eBev 2014: The medium aids the message

“I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer DosEquis,” the TV at the airport bar crooned. The beer brand’s “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign has helped drive a 22% lift in sales recently — while sales of other import beers have fallen by 4%.

Why did I know that? I happened to be in that Atlanta airport on my way home from the annual eBev conference, which brings together beverage brands — mostly alcohol — to talk about the latest trends in digital marketing.

Now, I know what you’re thinking — or, at least, what I think when I hear about another digital marketing conference: “Great…I’m going to hear that social media is important…that if you’re not on mobile, you don’t exist…and if I hear about that Oreo Super Bowl case study again, I’m going to…”

But that wasn’t eBev (thankfully). Instead, the main theme of the conference echoed what I’ve been hearing from top agency and brand executives for the past year or so: that digital marketing isn’t a tactic or a destination or a piece of your marketing strategy — it is marketing.

Too often, social media and other digital tactics are considered separately from the rest of the mix; they get their own teams, their own budgets, their own campaigns. It doesn’t help that more pieces are being added to the digital-marketing puzzle every day: different channels, tools, formats, networks, data points — the list goes on. And the pace of digital change is only accelerating.

On top of it all, there are more conferences talking about digital, more digital agencies and more narrowly focused case studies trumpeting how great it is to get thousands of shares or followers. But everyone is still trying to figure out just how to pull all of the pieces together, often without a full understanding of what “digital strategy” even means.

The problem is, for a variety of understandable reasons — it’s fun, it’s novel, it’s relatively easy to measure — social media is too often viewed as an end rather than a means. Marketers consider a good story and compelling content great ways to drive digital activity, rather than the reverse: using digital tools as one way (among many) to get their story and their content out there.

As Tim Murphy of Pernod Ricard said, “Doing digital for the sake of digital does nothing for you.” Marketers need to get back to what the best of them have always done: figuring out what their brand represents, what its story and values are, and developing a relationship with consumers wherever they are. Oftentimes, these days, that will be online — but often it won’t be. The goal is to develop a message strong and compelling enough to stand out regardless of its medium; doing so will unlock the real power of social media in a way that a mad dash for Likes and retweets never could.

I don’t always attend marketing conferences. But when I do, I prefer to walk away with a head full of great ideas. Fortunately, eBev 2014 didn’t disappoint.