Impact17 looks at human side of digital marketing

In an age dominated by digital devices, entrepreneurs at Cayman’s third annual Impact conference sought to take a step back from smartphones and reconnect with the human element of marketing.

A packed schedule of local and international speakers engaged a full ballroom at the Kimpton Seafire Resort late last month, as part of a three-day conference centered around digital innovation.

The Impact17 program, put on by the Internet Marketing Association and Cayman Enterprise City, featured more than 20 speakers.

IMA Chairman Sinan Kanatsiz encouraged attendees to open up and consider a wide range of possibilities to address business challenges in the digital age.

“Some of the best innovation in the world is going to happen on our stage and we don’t know yet what is going to happen,” he said at the forum on April 27.

While the day’s lineup hailed from across the digital realm, the day’s major takeaway was on building human bonds and moving focus to the offline world. Speakers expressed a need to gain control over the digital world and give consumers power to direct their experiences.

Evite CEO Victor Cho opened afternoon discussion with a challenge for the audience: to turn and look each other directly in the eyes. While the experience may have made some feel uncomfortable, he said such interactions promote oxytocin, the so-called “love chemical,” and encourages long-lasting bonds.

“Face-to-face interaction makes a huge difference in your life in terms of health,” he said.

His company promotes the hashtag #devicefreedinner as a way to encourage people to put their phones away and focus on their friends and family. He said leaving a phone on the table during dinner is the equivalent of setting out a loaded gun.

“If you’re boring, I’ll just shoot you in the head,” he joked.

Mercer Chief Marketing Officer Jeanniey Mullen shared insight on consumers’ desire to take control of their digital devices and regain power over their day-to-day lives.

While technology has provided many convenient tools to the public, she said, it has also created expectations in work and family life.

“Digital disruption has started to give us rules we need to follow. We are no longer available to work from a certain point to another,” she said.

She encouraged women entrepreneurs to be part of the conversation to redesign the digital world and make it work better for users.

“We’re creating a new world and we’re designing our own place in that world,” she said.

Kiip founder Brian Wong emphasized the need for digital innovation that connects with real human needs. His company has set up a rewards system for users that interact with ads in an attempt to incentivize consumers.

“Go back to human emotion. I think we often forget with the internet that at the end of the day, you are addressing people’s needs and making them feel good,” he said.

Saffron Consultants Vice President Keith Miller equated the current global environment to the disorder of a Jackson Pollock painting. To rise above the confusion, he encouraged digital entrepreneurs to take a step back and focus on real human needs.

“It’s less about data and technology and more about moving forward on what we really feel and think,” he said.

He contrasted successful, socially focused campaigns by Audi and Heineken with failed attempts like Pepsi’s recent commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. Mr. Miller said the difference stems from authenticity, and creating a purposeful, relevant message.

Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst for Adobe Digital Insights, encouraged businesses to focus on creating worthwhile information that will stand out in the saturated internet market. As users swtich to mobile and spend less time on individual websites, she said mass-produced content no longer works. Websites must earn public attention.

“Our attention spans are fast. We are very loyal until we’re not,” she said.

The conference concluded with a catamaran ride for guests Thursday evening, April 27, and a networking brunch Friday, April 28, at Abacus Restaurant.

Other international IMA conferences are held in Dublin and Singapore.

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