My co-workers and I were in Nashville for [Marketing Conference]. Two days of passionate talk about marketing strategy and content at the [Genre of Music] Hall of Fame. We rolled into town around 5 p.m., checked into our hotel, picked up our conference badges, and had a late dinner.
I woke early the next morning and decided to squeeze in a quick jog across the city’s old Shelby Street Bridge. This is where, in 1954, reporter John Seigenthaler grabbed a suicidal man by the collar and pulled him back from the brink of a 100-foot drop. For this noble act, Seigenthaler received the despondent man’s muttered curse—“I’ll never forgive you”—as well as the acclaim of his city. In 2014, shortly before Seigenthaler’s death, the bridge was renamed in his honor.
I didn’t feel like jumping off the bridge, but I didn’t feel like saving anyone either. As I’ve said, it was early. I’d slept only fitfully in my unfamiliar room. The air was warm and damp and smelled of frying eggs and bus exhaust. I jogged toward the middle of the bridge, listening to a Nashville-themed playlist through my earbuds.
Gazing off the side, at the skyline and the brown churn of the Cumberland River, I first felt the grip on my arm. I turned instinctively to see who, or what, had stopped me.
I was confronted by a ruddy-complected man in an ill-fitting suit. His eyes were light blue. The suit had a slept-in look. He stepped off the walkway and blocked my path. “Hey. Can I tell you a secret?”
The first conference speaker was going on at 8:00 a.m. And I still needed breakfast. So I didn’t have time to stop and chat. I darted around the guy.
“Sorry,” I called back. “On a tight schedule. Have a nice day.”
I ran on. All the way to the other side of the bridge, around Nissan Stadium where the Tennessee Titans play, and then back to the bridge again. Crossing back toward downtown, the man, still in the same spot, tried to stop me again. When I ignored him, he started to run after me.
I tried running faster. But I was nearing the five-mile point, and I guess I was a little tired. Despite his ill-fitting suit and impractical shoes, the man seemed to be gaining on me. “Hey!” he called. “Hey!”
Reaching the end of the bridge, I dodged the traffic surging across 4th Avenue and headed into Music City Park, hoping my pursuer had given up the chase. But when I glanced back, there he was. My heart was pounding. I had nothing almost nothing left.
I slowed to a stop. In an instant, he was next to me. Red-faced and rumpled but not at all winded.
“What do you want?” I gasped. “What is your secret?” I dropped down, my hands on angled knees, to ease the pain in my side. “For the love of all that is holy,” I pleaded with him. “What do you require of me?”
“Are you aware,” the man said, “that only nine percent of B-to-B customers surveyed fully trust their vendor’s content?”
Some Of That Was B.S.
But this is true, I swear.
If it’s your job to market to people, you might care about some of what I learned during the next two days at [Marketing Conference]—about guiding people through the sales funnel, leveraging data to make products more relevant to customers, and surfing the next wave of disruption.
But if you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you came here looking for a story. As a writer, and as a marketer, I’m hoping I don’t disappoint.
Here’s the rest of my story. The totally true part. The sad part. Like most sad, true stories, it’s not all high drama on a bridge. At this point, the story shifts to [Marketing Conference]. Which had its higher points, like this:
But led me to far too many scenes like this:
And—I am not making this up—to a session on the power of storytelling that featured not a lot of interesting stories, but many statistics like this one: “Only five percent of people remember statistics or data, but 65 percent remember stories they’re told.”
To understand just why this was making me so sad, you must realize that Nashville is not only a city of honky-tonk bars, vintage guitars, and country music stars. It’s also a city where this exists:
If you’re going to lure your attendees with the promise of a hot time in Nashville, and then keep them inside all day in dark auditoriums, you had better find some way to deliver big engagement along the way. If you’re somewhere less exciting—like a Comfort Inn near the airport—maybe a PowerPoint full of rockin’ statistics is okay.
Someday, someone will come up with an equation that shows just how engaging your conference has to be in order to compensate for the awesome stuff your attendees are going to miss by attending the sessions. I don’t think it’s quite right yet, but I’m imagining something like this:
I learned a lot at [Marketing Conference] about the power we have to market very precisely, mindfully, and insistently to just about any target audience. As marketers, we really are getting very good at finding the specific prospect we’re after. We can find him, and we can run him down.
But once we’ve gone to all that trouble to get his attention, we’d better have something pretty amazing to say.
Otherwise, he may never forgive us.
“Sleepy Girl” by kokiri studio, “Man Playing Guitar” by Gan Khoon Lay, “Presentation” by Gregor Cresnar, “Greater Than” by Bakunetsu Kaito, and “Surprised” by Gregor Cresnar from the Noun Project.