By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—The IU Southeast Digital Marketing Conference is blowing up.
The student-founded event organized and run by the Marketing Club brings local industry professionals to campus for a half-day of insider insights and networking.
In its first three years, the conference has grown from 70 in 2016 to 130 in 2017 to over 200 attendees this year.
These numbers are a credit to the promotional elan of the Marketing Club, but also to the rapid expansion of the digital marketing space.
“These days, it is not an exaggeration to say that marketing means digital marketing,” said Dr. Pilsik Choi, assistant professor of marketing and faculty advisor for the Marketing Club.
According to the market research firm Forrester, by 2021 American ad buyers will spend nearly $120 billion on such digital tactics as search marketing, display advertising, online video, and email marketing. Overall digital is on pace to claim 46 percent of spending on marketing within the next five years.
That expected growth gives added impetus to the conference, and the careers it supports.
“Digital marketing conferences increase awareness around digital marketing among our marketing students, and motivate them to learn and get some experience in this area before they hit the job market,” Dr. Choi said. “By attending the conferences, marketing students can learn the latest digital marketing practices and tools, and use them for job interviews and actual jobs after graduation.”
This year’s program, developed by Dr. Choi in consultation with the Marketing Club, focused on four themes that are relevant both to students and area marketing professionals, who are attending the conference in ever stronger numbers.
Dr. Choi selected speakers, then helped them develop presentations that would deliver the greatest benefit to the campus and community audience.
The result delivered maximum ROI, in the words of the field.
Ashley Brumback, communications specialist at FSA Management Group, discussed strategies for identifying and targeting audiences. Bentley McBentleson, digital marketing manager at KFC, expanded on targeting with an exploration of niche marketing, the strategy of appealing to very small but passionate demographics. IU Southeast alumna Amber Herndon, director of marketing at Blackstone Media and an adjunct professor at IU Southeast, moved the conversation into metrics, the area that really distinguishes digital from traditional marketing through the ability to track customer behavior. IU Southeast alumnus Shawn Farris, data scientist with Edj Analytics, amplified the theme with a presentation on approaches to working with data to identify and connect with one’s most likely consumers
In both the presentations and discussions, the conference became a true conversation that roamed beyond clicks, bounce rates and retargeting to touch upon the many ways that digital life has changed the way we live, work and shop. And it also illuminated the ways in which best marketing practices are still viable in a world where decisions are rooted more in human psychology than digital logic.
With the digital space becoming the locus of human interaction for significant numbers of people, digital marketers have a growing advantage not only in selling, but in transforming the buyer-seller relationship. So while the conference was rich in tips and trends for delivering ROI to clients through optimized customer fencing, including software to slice audiences into increasingly salient bits, it also opened up to discussions on the importance of shaping more meaningful and long-lasting customer relationships with brands.
For the Marketing Club, for whom the conference is roughly equivalent to the Super Bowl, this was more than an event. It was itself an exercise in digital marketing.
Shelbie Farvour, a senior from Louisville, Ky. majoring in marketing and professional selling, is the Club’s VP in event planning. She led the digital promotion push for the conference, which included boosted posts on Facebook and LinkedIn. The results were immediate and impressive: over 500 views on Farvour’s LinkedIn page and 4,000 views on Facebook.
“It was very cool to see the data work,” Farvour said.
Farvour saw a benefit to students in the accessible nature of digital media.
“People who attend the conference can go right out and practice what they have learned on their own or at their job,” Farvour said. “Using the analytics, they can demonstrate how they can benefit their employers,” Farvour said.
Evan Longacre, Club president, felt that the conference was “115 percent of what we wanted it to be.”
A senior from New Salisbury, Ind. majoring in business management, marketing and professional selling, Longacre chaired the conference.
“It was an honor to be able to speak in front of this group of students, faculty and professionals,” Longacre said.
Those professionals included Anissia Bunton, senior key account executive at The Courier Journal.
“Events such as this help professionals to see what others are doing in the industry,” Bunton said. “In the digital space, the only constant thing is change.”
Recognizing the sponsorship from the IU Southeast Career Development Center and the Sanders Professional Sales Center, Longacre buttressed introductions by CDC Director Danielle Leffler and Sales Center Director Chris Cox, both of whom drew direct connections between the instructional and professional goals of the conference.
That theme resonated for Dr. Choi, who sees the value of the conference not just for marketing students, but for those in many other fields who want or need to promote their own work or brand, and have skills that are in demand in the digital sector.
“In a broad sense, digital marketing incorporates not only marketing, but also advertising, communication, public relations, journalism and graphic design,” Dr. Choi said. “And with the increasing overlap of digital marketing and data analytics, conferences like this can prepare our students in informatics, computer science, statistics and mathematics for possible careers in digital marketing.”
With a solid marketing program enhanced by the more specialized annual conference, Dr. Choi feels that marketing students have both the fundamental and cutting-edge skills to succeed in this competitive field.
“By providing knowledge in digital marketing to our marketing students, the conference makes our marketing program at IU Southeast much stronger and well-rounded,” Dr. Choi said.
Homepage photo: Bentley McBentleson, digital marketing manager at KFC, explores niche marketing in the digital space.