48 Things I learnt at Marketing Festival 2014

Mark Johnson
Nov 6, 2014 · 14 min read
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To capture the spirit of the event I wanted to keep these in roughly chronological order. I promise there’s some really meaty digital marketing stuff hidden in there somewhere (skip to 15 if you’re in a hurry).

It’s dedicated to a bunch of people I list at the bottom.

Stuff about the conference itself

1. It’s worth taking the risk to get out of your comfort zone to quality conferences in Europe.

There was always a bit of risk involved with attending Marketing Festival for the first time: was it going to be any good? All I knew is that the line up of speakers was fantastic and seemed too good to miss. I’m glad I took the risk!


2. Don’t neglect the hashtag

Twitter is one of the best lines of communication for a conference, it’s fast and it puts everyone on an open playing field. Tweeting was woven into just about everything that made the event so enjoyable especially meeting new people which brings me onto…


3. You don’t need to know anyone before you go

The best way to describe Marketing Festival is like university Freshers Week. You end up meeting a bunch of new people from all over the place and with a liberal application of fine Czech beer you’re soon close buddies! Now I’m the first to admit that I am terrible at networking but by the end of the first networking event I had met Daniel from Brno, Timo from Slovenia, Cornel from Romania and Janis from Latvia. These are the guys I would end up having some really good times with the whole weekend.


4. No one in the Czech Republic has a beard

5. English is the second language of Europe

Everyone that had travelled from outside the Czech Republic spoke together in English regardless of where they were from. It was a wonderful way of bringing everyone together and of course was pretty good for me!

7. Brno is a beautiful city

It’s also the perfect size for an event like Marketing Festival: You can walk from one side of the city to the other in about 25 minutes and every venue was within easy walking distance of the hotel. In fact I wanted to try the trams but beautiful as they are they’re a little pointless for getting around the tiny city centre.

8. They’re not called Trams in Brno, that’s a Prague thing

In Brno they’re called šalina not tramvaje. Which leads me on to…

9. Brno and Prague apparently hate each other

10. For its many charms Brno has yet to grasp a good breakfast

11. It’s really flipping cold in Brno

I had stupidly not anticipated this at all and had to go out and buy a new winter coat. Luckily…

12. Brno has more shops selling coats than anything else

13. There’s a bar that says it doesn’t exist

But it does, luckly from Tom Davis and crew…

14. I agree with Tom on the Burger front…

15. The secret to successful network events is for beer to be cheaper than water

(and yeah that’s me at about 30 seconds into the video)…

← sensible stuff about marketing starts here

15. Paddy Moogan makes a mean infographic

16. Paddy Came out with this absolute doozy

‘We should measure rankings but not be measured BY rankings’

I absolutely love that. He’s fundamentally saying that there are bigger things to worry about than the exact rankings you’re getting in the search engines.

As Dr Pete from Moz pointed out the next day even if you’re technically number one organically with all of Google’s new search features you still might not even make it above the fold!

17. The robot onslaught will be fought with loyalty

Two of the three big trends of the internet identified by Paddy involved algorithmic filter. Firstly that Robots are filtering what content we’re exposed to and secondly that Robots will continue to increasingly predict the sort of content we want to be exposed to.

Essentially we’re talking about filter bubbles and if that floats your boat there’s a great TED talk by Eli Pariser all about them.

Paddy’s take (and I whole heartedly agree) is that to beat filter bubbles we need to be making content that produces fierce loyalty. Like crazy obsessive loyalty. Because then users will actively look for your content, beat the bubble and then ride that self-fulfilling wave to our advantage.

18. Sticky content is awesome

‘Sticky’ content is Distilled’s way of describing content that is…






A Story

It doesn’t have to be all those things but it does need to be at least a handful of them.

If not, you have to ask yourself if the content is even worth your time to make.

This gives you a framework for deciding if some content is valueable and can help sort the good ideas from the chaff.

19. The best marketers of the future will sit in the middle of Strategy, Creativity and Technology

A powerful closing statement from Paddy and one that I think resonates with everyone in the industry at the moment.

Paddy’s slides are available here

20. Feature boxes are a seriously sexy and persuasive way of getting email sign ups

Some of Dean’s examples made me want to get some cheesy photos of me done to make my own. Not sure anyone wants emails from me though. My tweets are a pain enough as it is.

21. When copywriting use the same words your customers do

This is something I’ve been trying to drill into my content team for a while but I love the way Brian Dean articulated it.

I’ve been telling my guys they need to write in the same way they speak in the pub. In a simple, laid back way. Not like a used car salesman.

Dean’s slides are available here

22. Avinash Kaushik can hold an audience in the palm of his hand

and then tear apart their souls as if it were wet toilet paper Ok so yeah, Avinash gave everyone in the room an absolute masterclass in digital marketing and in doing so bruised more than a few egos in the room. He was unapologetically scathing of a number of the largest Czech websites, presumably with many of their employees amongst the 900 or so Czechs at the conference.

Personally I think a big part of what makes Avinash such a compelling speaker is that intensity. You couldn’t reasonably disagree with anything he said, and you certainly wouldn’t want him to tone down because that’s what makes him so fun to watch.

If it’s any consilation to the Czechs that felt upset I felt about 1mm tall when he was talking about mobile, because we’re still mobile unfriendly in 2014. But hey we’re finally working to put that right!

23. Segment your users and marketing efforts to target SEE, THINK, DO and CARE

I had actually read Avinash’s blogs about this a while back but it was cool to see it applied to some new (Czech) examples.

24. Use last click attribution? Avinash will hunt you down and kill you

Fair enough really

25. Commercial Intent is the most important thing to understand

Again. Preach it.

26. You can’t go to the moon if you don’t have a functioning toilet

Avanish really loves coming out with this stuff. Here’s his original blog post about the ladder of awesomeness. What I love about the ladder model is that it accepts that you have to start somewhere. Avinash often tackles some really big stuff that it isn’t always easy to correct without making big, expensive and often quite political changes. So it’s great that he has a roadmap for how you can reach that point.

27. If you don’t get campaign tracking right everything will suck

Ok now we’re onto Aussie Peter O’Neill. This is a really good point: traffic from apps will report as direct unless campaign tracked.

Pause for a minute and think about that. That’s all the traffic coming to you from Facebook and Twitter apps at very least and probably a lot more besides!

Nail campaign tracking and you’re all good!

28. Measure negative goals

Peter recommended setting up negative goals for things like 404 Errors and form validation errors then monitoring these to an acceptable level. If the goal begins to go above whatever your threshold is, something busted and needs fixing!

29. An awesome hack for true sessions by channel

30. Julie (and husband Jay) Joyce don’t pull any punches

Julie’s presentation was my favourite of the whole conference.

She took a subject so shrouded in mystery and shadiness and just laid it all bare. She spoke with a candidness that blew me away and without a hint of the sort of up-yours-Google smugness you might expect from a small company going against the grain.

Personally I think you do what works until it doesn’t work, that’s just business!

31. It takes 4 hours hours to build a link

That’s on average including the time it takes to research, find appropriate targets, reach out, get a response, do all the of the admin and finally get the link in place. And this is for professionals that are doing this work all day.

That’s huge for me because it says Mark Johnson there is no way you have that kind of time so just forget about it. Don’t waste your time.

And when you decide to do some link building pick up the phone to Linkfish!

Here’s the link to all of Julie’s slides

32. Ninety day lookback is not enough for assisted conversions

Sandra Camacho of Google agreed with my question that 90 days is inadequate to judge longer term marketing activies and while I don’t recall her saying they were working on it at least it’s an known issue.

I still don’t know if it’s a technical limitation or just a volume of data issue or just Google being a pain in the ass but they need to get this one sorted.

Sandra’s slides are here

33. Swearing makes presentations better

I don’t know if Craig Sullivan has also worked this out or just likes to swear because he’s Scottish but either way I have to admit that it gets the point across rather well if you ask me.

34. Sample size is most likely way to (as Craig would put it) fuck up your AB test results

Visualise your data and you can be more confident in the results…

35. There are some great rules for making sure you get all of the data you need before drawing any conclusions from your split test

Following Craig’s rules means you can avoid dodgy results when your marketing team run a TV ad without telling you, or when you don’t run the test for a full purchase cycle.

All of Craig’s slides are available here

36. Interpreters do swear

37. Jan Řezáč has impeccable taste

38. Opinions suck. Don’t ask anyone for one when it comes web design

39. Typography grids are awesome

Jans slides are available here

40. There’s a way to adjust your bidding in google shopping by keyword

At first I was so excited about this I actually chose not to tweet Martin Roettgerding’s slides that explained how to do it.

I didn’t want any of my competitors to see.

But since I’ve got back in the office I’ve realised it’s actually a pretty gargantuan manual labour task and honestly probably a little bit beyond possible for a feed of 11 thousand products like ours.

But if you’ve got a smaller feed and you enjoy making ridiculous amounts of money I highly suggest you take a look through Martins slides that explain how to set it up.

41. Google are going to continue to make us all work harder to get any decent real estate on the SERP now

Dr Pete from Moz came with a presentation that compared the search features currently showing in various territories (including of course the Czech Republic.

Now I’m very much a progressive marketer, there’s no use crying over changes that Google make. Instead it’s great to get this kind of analysis from Pete Meyer to understand what’s going on and what we as marketers need to do to leverage it for our own business.

Some of the most interesting features…

The new mega answer box is cropping up more and more and that’s got to be a concern if your business model is providing information and monetizing it with advertising. Google will now dish up your information and effectively take away that click from you. Kinda sucks.

In particular the two that are most likely to affect multichannel businesses like ours though…

Pete also pointed out that most of the new features being seen are clearly mobile-first in nature. Favouring a horizontal swipe-through layout.

Dr Pete’s slides are available here

42. Adwords scripts can unlock some awesome and creative ways to advertise

Russell Savage had a whole bunch of ways to use Adword scripts range from useful but boring to highly creative.

Examples included using weather data API to automatically launch relevant campaigns (stay in and grab a pizza while its raining)

Personally I was pretty taken with the idea of advertising using sports fixtures/score.

Come to think of it online betting shops are probably all over this.

Russell’s slides are available here

43. For effectively international SEO you should be using a localised Top Level Domain

This came up a couple of times…

If that floats your boat I high recommend delving into Maik Metzen’s slides which are available here. He goes into tonnes of detail about internationalising your website, and he did it all in 5 minutes!?

44. Tag Management Systems can bring together marketers and developers

Actually this I knew before by only from reading Simo’s blog which has massively helped us to get started using Google Tag Manager.

We originally started using Google Tag Manager purely for easily setting up Universal Analytics, and particularly some event tracking. But pretty soon we were loving all the things it enabled us to do, easy mouse tracking, heat mapping etc. I like it a lot.

45. Data layers are ‘Batman cool’

Enough said really. If you don’t know what a data layer is go ask Simo because he clearly think’s they’re legit.

46. Form Validation is screwing up your event listening

We actually ran into this exact problem with our own forms so it’s definitely a pitfall worth avoiding.

If you think this might be a problem for you check out Simo’s blog post

All Simo’s slides are available here

47. Sexy Data is easier to understand

Not satisfied with being the life of Saturday’s afterparty, Mike King also closed the conference with probably the most charismatic crash course in data visualisation ever.

The better visually represented data is, the more likely it will be understood quickly and that means no more crappy excel charts…

Mike explained how to use API calls to pull data from your analytics tool (and a whole bunch of other places too) into some great visualisation tools like Tableau, D3, C3, and for those that don’t like getting their hands too dirty there’s Klipfolio which can turn your API called data into gorgeous information.

← More silly stuff→

48. The people make the event

Not just the speakers or the organisers but just about everyone there.

So here’s some of the people that made it great for me…

Timo — By day mild mannered e-commerce genius, by night a Slovenian party animal

Daniel — Brno resident but Romanian native. Daniel was our guide and took us to some incredible bars (including one with beer taps on the tables and a leaderboard!

Cornel — Another Romanian, Cornel is a PPC expert and along with Timo and Daniel made up the team that spent most of the weekend together after meeting for the first time at the first networking event.

Maja and Ivana — The marketing team for a small software company in Croatia and honourary contributors to our second place finish at Mahmuts!

Tom Davis — Tom clearly works in MailChimp’s department of charm and when the Atlanta native wasn’t singing along to the Ukulele band he was making friends with just about everybody. Real nice guy, poor taste in quarterbacks though.

Jay and Julie Joyce — Aside from looking like they’d just walked off the pages of a Gucci advert, The Joyces really won me over with their warmth. I think Julie’s presentation was the most illuminating of the whole event and while I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time hanging out with them it was great to talk to them on Twitter and I look forward to dropping in on them in North Carolina sometime!

Dr Pete — Pete was the key reason I came to Marketing Festival in the first place and it was a real honour just to chat to him in the lobby when he really should have been in a dark room somewhere recovering from epic jet lag. Considering how well received his presentation was I’m amazed he managed to always come across so humble and approachable but he does and hope to hang out with him again in the future.

Adam JurákAdam is one of the Czech guys involved with running the event and was a great point-guy all weekend, always taking the time to chat. From Adam I learnt a bit about the dark, sarcastic Czech wit, which as a Brit I was especially proud of.

Craig Sullivan — again not enough time hanging out with this guy but it was great to chat to another Brit recently and share our feelings about Brno and the conference. I had seen Craig speak before in England and I think he’s an incredibly compelling speaker. I hope to catch him again soon.

Tóth and Peter — I kept bumping into these guys and having a great time doing Dan Biltzerian impressions. Great guys

Honza — Another great guy that I didn’t spend enough time with but probably the friendliest Czech in town, Honza was awesome and I hope I bump into him next year

Peter O’Neill and Paddy MooganAn honourable mention for Peter and Paddy because although I didn’t get to hang out with either of them much I hope to see them again soon in England, and both their talks were awesome.

Jindrich — And finally the big man himself. He’s the main man behind Marketing Festival so a huge thanks goes out to him and I’ve got a fistful of cash in his direction as soon as next years tickets are available!

Well that just leaves me to say that if you want to re-live the experience you can get all of the talks in HD for an unbelievably reasonable 40 Euros from this link.

And I’ll see you in Brno for Marketing Festival 2015!

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