After a rousing morning greeting by The University of Texas Drumline, Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation shared his drumlinephilosophy that it’s really not possible to integrate advertising into social channels; it’s fundamentally different. Marketing is finally back to this: real interactions between real people – and it’s highly distributable.

Social networks are the first/only media where you create your own experience. This is the first channel where brands have to force themselves in, because we create our own experience so we have to “invite” them in. Today’s consumers are buying on impulse, based on conversations with peers – the entire sales funnel has been mashed up and moved around. And marketing is no longer about the number of people a brand “hits” – it’s more about making one-to-one connections. He closed with a beautiful example of “real” marketing – the “Free Hugs” video by Juann Mann.

Dmitri Siegel, Executive Director of Marketing, Urban Outfitters, shared some basic tenets of social marketing that this creative, unique brand has perfected to create real bonds with its customers and aspirational prospects. Their customers share stories, photos, information about furniture and other items they create. They share information about who they are – college students, a young person just starting his career. Urban Outfitters asks questions, listens, and they’re inspired by the feedback they get back. What personifies a Urban Outfitters customer? They want to “find things to set myself apart from everyone else.”

As an art director, Dmitri appreciates the high production value and beauty of the photography that Urban Outfitters customers contribute. When he mashes up the photos from the Urban Outfitters catalogs and marketing with the ones added by customers, and they all look the same: the brand is perfectly matched with the user-generated content. To Dmitri, it’s a great sign that they’re connecting well with their customers.

A panel consisting of Dan Halsey, Senior Capability Manager, Stuart Wallock, Senior Manager Global Community & Personalization, Dell; and Mary Ann Antonelli, Digital and In-Store Marketing Manager for HP talked about how retailers and manufacturers work together in the new realm of social marketing. While all three brands still feel they have a way to go in taking advantage of all that user-generated content and social media offers, they shared some key ways they’re sharing reviews, answering questions across retailer and manufacturer sites.

In one case, Best Buy customers immediately reviewed a challenge they were experiencing with a Dell laptop. Best Buy reached out to Dell – and they immediately created a patch. All three of the brands on the channel refer to user-generated content to inform in-store training and to better inform customers no matter where they look for product information or make a purchase – online or offline.

Mark Andeer, Vice President of Brand Strategy, OfficeMax, talked about optimism in a downturn, sharing that leading with positive messages defines brands and consumers can really “feel” when a brand is feeling confident – or not. OfficeMax’s research showed them that their core customers are women, so they created campaigns and product sets that target this market.

They have also worked to stand out by experimenting with several online ideas and with making office products more fun, resulting in innovative campaigns such as Penny Pranks and Elf Yourself (one of the few marketing programs that ended up paying for itself).

Sameer Samat, Director of Product Management, Google, shared how Google is working to help retailers and manufacturers drive real commerce online, through Google Product Search, ads, and Merchant Services.

Some major trends? Consumers are researching online but buying in stores – again, there is no “linear” shopping path. Smart phones enable brands to market to consumers locally, and mobile is growing exponentially. Google’s internal data shows a 3000%+ growth in mobile “shopping” queries over the last three years. And, as we talked about all week, social is just the Internet catching up with real life.

Of course, we were most excited when Google announced their partnership with Bazaarvoice which lets our clients use their full reviews to assist in search. Read Google’s blog for more details.

We then heard from CPG brand conglomerate Alberto Culver Company, LendingTree and USAA (financial and insurance brands), and, an innovative online retailer. Just a year ago, brands like USAA and LendingTree were largely sitting on the sidelines, but both brands – and brands in other highly-regulated industries – are making huge strides in bringing the customer voice out in the open on their sites. In short, all brands benefit from “people telling other people” about their experiences with brands.

It’s been an amazing Summit – next up? The London Summit on October 6, 2010. If you went to the Summit or watched it live, let us know what you thought.

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