Marketing lessons from Salesforce’s CNX15 conference

If you went to put in a request with your marketing department this week only to be greeted by empty desks, there’s a fair chance they skipped off to New York City with 10,000 of their closest industry pals for Salesforce’s ginormous Connections 2015 conference (#CNX15), billed as the digital marketing event of the year.

The stars were out in force. Derek Jeter! Legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (“Coach K”)! Fashion icon and original wrap dress designer Diane von Furstenberg! The Roots! Seth Meyers! Marty Kihn! Facebook CMO Gary Briggs! BBDO CEO John Osborn!

What did they talk about?

Personalization is the new normal

Studies continue to support the idea that consumers are generally willing to have companies collect certain information about them in return for more personalized browsing and shopping experiences. The trick, of course, is figuring out where your particular customers stand on that topic. One thing seems universal: if you’re collecting data but you’re still, say, recommending Frozen to someone who’s only rented horror movies, you’re going to annoy your customers in a hurry.

As Rachel Glasser (@DigiPrivacy – the one account that maybe gets a pass for being a Twitter egg) pointed out, businesses have to learn how to do personalization without being, well, creepy. As always, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can target a campaign based on knowing the age of your customers’ children doesn’t mean you should.

Think mobile, but think beyond the mobile web

Every year in recent memory has been “the year of mobile,” but Facebook CMO Gary Briggs still thinks marketers are overestimating the potential (and current reality) of mobile. “We are predominantly a mobile business,” he said of Facebook. In some cases, marketers may be placing their mobile focus in the wrong areas; 88% of mobile consumer time is spent in apps.

Welcome to the era of co-creation

BBDO CEO John Osborn acknowledged that co-creation can be uncomfortable, especially for those accustomed to calling all the shots and creating in a vacuum. But now more than ever we are seeing campaigns and strategies handled by teams, not just across divisions or departments, not just between agencies and clients, even, but also between, say, agencies and partners at tech companies.

Welcome back to the era of email marketing

“____ is dead” stories almost always overshoot their target, but that’s particularly the case with email marketing, which for many companies is more effective than ever.

You can’t run big data on Excel

Businesses know they need to embrace big data. Gartner’s Marty Kihn (@martykihn) provided a funny but accurate litmus test for your organization’s “big data” efforts: is your “big data” contained on Excel? If so,  you haven’t actually joined the big data revolution just yet.

“Always have a friend you’re better than”

This perhaps isn’t the most pure-hearted collaboration advice—which Coach K attributed to his mother—but, hey, it’s an easy way for a pick-me-up when business has you feeling low.

Ad tech is hot, hot, hot

According to Kihn, ad tech’s moment is rapidly arriving. Outside of possible areas like the supercollider, he said, there’s no industry that is more data-rich or more populated with sharp minds.

“Your worst moments are your best souvenirs”

I liked this quote from Diane von Furstenberg, even though I don’t know that I necessarily believe it. As Seth Meyers pointed out, it’s only fun to reminisce about your low points if you haven’t strung a chain of low points together. And as we recently pointed out, failure can be overrated as a character-builder. Still, plenty of epiphanies arose from apparent disasters.

Facebook: king of video, king of everything

Facebook now delivers more video views than YouTube. While you’ll read a lot of marketers complaining about Facebook—particularly those not spending money on Facebook—the marketers at CNX15 were almost universally bullish on Team Zuckerberg.

Marketing departments must embrace change—and the need to train

As 360i’s Matt Wurst (@mwurst) stressed, it can be difficult to staff at scale as necessary skills evolve. Marketers and agencies need to be able to train their own people to adapt and evolve. Such a rapidly changing landscape can pose significant morale problems—today’s master is tomorrow’s dinosaur.

Coach K is an emotional sadist

Masking his evilness in self-deprecation, the diabolical Duke leader told inspirational, pro-teamwork anecdotes about LeBron James and Michael Jordan only to shift abruptly to a self-indulgent paean to his most recent champions, this year’s Blue Devils, who defeated a Wisconsin Badgers team that had captured the hearts of America and perhaps the world. Then the Voldemort of the NCAA forced the audience to watch a highlight clip from the game, complete with a preposterously grandiose orchestral score. Highly inappropriate, right? The entire room squirmed uncomfortably—or at least that’s how it felt to this particular Badger.

#CNX15 attendees, please feel free to weigh in with your own favorite takeaways!

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.