After attending MozCon 2019 in Seattle last year, coming away with tons of valuable insights, and writing up a blog post with my top takeaways, I thought it couldn’t get any better. I was wrong. MozCon 2020 from my living room was actually much better. Amazing talks + video playback control + comfy clothes – awkward networking and small talk = One very happy introvert.

Here are the top five things I learned.

1. Virtual conferences are great.

The benefits of a virtual conference are many, and, in my opinion, the drawbacks are few. The talks were all pre-recorded and then made available on the conference platform at the times listed on the agenda. Some attendees were disappointed that the talks weren’t live, and I was at first, until I realized this afforded possibilities I’d always wished I had: The luxury of comfortably watching the talks from my living room, being able to pause and rewind if I missed something, pausing to take notes, taking actual screenshots of the presentations on my laptop, and taking breaks when I could tell my brain had checked out.

There was also a live chat for each session where attendees could leave comments and questions. And, since the talks were pre-recorded, the speaker was able to be a part of the chat and answer questions in real time. The chat log was also still available after the talks, so if you watched a video later you could still see the conversation that had unfolded.

The only drawbacks I found were that the platform was a little slow to load at times, and videos sometimes took a while to buffer. This was reported by other users as well. Besides that, I found the benefits to largely outweigh the drawbacks. I’d happily do a virtual conference again.

2. DIGITAL Brand campaigns are worth running, and their impact can actually be measured.

If you want to run a campaign that drives clear and measurable results, brand awareness probably isn’t your first choice. Marketers tend to measure and report on more clear-cut success metrics like clicks, click-through rates, conversions, conversion rates, and the like, which leads us to more standard content marketing and distribution that drive traffic to a landing page where we can easily measure engagement.

But, not only can brand campaigns be more valuable than standard content marketing and distribution, they can be measured, too.

Building a brand campaign can be a better way to connect with your core audience communities—think, niche groups of followers—in cases where blog posts and digital ads alone may not be enough. While an audience is typically defined by a gender, age, or location, an audience community focuses on identifying shared interests, passions, jobs, or stages of life. For example, instead of marketing to an audience of men and women ages 18-24, you might choose to market to an audience community of college students at a specific type of university, or with a specific major.

Additionally, digital brand campaigns can help you create more valuable, evergreen, long-form content, and identify more valuable KPIs. Lastly, measuring the impact of your brand campaigns can be done using free tools, like Google Trends, U.S. Census Data, Google Ads, and Google News. Here’s a more in-depth explanation of what measuring a brand campaign could look like, and why you should do it.

3. Thought leadership means publishing original research.

The concept of thought leadership has been discussed to death, but one thing that doesn’t enter into the conversation nearly enough is the practice of actually taking time to do original research.

The internet is riddled with blog posts, and the bulk of this content will get zero backlinks or shares. So, what content does get shares and links? It’s posts that are thorough, original, well-researched, and well-evidenced. While it’s much more labor intensive and time consuming, publishing a study, or a piece of original research could have a much more meaningful impact on your presence as a thought leader, along with numerous long-lasting SEO benefits. Using either years’ worth of your own data, or data that’s otherwise available to you, what can you surmise about the work you do, or about your industry? What’s a question that no one in your space is answering?

4. Spend more time on discovery.

It’s rare that a client knows exactly what they need when they contact you. And usually, you don’t know them either, or what they really want or need. And, if you’re an in-house marketer, you might not know exactly what your campaign or project should accomplish, or what results you want to see at the end. Yet everyone dives into projects head-first, only to discover huge roadblocks, key stakeholders, and numerous other obstacles that could’ve been avoided.

Taking time for a billable, in-depth, no-stone-unturned discovery project before a project begins sounds like a luxury, but it might actually be a necessity to turn out a successful and profitable project, especially for big projects, longer timeline projects, or clients and campaigns with a large projected spend. Here are some examples of what that could involve.

  • Identifying key stakeholders and decision makers straight away, making sure they’re involved in the earliest conversations, and letting the client or stakeholders know that the scope will have to be updated if new voices are introduced later in the process.
  • Uncovering what questions the client or in-house team wants to be able to answer, or what you all want to be able to say at the end of the project.
  • Identifying the language and actual bottom-line metrics your client or team uses to describe success and failure.
  • Asking questions like, “Why didn’t this work last time?”, or “What problems did you have with your last agency or last marketing campaign?”
  • Reviewing past ad campaigns and budgets, along with content calendars and content workflow processes.
  • Verifying management, ownership, and functions of the website, web content, hosting platforms, analytics platforms, digital advertising accounts, social media, marketing pixels, brand guides, CRMs, and any other touchpoints they’ve used.

This is a lot, but the outcome of this discovery process yields a marketing plan that’s truly customized for the project or client.

5. Think less like a builder, and more like an architect.

When planning a campaign, website project, content calendar, or any other marketing asset, marketers tend to spend most of the time thinking about and planning for the small details. They talk a lot about platforms, budgets and creative, how many leads or conversions they’d like to see, how many clicks or impressions they’d like to get, how much traffic we can drive to the website, and what keywords we should target. These are great metrics, but they’re all very builder-focused details.

Take a step back to ask larger questions and look at the project like an architect.

  • What makes this client happy?
  • What makes their customers happy?
  • What do their customers actually, truly want?
  • What’s missing from the marketplace?
  • What do they do better than their competitors?
  • What causes rifts and controversy for this client or their customers?
  • What can we build today that will stand the test of time?
  • How can we build out this project so it’s oriented to align with long-term goals?

Our digital strategy phase of a website project, or the campaign strategy phase of digital ads campaigns does just that. It takes some time to dig in and consider these questions, and then to put together a plan, but the result is the blueprint for a campaign that’s more meaningful and long-lasting, with metrics and KPIs to match. The campaign plan or blueprint is also a great point of reference along the way, if we start to lose sight of the goal or get lost in all the details.

Believe it or not, this was only a handful of the valuable insights from this year’s talks. If you’re interested to know more about anything discussed above, or want to learn more about what’s not included here, you can read more of our digital insightsgive us a shout, or buy the 2020 MozCon Video Bundle.