October 22, 2012 - Comments Off on Leeds Digital Conference: Strategy, Design, Content and Cake

Leeds Digital Conference: Strategy, Design, Content and Cake

Last Friday morning a host of eager beavers from Bloom made their way to Leeds City Museum for a whole day of digital fun that came in the shape of Leeds Digital Conference 2012. The conference, which was part of Leeds Digital Festival, promised to celebrate the best of digital in the city and showcase what digital could mean to our wonderful city in years to come. With a plethora of speakers from some of the city’s most exciting agencies and some of the nation’s most well-known brands – including the BBC, Spotify, Sky, Asda and IBM – I knew that despite starting the day with a rumbling stomach (Greggs had run out of bacon butties – and they call themselves a bakers?!) it was going to be a good one.

Lack of butties aside (going without breakfast usually impedes my ability to get out of bed, let alone concentrate), I was completely drawn into the discussions and opinions that were debated throughout the day. The fact that I’m still mulling over some of the talks and panel discussions is a real testament to the quality of many of the speakers. They successfully managed to switch my train of thought away from bacon sandwiches and towards digital. As Dean Vipond – whose talk on digital memory was outstanding – later mused on twitter: “Conferences should start discussions.” If that was the brief for Leeds Digital Conference, then I believe it hit it straight on!

 So, what did I take from the conference?

Lawrence Alexander’s brilliant strategy talk reminded me of something that is so often lost among industry jargon and the waffle of marketing text books: marketing is all about people and the human experience. It doesn’t start with creating an expansive database or a wishy-washy consumer profile.  So often a list of deliverables, ROI, KPIs and new technology is the focus for strategy – the customer isn’t really considered before pen is put to paper. While data and consumer profiling no doubt add huge value to any marketing strategy,  really understanding your customer, their needs and their wants – Lawrence rightly argued – should be the key to any campaign.  Back to basics, maybe, but a really useful reminder.

Dean Vipond’s later design talk was of a similar ilk. Dean didn’t restrict the conversation to areas traditionally associated with design – e.g. layout and typography – but instead ventured into the fascinating world of digital memory. 2012 was the year that Dean stopped scrobbling on Last.fm after a magnificent 43,000 songs. Why? Because he realised that nobody really cared what he listened to.  The internet has given us the ability to build a record of pretty much anything we want – from how many times we listen to Gangnam Style on repeat to how many miles we run, to how many times we brush our teeth in a week. However, there seems to be a real difference between the amount of data we pour into these services and the actual value we get out. Pointing towards Instagram and the wonderful Dear Photograph, Dean concluded that sometimes the best apps and websites provide very little data, but hold a lot of meaning.

Later on in the day I attended a panel discussion about content marketing. The panel – Victoria Betton from the NHS, Shelli Walsh from ShellShock UK, Heather Healy from Stickyeyes and Simon Zimmerman from Hebe Media – were asked if the core objective of content is to create profit. As many of my colleagues are very aware, I could go on at length about my views on this question. In fact, I could probably dedicate a whole blog to them. However, I’ll keep it short and sweet here. In my view, Lawrence and Dean’s musings earlier in the day were spot on. Profit should hopefully be the overall outcome of any content strategy – for us private sector bods anyway – but creating something that’s meaningful to the target audience should be the core objective.

The panel were also asked where content belongs – is it the domain of the SEO team, the PR team, or a separate team all together? Again, this question struck a chord. While I understand that operationally it’s often useful for a department to own work, in my view it’s not conducive to creating truly integrated marketing. As Alex Craven discussed a few weeks ago, skillsets are merging and teams should be created around client needs rather than department silos. An interesting debate – and again, one that I could probably dedicate an entire blog to.

Talking of culture and fostering an environment that’s conducive to creating great ideas, Andy Smith’s insight into the world of Spotify was also fascinating. The innovative music brand’s four core values are:

  •  Think it, build it, ship it, tweak it
  • Give it everything you’ve got
  • Play fair – be open to share
  • Go big or go home

Working in small squads that are dedicated to maintaining the start-up culture, Andy’s talk highlighted the importance of fostering a corporate structure that places value on individual responsibility for ideas.

Taking this blog post full circle, I’ll end by talking about food (but this time there’s a link, I promise). Despite all the wonderful discussion and debate during the day, if Leeds Digital Conference taught me one thing, it’s that we should never underestimate the value of cake.  It’s wonderful to know that Spotify – a highly successful multi-national company – cite FIKA, the Swedish word for a business meeting with cake, as a core contributor to their success. Their philosophy is that cake can do wonders for creativity and bring out the best ideas in their staff. Now that’s an ideology that I can buy into.