Powered by Data: Responsibility and Relevance Pump Up Marketing Messages

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Q&A with Paul McDonnough of the DMA

With great power, they say, comes great responsibility. The same can be said for data, which tends to proliferate with each new digital integration. No organization epitomizes this principle more than the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), an organization dedicated to advancing marketing professionals in today’s data-driven ecosystem.

As vice president of conferences and events for the DMA, Paul McDonnough relies on data to inform, create, and elevate personalized event experiences. We talked to Paul about the expanding role data plays in event strategies, our responsibilities as savvy marketers, the evolution of the DMA conference, and the personal currency of selfies.

Q: As marketers, we’re all storytellers. What role would you say data plays in our messages?

PM: Whether we’re technologists, creatives, marketers, or privacy officers, data is the fuel that enables us to design and develop more relevant and engaging marketing. Data powers us to create solutions that change lives by introducing consumers to what they want, need, or both.

Data has always been at the heart of responsible and inspired marketing. And as we turned the corner to DMA’s 100th anniversary, we realized that our true heritage and future was around data and marketing. Therefore, DMA recently announced that we were rebranding to become the Data & Marketing Association.

Our new brand name says it all. Today, we live, work, and play in an era of extraordinary data explosion across all our devices. The data that emerges helps inform marketers about consumers’ preferences. As marketers, our number one objective is to use the data responsibly.

Q: How does the DMA approach that accountability?

PM: DMA takes that responsibility VERY seriously. In fact, DMA’s number one priority is to protect marketers’ ability to use data responsibly. We do this through our role as the administrator of the industry’s self-regulatory framework. For over 60 years, DMA has developed and updated its Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice. These guidelines are the current framework with which we all must comply to engage in responsible marketing practices, respect consumer choice, and offer transparency.

Of course, as we see at DMA events, including our global conference &THEN, the technology innovations that surround us are generating even more vast amounts of data. And that’s where DMA is again taking its role to ensure the responsible use of data. 

At &THEN, DMA announced the launch of Data Standards 2.0 — an initiative to set forth guidance for how marketers may responsibly collect and use data in this era of explosive technology and data innovation. If you create and deploy marketing campaigns using the latest technologies to gather real-time data insight, you want to know the boundaries, right? Those are the boundaries and proper practices that these new guidelines will establish.

Q: In addition to real-time responses, what do our audiences expect?

PM: Consumers expect a brand to know their interests and needs, deliver recommendations based upon those needs, and know their preferences across all their devices. Our recently released Future Trends in Data-Driven Marketing report found that today’s modern data explosion has allowed marketers to boil down product interest by behaviors and preferences. This leads to benefits for both consumers and companies, as companies reach new markets and customers receive a better experience.

Implementing this sort of data-driven organizational direction is often easier said than done. In The Data-Centric Organization, a survey of industry leaders, DMA found that an overwhelming majority of media and marketing executives are deeply committed to leveraging audience data to transform their businesses into data-centric companies. While more than half expect their organizations to be data-centric within the next two years, less than a quarter describe their organizations as “extremely data-centric” today. Events like &THEN, as well as DMA’s Structured Innovation Program, are learning labs where our members can learn, network, and connect to become more data-centric and deliver more highly relevant marketing to their customers. 

Q. Talk about rebranding the annual meeting “&THEN” and its new experience model — how did it evolve?

PM: The new name represents the questions we, as marketers, always ask. Questions such as: What's next? And then what? What can we do to revolutionize the marketplace that's being dominated by technology? What's the next great innovation that will transform and disrupt (in a good way) the industry?

To deliver a new, innovative, and high-value conference, we listened to our members and customers. Through surveys and interviews, they said that quality networking, multiple learning formats, inspirational speakers, and exposure to industry thought leaders were the essential ingredients to a premier marketing experience. In response, we curated a tightly aligned three-day event, integrated TED-style talks into the programming, introduced a martech and adtech startup competition (think DMA’s “Shark Tank”), and created more breathing room for networking. 

Q: Sounds fascinating. Can you give some examples of how these new elements came to life?

PM: The first innovation was the HUB Stage, where we feature TED-style talks during Experience Zone (show floor) hours. This creates energy and learning that brings content to the show floor. Too many association events have a geographic divide between content and networking. The second innovation was the creation of the HOT ZONE, DMA’s global martech and adtech startup competition. Leading up to &THEN, DMA and a panel of industry executives score martech and adtech startups and vet the top 15 to receive complimentary exhibit space at the show. This is a tremendous convenience for our marketer members, who would never have the time to travel the world and meet with the best marketing startups. We do the legwork for them so they can come to &THEN and, in just three days, meet the best of the best startups that are shaping the future of data-driven marketing.

Q. Any hints about what attendees can expect in 2017?

PM: DMA celebrates its centennial in 2017. It’s a perfect opportunity to build on the innovations of the past and present, as well as showcase the innovations of the future. We’re already at work with top solution providers in emerging technologies and techniques such as data solutions, virtual reality, cognitive intelligence, and more to provide client-side customers with lab-like exposure to test and try, as well as gain the knowledge and insights to make smart business and business partner decisions.

Q: Which personal contribution has made the biggest impact on the DMA?

PM: The best-in-class thought leaders I’ve brought to the association from the worlds of entertainment, business, and sports. Bringing forward what’s now become a trend of using celebrities and athletes who have compelling business stories and are using the most dominant platforms in today’s data-driven, digitally-focused space to engage their audiences.

Q: How about those selfie contributions?!

PM: I consider myself a huge selfie guy! Maybe to a fault. But who doesn’t like to see themselves on camera, in a unique environment or situation? It’s fun, it’s part of my personality and my persona as an outgoing extrovert — that’s how I give it a personal touch!

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