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The Las Vegas strip will be filled in a few days with legions of digital marketers all arriving for the inaugural Digital World Expo, held at the MGM MIRAGE, September 25-27, 2011.

One man that knows a thing or two about Las Vegas (and next gen advertising) is conference organizer, and former Interactive Marketing Director of Cirque du Soleil, Cox Communications, Wynn Resorts, and the MGM MIRAGE, Shawn Rorick.

Shawn’s Las Vegas peers have rightfully accused him of “single-handedly dragging Las Vegas interactive advertising into the 21st century,” and so we thought it might be polite to ask him a few questions about Digital World Expo and the challenges facing digital marketers today before we invade his hometown and light up the strip.

I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes of Shawn’s time to discuss looming digital marketing legislation, where among emergent media channels to invest, and, of course, whether any late-comers can still jump on a plane to Vegas and book a last minute registrations. Here’s the Q&A:

Lisa: Tell us about Digital World Expo. What makes it different from other conferences in the space?

Shawn: We’re stepping back from the typical abstraction common at most digital marketing conferences. Instead, we want to send attendees home with practical techniques that they can then apply to their business.

There are still marketers out there making big budget decisions without the fundamental knowledge about what really powers brand or revenue initiatives such as search marketing and internet advertising. We want the Digital World Expo to become known as the conference where each attendee learns practical tactics as well as higher-level discussions about trends. One third of our sessions are dedicated to practical instruction. The goal is to empower decision makers with some basic toolsets. This instruction-based conference style should serve as a catalyst to shift traditional media budgets to digital, with confidence.

Lisa: How did you decide on which topics to cover?

Shawn: We focused on the areas that are elusive with undefined or unclear expectations of entry costs and performance. Basically, our plan is to give attendees greater clarity about major new areas available to them; but without the ambiguity typical of many conference presentations. The speakers we selected for the classes are individuals that specialize in a particular area of new media. We then asked them, “Strip down all the ‘generalities’ and ‘assumptions.’ Get down to the real nitty-gritty.” This is why you won’t find the proverbial conference panels.

Lisa: At Impact Radius, we’re working on a series of blog posts and articles about the challenges facing marketers in 2012. One challenge for corporate marketers is deciding which digital marketing channels to invest in. Why do you think it is so hard to allocate budget with confidence?

Shawn: Actually, if they don’t come up with easy answers, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not confident. It could mean they’re not used to taking “all things” into consideration. This is where attribution modeling fits in.

All things considered, we know that “search” is the core of direct, last-click revenue. But we also know that many factors influence search. So we need to get better at taking “all things” into consideration and get more comfortable with a portfolio of channels contributing to conversion.

Lisa: Another challenge for corporate marketers is absorbing the implications of looming legislation–from sales tax to privacy concerns. What’s your advice for the typical corporate marketer when it comes to legislation changes?

Shawn: For new professionals just getting their feet wet, there’s a myriad of legal issues to understand and research. But once you’re current with everything that’s happening, congressional legislature doesn’t move nearly as fast as technological advances (thank goodness!). Marketers not working for larger companies may proceed with their policies and practices without focusing on how pending legal issues might affect them. Yet once you’re in the corporate circles, you’re forced to take many legal and privacy issues into consideration. I think the attention of marketers in this area is directly correlated with the size of the company they work for.

Lisa: What about the “daily deal” bubble? Is it getting more challenging to design a consumer offer that gets traction in the crowded space?

Shawn: I don’t think it’s more challenging to “design” a discount or special offer. But I think it’s become very challenging to ensure your message is sent across the vast channels that reach consumers looking for those offers.

Lisa:  In the last couple of years, there was a lot of hype around social media. We’ve all heard stories about “expert strategists” charging exorbitant fees to guide brands into the conversation. The challenge is demonstrating the effectiveness of social media. In your opinion, will social media eventually be forced to demonstrate that it plays a role in direct response? Or do you think it will fall into the “brand awareness” budgets?

Shawn: That actually depends on the company’s analytic capabilities. Do they assimilate interactive media with measureable outcomes? Are decisions made on actual metrics and data?

Social media has had a spotlight over the past few years. It will be interesting to watch what happens to the “expert social strategist” when they can’t respond to senior management’s questions about how much revenue they’re driving. It’s going to be an easier play to put social media into the “brand awareness” category as we all have chalked inconclusive revenue efforts toward “branding.”

Then again, social media isn’t just a “marketing” function. If you consider customer service, CRM and corporate communications as supplemental revenue sources, then social media can be viewed as an essential function, even if you can’t entirely measure its contributions.

Lisa: Shawn — between your founding roles in both Las Vegas Interactive Marketing Association and Digital World Expo, you’re in a unique position to hear perspectives on marketing challenges from brands, agencies, and solution providers. Are you hearing any common issues or discussion threads?

Shawn: Yes, probably the biggest commonality of challenges is the lack of communication between brand/direct marketers and programmer/developers. They simply don’t speak the same language. The other issue I hear a lot of is a direct result of agencies and corporate departments having the resources to stay “on top” of all the new media opportunities. Then, of course, there are the ongoing issues with “branding” and social media and how it’s increasingly difficult to track direct revenue contribution from them.

Lisa: All of us at Impact Radius are really excited to learn a ton in Vegas. Are there still opportunities for last-minute registrations?

Shawn: A first year show? Geez, that kinda goes without saying. It’s going to be a great experience for a lot of people and I’m most excited to hear how we need to develop it further based on feedback!

If you haven’t already done so you can still register for Digital World Expo here.

Thanks Shawn. For those digital marketers invading Vegas this weekend don’t forget to catch my presentation “Customizing Performance Marketing.” My presentation is on Monday, September 26th from 3:15—4:00pm (details below). And if you miss that one (we will be in Vegas, after all), I will be giving the same presentation on Tuesday, September 27th from 2:15—3:00pm.

Also, we’d love to meet you at the Impact Radius Booth (#317). Look for me, Taryn O’Flaherty and Todd Crawford at Digital World Expo. Details about my presentation are below.

Lisa RioloTaryn O’FlahertyTodd Crawford

Customizing Performance Marketing

Monday Sept 26th from 3:15 – 4:00pm
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Check out the conference agenda here.

Tuesday Sept 27th from 2:15 – 3:00pm
Add to calendar
Check out the conference agenda here.

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