Virtual Reality, Millennials & Kobe—Top Takeaways from DMA’s &THEN

Modern Marketing


Last week, over 15,000 marketers descended upon Los Angeles for three days full of networking, inspiration, and discussions at DMA’s &THEN conference. With attendees coming from all sorts of industries, segments, and paths, the keynotes and sessions ranged from future-looking to tactical and practical.

When I wasn’t hanging out on the show floor, or attending one of our awesome sessions, I attended a handful of sessions that addressed some key trends and practical issues that marketers need to prepare to face (and may already be facing). Let’s take a look at four of them:

Millennials & Mobile Marketing

Yes, we’ve heard it many times—millennials are a group that marketers can’t ignore—but that doesn’t mean that we’ve necessarily taken the time to adapt our marketing to meet the needs of this large generation (over 80 million strong in the U.S.) with over $3 trillion in spending power. The message, delivered by Anne Gherini, VP of Marketing at—it’s time, maybe even past time, that we get going and understand the power and impact that marketing to millennials can have on our businesses and in our industries.

While we can joke about hipsters and techies, and the perception of millennials (“generation lazy,” as dubbed by the Wall Street Journal), the truth is that millennials are a leading indicator of market trends. Born between 1980 and 2000, many of them are stepping into decision-making roles and getting executives seats. So if you’re not on board to reach millennials, there are a few things you need to consider and start doing immediately:

  1.  Be mobile: There’s no doubt that millennials are on mobile. It’s where they go to perform almost every activity—watching videos, checking emails, listening to podcasts, checking the news, and social networking. But it’s critical to understand that they’re on multiple devices (on average, 2 devices) at a time, so marketing to them in general, and especially on mobile, means that you’re only getting their partial attention. This means that, as a marketer, you need to be ready to create micro-moments that capture their attention in the tiny windows of opportunity that are available.
  2. Create quality content: Because a millennial performs most activities on a mobile device, you need to make sure all of your content is mobile-optimized. The rules for traditional content have changed when it comes to millennials—high production does not equal virality; it’s a much more scrappy environment where authenticity is valued. Millennials are the biggest contributors of user-generated content, and 84% of them say that it influences how they buy. And they don’t get turned off by sponsored content that’s high quality—if the content offers value, then it’s good.
  3. Use email: We have heard over and over again, “email is dead.” Well, that’s simply not true. If the stats about its high ROI aren’t enough, consider the fact that email is still one of the top things that millennials use their mobile device to access. The important thing to remember when it comes to effectively leveraging email: design for mobile first and then optimize for other devices and experiences.

Virtual Reality Content

Virtual reality has arrived. With Oculus Rift, Samsung, and now Playstation in the game, the high-end virtual reality (VR) experience has taken off. In their session on the new frontier of digital storytelling, Kevin Gentzel, CRO of Gannett, and Niko Chauls, Director of Applied Technology of Gannett, explored the potential of VR beyond gaming and high-tech, which is where it is primarily today. Their argument: VR will become a norm for the masses. And, if you want to understand its potential, you need to get your foot in the door now.

They jumped into a case study of how USA Today is using VR to produce pieces like the Presidential Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair and how it allows people to experience real-time events and feel connected to the experience, not to mention drive thought leadership and relevancy for advertisers. They also revealed some of the challenges they faced, like creating a rig to shoot a virtual reality experience and keeping it cool enough in the Iowa summer heat.

Ultimately, they urged marketers to go out and experience VR, understand its potential, and then really make it a practice and commitment if you decide to produce VR content—from creating VR advertisements (Kohl’s is experimenting with this) to helping consumers understand the power of your tool (Nest created a VR experience of a burning building).

Kohls VR ad

View link to Nest VR Video

A Perfect Marketing Brief

A challenge that most marketers face from a practical standpoint is how to document and share their ideas in their organization to align all of their teams. That’s where Ian Baer, Chief Strategy Officer at Rauxa’s session came in—How to Write a Perfect Brief. He shared these essentials and pitfalls of creating (or failing to create) the perfect brief:

  1. Goals: What are you trying to accomplish? Think business and marketing objectives. Your goals will be different than what you want the audience to do.
  2. Background: How did you get here? What is the context that affects this—category, brand, politics, current events?
  3. Audience: Who are you talking to? Pitfall: Don’t be lazy here—you owe it to yourself to learn about the people that are or that you want to be passionate about your product.
  4. Action: What do you want them to do? Call, click, visit, share… what’s the call to action? PitfallChoose only one. Any more is confusing and will muddle your results.
  5. The offering: What’s in it for them? PitfallNot having a value proposition.
  6. Message: What’s the big idea? Is it reinforcing something people already believe to be true in a unique way OR is it overturning something and removing a barrier? PitfallHaving too many messages—be as single-minded as possible.
  7. Support: Answers the question, ‘Why should I believe you?’ Your support should legitimately reinforce your activities. PitfallMaking empty promises. It’s critical to harness the power of the truth.
  8. Barriers: Why might they say no?
  9. Mandatories: What else do you need to know? What do you need in order to deliver?

The bottom line? A good brief is critical to an effective project and effective creative (whether that’s copy or design). Use it as your contract and if things change, take the whole project back with it. Understand, use, and tell the truth.

What’s Next? An Interview with Kobe Bryant

The final session of &THEN was an interview with NBA legend and now Media and Technology Venture Capitalist Kobe Bryant by Scott Donaton, Chief Content Officer of DigitasLBi. After 20 years in the NBA, Kobe has turned his attention to venture capital, and one of the first questions Scott asked him was, “When did you think, ‘What’s next for me?”

Surprisingly, Kobe shared that he started thinking about what was next for him when he was around 21 years old because you never know how long your career will be. He definitely didn’t expect his career to last so long, but he shared the skill that he honed on the court that have served him well in business: communication. His ability to work with different groups of people with different backgrounds and as a cohesive team is essential. You learn how to speak to the whole team and to the individual.

kobe at And Then

The thing he’s finding challenging and needs work? Patience. Sports, like basketball, often offer instant gratification. You practice a specific play or move and you’re able to see the results of that in the next game. In the venture capital world, Kobe is finding that you have to “find beauty in the process of building something” and have patience. And when Scott asked what he hopes to accomplish in the next chapter of his career, he replied, “The focus is not to one-up what I did before but to scratch the itch of my curiosity and see where it leads.”

After a few days around my fellow marketers, I came back energized and ready to put some of these takeaways to the test. Did you hear or see anything at &THEN that inspired you? If you couldn’t attend, was there anything you wish you could have heard more about? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.