Techweek Chicago Recap: Howard Tullman on Brand Experiences

July 14, 2014

techweek chicago

Recently, I headed to the Windy City for Techweek Chicago, a weeklong celebration of tech, entrepreneurship, and digital media. I had the opportunity to meet, connect with, and absorb insights from top minds at brands like NASCAR, Dropbox, ESPN, and more.

While I had high expectations for speakers from these well-known brands, there were a few speakers that I had no prior knowledge of that completely swept me off my feet. One of those was Howard Tullman, a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, educator, writer, lecturer, and art collector. He currently serves as CEO of 1871 and as the Managing Partner of Chicago High Tech Investment Partners, LLC. His presentation, focused on the disruptive trends of social media nailed our industry on the head – more so than any other speaker in the social media category.

In a jam-packed room, he delivered the most content in a fast-paced, no-bullshit way that left attendees in a note-jotting frenzy, myself included. Here is a quick recap of the pieces of the presentation that most stuck with me (or at least what I can make from my scribbles).

  • Howard Tullman

    Howard Tullman

    Niches are the name of the game – Tullman kicked off his talk saying that the crowd is crap. Not the crowd at Techweek, but crowds in general. No longer are consumers looking to join a large group, but instead want to find a small, engaged community of like-minded people. For brands, these curated groups create more engaged fans that are then more loyal, authentic, and consistent with their behavior. In the end, “what you’re really selling is a connection.”

  • Context trumps content – With consumers on-the-go, it’s “much more important to hit me at the time that it matters” said Tullman. He went on to clarify that you’re no longer competing with those in your industry, but that you’re competing against everything. A consumer will be driven to what is interesting to them – and if you’re not what your customers want where your customers are and hit them when they need your product or service, you won’t be found or paid attention to.
  • Personal data is the oil of the digital age – If a brand knows what you’re interested in, what you’re doing, or what you’re buying, it can find you, motivate you, and if smart, impact your behavior. With this knowledge comes the power to leverage the future. Don’t understand? Think of it in hockey terms, says Tullman – the best players don’t chase the puck, but go where it will be. (What purchases reveal certain life events? Does watching certain TV shows reveal sexual preference? Do Google searches show when a marriage is ending?) Understanding your audience means understanding their needs before they may even know their own.

The common factor these all share? Experiences. And Tullman closed his presentation highlighting the importance by saying, “Experiences are the new luxury goods.” Beyond all else, the “connection you have to your customers is the most valuable thing.”

Is it time that your brand reevaluated your strategy around experiences?

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.