A New Kind of Digital Conference Comes to Vancouver

The inaugural Digital Strategy Conference is hoping to help confused marketers with a holistic, methodical approach to understanding digital and their company’s place in it

Despite the ubiquity of selling stuff through social networks, mobile phones and advertising that’s more entertaining than interruptive, few companies feel like they’ve found the right way to do it—often struggling to bring it all together and burning dwindling but precious marketing budgets in the process.

A growing number of digital conferences are only happy to clarify things for confused marketing departments, flying in rock-star lineups of circuit speakers with nimble, digital-first CVs and envious track records only too happy to share the secrets of their success and plug an e-book project. No one can argue that a day or two out of the office listening to tips on digital execution and success can benefit a stuck marketing department, but most of today’s marketing conferences in B.C. present a series of loosely connected themes, with most seminars and talks very much stand-alone sermons.

It’s a pattern that local event organizer Andrea Hadley is well aware of. The founder of dStrategy Media launches her inaugural Digital Strategy Conference at UBC Robson Square this week (from Tue., Apr. 23 to Thu., April 25). She and her business partner Kelly Kubrick, a digital strategist and analytics professional, spent the past several years at dozens of events peddling digital clarity to confused marketers. They also read “more than a dozen” buzzed-about books in preparation for their own attempt at cracking the digital marketing puzzle in Hadley’s home town of Vancouver. “What we’re seeing—and what we wanted to solve with our conference—is what’s really bubbled up is a feeling of being overwhelmed. Marketers and businesspeople are dealing with the challenges of dealing with a total fragmentation happening across media and platforms,” says Hadley. “Digital is putting pressure on senior-level managers to adapt without knowing what steps needs to be taken.”

Her Digital Strategy Conference may seem lengthy, at three full business days, for an industry that grazes on breezy TED Talks, but that time commitment is necessary, she says, to get really methodical and work through every participating organization’s pain points. “This conference acknowledges that we’re in times of drastic change and lets people stand back, get out of the weeds and evaluate your business in a back-to-basics way,” says Kubrick. “What does your business need to accomplish and how do we use digital to get there, instead of a back-end reactions to new opportunities and pressures to react to now, whether your business is ready for it or not.”

What’s particularly compelling is what Hadley and Kubrick did next, charting their event’s course by five disciplines that are irrefutably part of the new marketing landscape: content marketing, mobile strategy, social channels, measurement and analytics and paid media. “Many events and conferences present these areas of learning as verticals, but never all together in an organized, intentional way,” says Kubrick.

The conference will kick off with a session taking participants through a proprietary measurement developed by the founders titled “Establishing Your Digital Maturity.” “This foundation helps each company attending identify where they are in the digital cycle and where they’re strong and weak. This builds context and personal signposts,” says Kubrick. “We looked at maturity models out there and there was little on digital marketing maturity models out there, so we created our own and will unveil it and use it at the conference.” This personal yardstick will be followed by a common definition of digital strategy, before transitioning into evaluating an organizations’ operational readiness.”

The conference then segues into half-day sessions led by thought leaders and authors who lead topical discussion about each discipline, then follow up their talk with breakout discussions and how-to workshops. “It’s this kind of structured learning that I was exposed to during my MBA at NYU,” says Kubrick. “You receive info as a student and are then asked to apply learning to a particular problem and organization. We’re teaching a thinking process.”

The event is almost sold out, which pleases Hadley and Kubrick, but not as much as the fact that almost 25 teams have registered by taking advantage of the group pricing the organizers implemented. “We created the Digital Marketing Conference to break down silos and practiced what we preached by inviting teams from each company. We’re solving company problems across disciplines and structures, so the more people committed to their company direction, the better.”

Watch BCBusiness.ca and @BCBusiness for reports and insights from the Digital Strategy Conference all week.