have to let them know they’re engaged.

Enrollment: The person you’re marketing with wants to go where you want to go. Get rid of noise and go together. How do you make a baseball fan? Get them enrolled in the journey. Not a book of baseball stats and a test. Beware of being in a hurry to discharge something. Get them to go on a journey with you. Not for payment, but for change. That’s what all the heroes of great marketing do.

Seth on scaling and the difference between a freelancer and an entrepreneur:

Entrepreneurs make money when they sleep. They build an asset. They invest in things that become more valuable. The job is to invent a job for someone else to do.

Freelancers get paid when they work. If it’s done, it’s done by them.

How to scale as a freelancer? Pick better clients. Freelancers are defined by the clients who will do work with them. It helps spread the word better and work up the ladder for better clients. Work up the ladder instead of down by hiring mediocre help.

Seth on legacy and long-term assets:

What we do for a living is make change. Just because it’s important to Wall Street doesn’t mean it has to be important to you. What did you want to happen in the world when you were a kid? Do you make people feel less lonely, connected?

Industrial era advice: build a company, make it as big as possible. Now: make change happen.

Seth on the rise of ad blockers:

Ask yourself, “If all ad blockers are perfect, what would I do with my marketing?” Then you’ll be ready for them. They shouldn’t be a surprise to begin with.

Improv Rules for Award-Winning Video Content

Tim Washer | Creative Director, Cisco
Do your analysis, but then experiment. Try something.


“There are no mistakes, only gifts.”


Follow the fear.


Everyone’s creative. You’re either in open mode or closed mode. If you have an idea, write it down. Do whatever frees you up.


There’s one idea that’s going to scare you to death. That’s the idea you have to pursue. That’s the newest, edgiest. That’s what’s going to open up things for you.


Writing techniques


Start with captions. Be funny.


Get people’s expectations going one way, then bring in the punchline from a totally different direction. Think: what’s happening? Then: what’s the exact opposite? or.. what else is going here? What’s going on right before — or right after? or.. what else could this be?


Juxtaposition: lay two ideas side by side. Associations. Look for fun ways to combine them.


Frankenpage: Using A Million Little Pieces of Data to Reverse Engineer the Perfect Landing Page

Oli Gardner | Co-Founder, Unbounce


This session was amazing. My favorite of the conference. Unfortunately, it’s a “you had to be there” kind of thing.


The best I can do is share the resources he shared with us. This includes his slides: 


Know Your Numbers: Using Data to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Marketing

Dave Fryer | Product Advocate, Domo



Start with a problem, not a solution.

Until you can solve your problems on a napkin, no technology can help you

Effective metrics start with effective questions (and problems). Then ask, “Where do the drivers live that can answer your question?”

Where do the drivers live that can answer your question?


How to Get 77% More Traffic from Your Existing Content

Quinn Whissen | Director of Marketing, Vertical Measures

The heading says it all.


Just follow the steps in the slides:

The Hidden Talents of Email: Creating Customer-Centric Messages

Justine Jordan | VP of Marketing, Litmus


This was a great presentation. Justine shared lots of great resources.


The resources were my favorite part. Here they are:


Lunch keynote by Ann Handley

Bigger. Braver. Bolder.

The biggest missed opportunity in content is playing it too safe.

Can you make what you do sound like a movement rather than just a limp description?

Your story sets you apart.

1. Bigger context. 

A bigger story puts your business in context of what people care about. Use your bigger story to convert more people into your tribe. (She’s trying to coin “squad,” but it’s just too weird for me to write. So I’ll stick with “tribe,” which still feels weird.)

Deep value = smarter customers.

Why Blue Bottle Coffee (her example) works well:

Bigger context. Real class, real curriculum, really engaging. “Training” is marketing. I feel smarter. And part of something.

What’s the knowledge gap you can offer to your customers?

Smart companies don’t follow trends. They lead them.


How do you lead?

What story can you tell with a depth and breadth that doesn’t otherwise exist?

How do you build your tribe?

2. Bolder marketing

Tell bolder stories: richer insights, better experiences.

Other path to bold: disrupt fairytales (e.g. humane society… change the narrative from people or animals to people and animals).

Takeaways from her examples (Slack, Humane Society):

Are you delivering great content experiences on your audiences’ terms?

3. Braver perspective

Tone of voice is your gutsiest, bravest asset.

Tone is who you are, why you do what you do, what you’re like to deal with

Voice reflects your culture, amplifies your story, communicates empathy for your brand. Formula : culture x story x empathy = tone of voice

Find interesting ways to say boring stuff


If you cover up your logo, would you recognize you?

Why You’re Doing Influencer Marketing Wrong: The Down And Dirty Facts of Influencer Brand Engagements

Kristina Libby | Professor, University of Florida & CEO, S.W.C.


  1. Remember the influencer is an entrepreneur.
  2. Consider social media entrepreneurs as employees or partners.
  3. Use a diffusion approach to the influencer model.
“The ligers” are people with feet in two different worlds. “Betweenness centrality” and topical duality always matters. Helps disseminate information from one group to another. Can shift behavior because of the way they can bring information between groups.
Your liger may be hyper niche and small, or mid-tier and dual intent. So align your goals to either awareness or perception shift and then find that liger that supports you.
Make sure your brand fits into the influencer’s brand.
Place to look
  • cubeface
  • dash hudson
  • Trakr
  • Matter
  • Social rank

Facebook Ads: Right Users, Right Timing

Susan Wenograd | Partner and SEM Manager, FiveMill
Facebook ad servers are hitting max ad load. That means ads are going to get more competitive.
FB analyltics vs Google Analytics is like two people who broke up and have different stories :)
Important: pick a UTM tagging system
Don’t forget to exclude people who won’t fit your offering.
Look alikes: start with 1%. The larger you get, the less accurate.
Go to your facebook page, then /audienceinsights for more info
Customizing your audience is a higher CPC, but cheaper later because of higher conversions. You can get too specific and hurt yourself. Break-even.
Lead ad units = good! Test it.

Be More Funny! Using Humor to Elevate Your Brand

Michael Albanese | Comedian, Writer & Producer , @BigManMike
re: George Carlin: “Find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.”
  1. Know your audience
    • If they already know you, you have a captive audience
    • If they DON’T know you already, you have the chance to tell them who you are
  2. Take a risk
    • If you put the effort to be different and put your brand out there, you stand the chance to win BIG
  3. Leave some skin in the game
    • If you open up and show you’re not afraid to make fun of yourself, people will respond
Comedy isn’t for everyone. You’ll never be 100% right or wrong.
Where are you comfortable crossing the line, and where will you absolutely not cross it?
Then make a yes/no list of what you will (or won’t) talk about.
The ladder method (or the top-down method … or the reaching method)
On a ladder, you’re confident when you’re low. You’re close to the ground. You might skip a step.
But start from the top. You’ll be more careful.
With comedy, start with the ridiculous and work backward. You’ll find better concepts and ideas than if you start at the bottom.
E.g. Lil Wayne pouring champagne on Samsung phone for 30 seconds (not phone next to beach with a little water on it)

Relative problem solving 
YOU have a problem. WE have a solution. Then find a unique way to solve it.
E.g. kid screaming for not getting cereal to promote using condoms. (Your problem: kids. Solution: condoms)

Opposition problem solving
What problem are you trying to solve?
How can you create opposition or create theme completely different from their problem — then relate that to the consumer in a TWIST?
E.g. Geico Sleeping Beauty commercial in “It’s what you do” campaign.

Interacting with feedback
E.g. Brookside chocolates commercial
Attempt humor with (possibly) negative feedback. Endearing in way maybe not possible before.

How to Get Real and Cut the BS in your Millennial Marketing

Hassan Ali | Creative Marketing Director, The Onion
@hassanisms #cuttheBS

Be authentic.

Brainstorm in the Facebook status bar. That way you know how it would feel if you were to share it. Would they interact with it?

If it feels real and relatable, it’ll do better

Truth + entertainment = :)

e.g. orange juice is refreshing — so it makes Mondays better. Position it against Mondays. Make Monday a dude who doesn’t pick up his dog’s poop, tips 3%, etc.

Embrace publishers

“Marketers that distributed their branded content in partnership with a publisher saw a higher lift — 50% higher, on average — than those who published content on their own.” Nielson, 7/2016

Think outside the ad

Lessons from the Frontier: Trends and Tactics from Today’s Content Powerhouses

Jean Ellen Cowgill | President, Atlantic Media Strategies
More as more no longer works.
Who are your audiences?
What are their needs?
What (unique) values are you providing?
^ No surprise. But hard to remember in torrent of content production.
5 tactics to (re)focus around audience needs

1. To appeal to target audiences, consider their soft identities

Not hard demographics. I think she means psychographics.

Can you appeal to someone’s identity?

e.g. this awesome ad shows shows how more teenage girls can become engineers

Fill in the blanks: “As a _____ I feel _____.”

2. To emerge from the content avalanche, drill down to the social thing.

e.g. “website seeks to make government data easier to sift through” is much better than “the one-stop digital shop for digestible data on your city”

What’s the cocktail party sound bite?

Make it specific, counter-intuitive, pictorial, evocative.

3. To provide each audience with a way  in, craft a constellation of content.

Use lots of angles to pull people in.

4. Once a piece gains traction, flood the zone.

Redeploy resources around concept that works. You never know what will take off.

Instead of moving on to next thing, dig deeper.

5. To get the most out of your assets, use smart resurfacing.

Think about what you already have and what you can bring back. E.g. “What ISIS really wants” being a top article in February, then again when they republished after Paris attacks in November. It was most well-read piece, and still did extremely well.

Don’t apologize for republishing.

Timeliness matters. Timestamp doesn’t.

Be a curator of your own content.