Talking All Things Digital at the Canadian Internet Marketing Conference

Squamish isn’t exactly the digital hub of Canada, but last week hundreds of digital marketers gathered in the small town for the Canadian Internet Marketing Conference, an annual event that bring together agencies, brands, and small business owners to talk all things digital.

The conference, held in the West Coast Railway Heritage Park venue with a backdrop of the Rockies, spanned two days and contained the typical mix of panels and keynote speakers, in addition to unique location-appropriate activities including a mountain biking tour, a campfire-themed party, and a wilderness hike.

The content focused on answering the big questions any digital marketer faces: how do I build an engaged audience online? How do I create content that resonates with that audience? And how do I measure the effectiveness of what I’m doing? The lineup of speakers represented a mix of big brands – Walmart, WestJet, Yahoo, McDonald’s, Telus – and growing Canadian companies like Herschel Supply Co. and Indochino, in addition to speakers from agencies including Brix Media, Mediative, Jelly Marketing, and Edelman.

The event’s first keynote was from Oli Gardner, the founder of Vancouver-based landing page optimization company Unbounce. Gardner’s talk focused on how data and design can be used to create the perfect landing page, and he went through the necessary steps involved in creating a compelling landing page that converts. He talked about the common mistakes people make, namely using language that’s too general – for example saying you’re the world’s best marketing software platform doesn’t say anything about what you actually do; instead you need to highlight your unique selling proposition.

He also pulled examples from Unbounce’s database of landing pages, highlighting the number of links to use to get the most conversions (one), the word that reduces conversions (free), and the words that increase conversions (“click” and “now”).

Some sessions at CIMC focused on a brand’s owned content – how to create compelling content, how to get it in front of an audience, and how to promote it through channels like social media and native advertising. Shannon Kelley of Yahoo Canada’s research and insights team gave a presentation about content marketing based on the company’s studies, outlining the fact that 74% of Canadians know what branded content is, and 70% of them will frequently or occasionally read it.

Other sessions focused on how to get third-party endorsements for your brand. The Future of Influencer Marketing panel brought together brand and agency reps, with panelists like Jennifer Powell of marketing agency Hart & Galla, and the influencers themselves, in this case YouTube star Corey Vidal, who has over 225,000 subscribers on his channel, and has over 100 million views on his videos to date.

The panel focused on where brands go wrong when tapping influencers to promote their products or services: namely they treat it as an after-thought, only thinking about bringing influencers into the mix when a campaign is already ready to launch; or working with them in a one-off way instead of forming lasting relationships.

“Sure I can tweet a thing, and maybe you’re just tapping into a single tweet, but usually we’re talking about campaigns and ongoing relationships,” Vidal said about the brands who approach him, adding that brands should be look it as a content creation vehicle, not a way to get someone with lots of followers to push their message. “Certainly influencing is what in the end I might be doing to that audience…but that is content creation.”

Powell said that it’s not just big brands like Tim Hortons and Telus – both brands Vidal works with – who can tap into influencers. If you’re a startup or small business, she recommends finding regular people who are devoted customers and can become an ambassador for your brand.

CIMC itself was a departure from the typical tech or marketing industry conferences – the green room for speakers was held in a train car, with a masseuse and makeup artist on hand – and the content was ideal for beginners, anyone new to the space, or people looking to brush up on their skills and learn what Canadian brands are doing (and not doing) as part of their digital marketing plans.