The 2018 PPC Hero Conference (aka “Hero Conf” for those who prefer to abbrev) has come and gone, and we had the pleasure of traveling down to Austin to attend. As one of the largest online advertising conferences in the industry, Hero Conf attracted attendees from all over the world for a jam-packed three-day PPC marathon. With keynote speakers ranging from heavy-hitters such as Pinterest and Optmyzr, and breakout sessions hosted by some of the best and brightest minds working in the industry, obviously there’s no way to convey every detail of an event so rich in content and actionable information in one blog post. But we wanted to share snapshots of this year’s iteration, both in content and ambiance.
Day 1 Highlights
The day began with breakfast, greetings from the organizers, and celebrating the distances people traveled to attend; coming from Canada was only semi-impressive, as other attendees traveled to Hero Conf from as far as Australia, Czech Republic, and Singapore. From there, we jumped right into the first keynote, then off to the breakout sessions. True to Austin form, ambient music selections between speakers included M83, Band of Horses, Phoenix, and other indie rock staples. Over the course of the day, the standout food items were the banana bread at breakfast, white ginger peach smoothie at vendor mingle break, and Veracruz Mahi Mahi at lunch.
The first keynote speaker at day 1 of Hero Conf was Brad Geddes, founder of AdAlysis, author, consultant, and veritable godfather of search engine marketing. He emphasized the fact that everyone preaches contextual targeting in their marketing, but to execute it consistently and successfully is far more difficult. Ultimately, attempting to please everyone with your advertising efforts is a bland recipe. Even those businesses which do an adequate job of knowing their buyer demographics, and developing personas/buckets, this is a process which requires regular spot checks and revisiting your data to ensure it is current. From an agency perspective, we can confirm that many clients will want to do customer-match targeting on Facebook, for example, but they will simply upload their entire CRM and attempt to generate lookalike audiences, or will upload a particular list of customers and not update them frequently enough to remain accurate. A contextual audience list requires a contextual objective. In other words, our conversation needs to shift from just “customer match” to “message match”.
From there, we took part in sessions spotlighting ad format betas, pipeline measurement, script automation, post-click user experience, and conversion attribution modelling. By the time we had a moment to collect our thoughts after the second keynote capping the formal program, the day was over, and the event staff were wheeling out a light refreshment before the evening mixer at a house-converted-lounge down the street in downtown Austin. Digesting information would have to wait; these festivities wouldn’t attend themselves.
Day 2 Highlights
How do people stay out late and party while traveling? Between the time zone difference, and the amount of emails to catch up on, I tend to call it a night at a reasonable time, but I might have been in the minority on that one. In the morning of day 2, the amount of Hero Conf attendees who showed up late for breakfast with their hair in buns, men and women, was definitely noticeable. But the enthusiasm was not diminished in these intrepid conference-goers, as the intensity level remained as high as day 1. Standout food items for day 2 were the omelet station at breakfast, the raspberry prickly pear agua fresca (because it’s Austin, they don’t do “juice”) at break, and the beer braised meatloaf at lunch.
Much like how the opening keynote on day 1 set the tone for Hero Conf, the closing keynote on day 2, courtesy of Frederick Vallaeys, put a stamp on it. The co-founder of Optmyzr and former AdWords pioneer addressed one of the hottest topics in our realm right now: artificial intelligence and machine learning. The question of what can or should be handled by machines and automation is an interesting one, because computing power can be faster than the human brain in many ways. But, just as the base language of computing itself, binary, operates in black and white and, so does machine learning need a human element to navigate the shades of grey, so to speak. Without giving away all of his talking points, Frederick made a compelling reference to the story of legendary chess champion Garry Kasparov being defeated by IBM’s Deep Blue, the supercomputer used to demonstrate the power of AI compared to human data processing ability. As the story goes, Garry made some declarations following his defeat:
- If he had a computer of his own to make quicker calculations, he was adamant that his strategies would have prevailed, and he would have defeated the computer.
- The computer was designed to beat him specifically, programmed by analyzing his past games and situational tendencies, and would therefore not be able to defeat another champion-level player without studying them as well.
This example, along with the many others he gave, serves as a reminder that, while many of the tools used in the online advertising landscape are capable of amazing things, the winning technique is to combine human creativity, strategy, and our ability to understand users’ emotional drivers, with the data processing power of machines.
With our brains full to bursting with new ideas and things to test in our own fields, the event drew to a close. I made the mad dash to the airport to catch my flight, another mad dash in Phoenix to make my connection, and got home at the totally reasonable hour of 2am on a Wednesday. But it was worth it, and the good people of Hanapin Marketing deserve credit for putting on a first-class event.
Stay tuned for more Strathcom online advertising blogs incoming, as we turn theory into tangible, and ideas into action in service of our clients.