Eighth annual Midwest Digital Marketing Conference goes virtual, focuses on authenticity in branding
More than 2,500 professionals in living rooms and home offices across the world logged into live sessions of the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference’s virtual summit on Wednesday and Thursday to learn about current trends, including social media, Google Ads and COVID-19’s effect on businesses.
Sponsored by social media management software company Agorapulse, MDMC featured more than 100 speakers. Participants were invited to register for a live two-day summit at no cost. A $99 ticket offered access to an additional 70-plus on-demand sessions made this week.
Social media consultant and author Carlos Gil kicked off the conference on last Wednesday morning with a keynote address titled “The End of Marketing: Humanizing Your Brand in the Age of Social Media and AI.” He explained that as brands increasingly use computer-generated imagery to create their own influencers, connecting with an audience becomes even more important to companies’ marketing efforts.
“The industry’s secret to selling online today isn’t having necessarily the best product, the best service,” Gil said. “Be likeable first and foremost, and build a brand that people trust and want to buy from.”
That concept was echoed by Jade Harrell, founder and CEO of RareGem Productions in St. Louis. In her session, titled “Glass Houses,” she encouraged brands to authentically express their beliefs and values as a way to remain transparent with current and potential customers.
“At the end of the day, we need to establish successful branding in order to withstand the winds of change and the randomness of time, consumers and the market,” she said. “Where does successful branding begin? It begins, whether you already have a brand established or you are creating a brand for the first time, inside your company. Only you know the core of your service. Only you know the true nature of your brand, and people want to know what your brand is made of, what it stands for.”
The youngest speaker at the conference, Moziah Bridges, was 18 years old and had already established a successful company, appeared on “Shark Tank,” served as a fashion correspondent for the NBA draft and met Barack Obama.
Bridges began designing and selling bow ties at 9 years old and quickly grew Mo’s Bows into a global brand, a journey he chronicled in his speech “How to Balance a Bow Tie.”
“To all you entrepreneurs out there, are you living your dream?” he asked. “I sincerely believe you can. What you can relate to is that you were once a child. I encourage you to go back there, because your childhood can play a big role. The child within us sees things from a completely different point of view. The child within us doesn’t realize how hard something is going to be. Balance that childlike way with being an adult.”
Bridges designed exclusive bow ties showcasing the MDMC logo, and participants were invited to enter for a chance to win one of them.
The event had previously been held at St. Louis Union Station and was scheduled to be held there again in early April until precautions to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus necessitated moving it online.
“We just did not want it to be a one-dimensional, virtual, digital conference,” said Perry Drake, MDMC founder and assistant teaching professor of digital and social media marketing in the College of Business Administration. “We were desperately trying to figure out how to make this as real as possible. We’d been talking about it in the past and were a little scared to move in that area. I think this has pushed us in that direction, and I think now we see the benefits of it and we see that we can do it.”
Transitioning the conference online presented challenges such as coordinating speakers and navigating the technology needed for livestreaming. In addition to traditional speaker sessions, the conference offered online networking opportunities, a job board, interactive question and answer sessions and commentary between sessions.
MDMC is the largest digital marketing event in the Midwest, and it upholds UMSL’s commitment to support the St. Louis community. Around 50 local businesses that had been affected by COVID-19 were given free tickets to the summit and on-demand sessions. In addition, approximately 30 students from the Youth Exploring Science program and Girls Inc. were invited to attend the conference and make connections with marketing professionals.
This year, as it has since its inception in 2013, MDMC strove to feature diverse speakers and keep ticket prices low to allow access for a maximum number of participants.
MDMC was organized and run by UMSL alumni and current business students. All proceeds from ticket sales went toward supporting programs and scholarships in the College of Business Administration.
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