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Recapping Digital Summit: With Content, It’s the Heart that Matters

With last week’s Digital Summit Los Angeles now in the rear-view mirror, it should be clear why the theme, “transforming the future of the digital commerce ecosystem,” only hinted at the sweeping changes digital marketers are facing. New rules are challenging them to get more creative in reaching customers.


The April 5th – 6th summit, sponsored in part by Searchmetrics, included more than 35 in-depth sessions. Almost all pointed to one thing: forget a brute-force SEO approach and develop a softer touch to deliver insightful, engaging and entertainment content to online users.

With sessions Microsoft, BuzzFeed, Southwest, Uber, and more, here are the themes that stood out the most for me:

Give your content a heart

Content is nothing if not emotional. Without feeling and authenticity, even the most targeted content is likely to fall short of its full potential. The conference made clear something I’ve been espousing to clients for a while — it’s the emotional connection to a piece of content or brand that reels a customer in and drives web visibility.

At the show, I detailed how created a steady uptick in SEO visibility with the Sofa Fort Guide, a fun, interactive set of graphics on its site that provides diagrams on how to create the perfect sofa fort. By focusing on user-delight, fun — and admittedly non-transactional content like this, enjoyed a noticeable performance boost:


Contrast that with more purely data-driven methods like those beloved click-through listicles on Forbes  that drove user frustration, and you see performance suffered as a result:


Southwest’s Brooks Thomas summed it up in a day 1 session:

“Let data chart your course, and then trust your heart to lead the way.”

Emotional, customer-focused content like Southwest’s “Every Seat Has a Story” series not only grabs lots of eyeballs, it ultimately acts as a rallying point for underlining your brand value. Authentic, definitive brands breed consumer attachment, leading to recurring sales.  

Content needs (even more) context

Whether you’re talking about your audience’s physical locale, personal preferences, or emotional reactions, this speaker lineup focused on ‘where your customers are coming from’ in every possible interpretation of the phrase.

As marketers, it’s easy to think of content experiences in black-and-white terms like mobile vs. desktop. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as this slide from Rebekah Cancino (Sitewire) so cheekily pointed out:  


Binary details like mobile vs. desktop are important, but they represent only a fraction of the full picture. When focusing on content, you need to immerse yourself into a 360° view of who your customer is, where your customer is, and what they need at the moment they come across your content.


By creating content that acknowledges and caters to the needs of your customer when they need it most, you’ll win. Arnie Kuenn (Vertical Measures) echoed this point in spades:

“Buyers are searching for information that helps them make an informed decision. Businesses that provide that information will win.”

Take his example of a local pool builder in Virginia who decided to focus on building content to drive the business. Instead of self-promotion (the natural inclination), the pool builder jumped right in with a simple question: what questions are our potential customers asking when they’re ready to purchase a pool? In this case, it was “How much does a fiberglass pool cost?”


The means to address the problem were simple: write an article about the costs of a fiberglass pool, aptly titled “How Much Does a Fiberglass Pool Cost?” By creating just this one piece of content that answered a common question, the company attributed a $2.5 million sales boost to that single blog post.

Which feeds into the next big takeaway…

Stop talking about yourself

Want to market more effectively to your customers? The lineup at Digital Summit LA had a clear directive: stop talking, start listening.

In the digital marketing landscape, the hard sell rarely succeeds. Presenting customers with content that speaks expressly to your product’s highlights and merits is unlikely to spark sudden inspiration to buy. But if you empower your customers to understand more about the need you’re addressing, and explain why your product addresses that need along the way, you’re not just adding value: you’re giving them a clear route to an informed decision.

Take, for example, Blue Bottle Coffee’s “How to Brew an Amazing Cup of Coffee” course on Skillshare, which Ann Handley (MarketingProfs) shared in her day 2 lunch keynote.


A video training series, this content aims to do exactly as the title implies: it teaches you how to brew coffee. While it might seem silly at first, the details are actually pretty intriguing. Viewers are told why it’s important to have good coffee bean sourcing, the difference between grind types, the difference between blends and single-origin coffees, and all sorts of minute details that the majority of coffee addicts have likely never thought of.

Seems clearly non-transactional, right? But by providing this sort of educational content to a customer, Blue Bottle does something pretty brilliant: it explains exactly what elements you need to look for in a perfect bag of beans, all of which just so happen to be elements embodied in Blue Bottle Coffee’s beans.

Through an educational interaction, it leaves potential customers with a clear understanding of Blue Bottle’s product differentiation and product value, empowering them to make a well-educated purchase decision.

All in all, the overarching message of Digital Summit LA is abundantly clear. Listen to your customers, care about where they’re coming from, and make a concerted effort to connect with them beyond the purely transactional. It’ll win more customers in the end.

Did you attend Digital Summit LA, or any of the other events in the Digital Summit series? Let us know your thoughts on the conference and your big takeaways in the comments below.