Activate 2018: A Marketing Conference in the Heart of Chicago’s West Loop

ActiveCampaign Pattern

Activate 2018 ActiveCampaign conference
On June 25th, over 200 marketers gathered in the Skylight Room of Morgan Manufacturing to hear ActiveCampaign CEO Jason VandeBoom’s opening remarks at Activate.
Activate 2018, ActiveCampaign’s first user conference, brought together ActiveCampaign users and marketers, consultants, and members of the team for two days of thought leadership content and marketing best practices.
In his opening remarks, Jason shared the history of ActiveCampaign since its founding in 2003. He also left the crowd with a message that would permeate the rest of the event—marketing automation is powerful. Tools can be powerful. But over-automation is a mistake. Instead, small- and medium-sized businesses should strive to strike the perfect blend of automation and human touch.
That message returned in the opening keynote by Ann Handley, and reappeared throughout every talk and panel at Activate.
The idea of human connection came to life between the talks as well. In the intimate setting of Morgan Manufacturing, in the heart of Chicago’s West Loop, attendees networked with each other, got to know ActiveCampaign Certified Consultants, and had the opportunity to meet members of the ActiveCampaign team.
ActiveCampaign’s entire development team could be found mingling and chatting with users, and the Customer Success team was on-hand to offer one-on-one assistance in the platform between talks.
People networking at Activate
There were opportunities to network outside the main event as well. From the kickoff pre-party at Kaiser Tiger on Sunday, to the happy hour at the Waydown rooftop bar, the team and attendees had plenty of chances to get to know each other.
And then there were the talks.
Top marketing speakers like Ann Handley and Oli Gardner joined platform experts to share key insights and strategies for growing businesses. At the end of the first day, ActiveCampaign VP of Product Jen Busenbark gave a sneak preview of updates coming to the platform this year.
Below, you can find a short recap and key takeaways from the General Sessions at Activate 2018.

Ann Handley’s Big, Bold, Brave New World of Marketing

Ann Handley speaking at Activate
If you covered up the logo of your company, would you sound like everyone else?
That was the message Ann Handley shared. Instead of blindly describing products and following the crowd, how can marketers amp up their message?
Your company should have its own big, bold, and brave beliefs. Your customers should know what you stand for, because what you stand for should be embedded in every aspect of your messaging.
Highlights of Ann’s talk included:

  • Training and education can be marketing. By teaching, you can help people see themselves in a new light, and become part of a bigger story.
  • Interrogate the data. The data and narrative in your industry can suggest opportunities that your competitors aren’t brave enough to take.
  • Tell a bigger story. Have a personality, and integrate yourself into your customers’ lives.

Nir Eyal: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Nir Eyal speaking at Activate
If you’ve ever closed Instagram and then immediately, unthinkingly reopened it, you’ve experience the power of a habit-forming product.
How can you make your own business “habit-forming?” How can you get people to keep returning to your company?
That was the subject of Nir Eyal’s talk. Nir walked through his “Hooked” model, and covered the psychology beyond habit formation.
Highlights of Nir’s talk included:

  • Understand what cues your audience. What does your audience feel when they come to your company? How can you send messages and notifications that connect to those feelings?
  • Make action as easy as possible. People take action when they have high motivation and actions are easy. Make interacting with your business a fast, simple, easy-to-understand process.
  • Reward your customers. How can you make your customer feel good when they interact with your brand?
  • Help them come back for more. Add value. Over time, how can you get people more invested in their relationship with you?

Oli Gardner: Content Marketing is Broken,
and Only Your M.O.M. Can Save You

Oli Gardner speaking at Activate
It all started when Oli tried to pay a parking ticket online. A horribly negative experience with the online payment system reminded him again that most content marketing has three problems.

  1. It isn’t designed with purpose. It doesn’t speak to specific people.
  2. There’s no meaningful data. It doesn’t collect data that can be used to help in the future.
  3. It doesn’t show the product.

To study those problem, Oli went deep—writing 37,000 words of content in just 30 days. He shared the results of that experiment in his talk.
Highlights of Oli’s talk included:

  • Gather meaningful data. “Visitor watches 67% of a video” isn’t meaningful. “54% of watchers saw your product in action” is meaningful. Set up your marketing to collect meaningful data.
  • Get people to the AHA moment. There’s a moment where people finally understand how you can help them. Content’s job is to get them to that moment faster.
  • Personalize. Once you have meaningful data, personalize your content for each viewer.

Andy Crestodina on Future-Proofing Your SEO

Search engine optimization is one of the best ways to get people to your business. Ultimately, ranking in Google comes down to two things: authority and relevance.
Are you an authority on your subject? Do people link to your content because they respect what you have to say?
Are you relevant to your searchers? Do you answer their questions and solve their problems?
In his talk, Andy Crestodina broke down Google’s key ranking factors. He also showed how Google is increasingly able to understand the relevance of content to an overall topic—instead of just individual keywords.
Highlights of Andy’s talk included:

  • Things, not strings. Google is better at ranking content by its relevance to a topic (instead of an exact phrase). Content marketers should focus on showing relevance to that overall topic.
  • Be the best page on the internet. Answer every conceivable question on your topic. Have the absolute best page on the internet for your topic, because that will send more relevance signals to Google—and be more helpful to your readers.
  • There is no friendship report in Google Analytics. But making friends is important to your content. Guest posting and linking helps you build authority and gives you more content on your site.

Dave Knox on Predicting the Turn

“Marketing” used to be shorthand for “fighting the market.”
50 years ago, the largest companies competed with each other over who had the largest market share. Their budgets were spend on marketing, and their goal was to beat their competitors.
Today, the landscape has shifted.
The ability to be small and nimble is a huge competitive advantage. Business moves faster than it used to—entire industries can get disrupted by new technological developments, and small companies can seize large opportunities by being the best answer to niche problems.
The greatest opportunities of all? Predicting the turn.
Industries change quickly, but there are subtle signs of change. The ability to predict and plan for those changes is the biggest advantage in business today.
Highlights of Dave’s talk included:

  • Venture capital is the new R&D. Placing “little bets” by funding startups and small programs helps you ride the wave of big trends and avoid crashing because of hyped ones.
  • Opportunity is in the size of markets, not market share. Fighting for market share is short-sighted. The strongest business anticipate market shifts and target growing markets.
  • “There is a dramatic leveling of the playing field.” Small businesses can move fast and be nimble, which lets them compete more effectively in a fast-moving world.

Social Media Panel:
Luke Reynebeau, Elly Moody, Megan Uithoven, and Obele Brown-West

How do you use social media to spread your message and build your community?
In this panel, experts from Weber-Shandwick, GrowIt!, McDonald’s, and Sprout Social shared their best insights on integrating social media into an overall marketing plan.
Highlights from the panel included:

  • Integrate social into your marketing. The most exciting and effective social media campaigns are tied into PR and content marketing and digital advertising. They are cross-channel, even when they are social first.
  • Find your social superfans. Some people in your community are giving disproportionate value. Finding and supporting them makes your overall community stronger.
  • Use data to find your channel. Social media isn’t “set it and forget it.” Study each channel to see your competitor and audience activity, so that you know where to allocate your social media budget.

Digital Advertising Panel:
Joe Mathieu, Katerina Burke, and Jason Grodsky

Digital advertising can be extremely effective for marketing goals throughout your entire funnel. But if you are optimizing your ads poorly, you’re going to burn through budgets quickly.
In this panel, experts from Envisionit, Phusion Projects, and Relativity shared their best advice on optimizing digital ad spend.
Highlights from the panel included:

  • Goals dictate channel. You need to understand business objectives before you put spend behind a campaign. An awareness campaign has different best practices than a consideration campaign, and different audiences are best reached through different channels.
  • Tailor your messaging to the channel. The messaging you use in your ads should change depending on the channel. Users of different channels have different expectations for their digital ads.
  • When you don’t have historical data, use benchmarks. You don’t always have access to the data benchmarks you want—but you can ask advertising vendors what data they have, and compare your numbers to the numbers from a different vertical.

Marketing Technology Panel:
Ryan Bonnici, Cody Jones, Daniel Mintz, Kurt Elster

In 2011 there were 150 SaaS marketing products. In 2018 there are closer to 7,000. How do you know which products are worth using in your marketing stack?
In this panel, experts from G2 Crowd, Zapier, Looker, and Shopify shared their advice on choosing tools to grow your business.
Highlights from the panel included:

  • First, solve your biggest pain point. Early on, you should choose the tools that are going to make your life drastically easier. Later on, once you’ve grown, you can add in more “nice to have” tools.
  • Focus on outliers. People tend to focus on averages in their marketing. But a lot of the time, it’s more important to focus on the outliers—the people who are spending a ton or very little—because that’s where you get more useful information. Technology helps you get that data.
  • Know why people use you. If you don’t know why your customers are choosing you, you’re going to struggle to keep them, get new customers, and scale. Technology (whether it’s tracking tools, reporting software, or a simple survey) can help you get that information.

Marketing Automation in Action:
Scott Sharp and David Pearson

One of the things that makes marketing automation so powerful is its flexibility. With that flexibility comes some questions—what are some of the more interesting or unusual uses of marketing automation.
In this panel, ActiveCampaign’s Courtney Graham sat down with users from Sprinly and Qualtry, two organizations with interesting uses of marketing automation.
Highlights from the panel included:

  • If you’re scared of automation, just test. A lot of people learn automation on the fly, alongside their other job duties. If you’re ever nervous about trying something new—just test it. A small test isn’t going to break anything, but you’ll learn about what works for you.
  • Look for repetition. Repetitive, manual processes are candidates for automation. Look for ways to automate behind the scenes so that you can free up time to offer a human touch elsewhere.
  • Automated nurture is a good way to improve conversion. Lead nurture can take a long time, and is often missing in a sales process. Setting up automated nurture campaigns can make sales processes more efficient.

Wrap-up: Activate 2018

people sitting at Activate
The survey results are in and…Activate 2018 was a hit! We loved the opportunity to host 200+ users here in Chicago. Stay tuned as we continue to share more learnings from the conference—and we look forward to seeing you at the next event.

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