The Hothouse team stays on top of the latest trends in marketing by seeking out opportunities to learn from the best. That’s why the most curious minds from our account service, project management and creative departments headed to the Cobb Energy Center for two days of inspiration, digital innovation, and a lot more talk about being human than we ever expected. Here’s what we learned:


Don’t let authenticity lose its meaning.
It seems everywhere we turn, the advice is to be authentic, or that millennials respond to authenticity, or to be your authentic selves and let your authenticity show the world how authentic you are. Bruh, we get it. But do we really? Hassan Ali, Creative Director from the Onion noted, “People can smell BS from miles away,” and younger generations especially are becoming more savvy and resistant to traditional advertising. So keep digging deeper into your unique brand voice. Don’t tell people to buy your orange juice because it contains 50% more vitamins and minerals. Tell them a story about how terrible mornings are, a story they can relate to, and you won’t even have to tell them to buy your product. And that ain’t BS.


We’re storytellers, not marketers.

Marketing guru Seth Godin offered strong marketing advice: don’t sell anything. Instead, find the story that unites a tribe. For example, he observed, “Suzuki makes motorcycles. Harley Davidson makes transformation.” And he’s right—Harley Davidson could completely stop making motorcycles, but the story they tell of turning outcasts into communities will endure as long as they continue to reach one person at a time. The power of storytelling eclipses simply making sales, and Godin encouraged us not to be marketers, but agents of change.


There’s no replacement for the human touch.
Our creative team was relieved to hear that when the robots take over and replace workers with automation, their jobs would be the last to go. According to IBM’s Brand Evangelist Loren McDonald, “If you want to stay relevant, you’ll need to focus on skills and capabilities that artificial intelligence has trouble replicating.” And for now, that means the creative side—the distinctly human processes of combining different ideas to create something completely new, of connecting with another person on an emotional level, and developing empathy for others’ experiences. As Godin said, “The next big thing is still humans connecting to humans.”


Content was, is, and will always be king.

People don’t want to be hit over the head with your brand. They want good stories, they want you to help solve their problem, and above all, they want great content served up in quick, easy-to-digest pieces. This means taking the time to make sure you slay all day—Vlog Expert Amy Schmittauer from Savvy Sexy Social reminded us that the key to making compelling content is to ask yourself, “If I didn’t make it myself, would I share this?” Another tactic for relating to your customers is branded content. Hassan Ali from The Onion recommended using branded content as an alternative to the traditional thirty second spot—people are much more likely to pay attention to a product in the context of content they already like (you know, like The Onion.) And most importantly, make sure your customers have to do as little work as possible to get to the good stuff. According to Michael Barber, founder of barber+hewitt, “When we have a bad consumer experience we automatically look for an alternative.” And that means your customers will run to your competitors, who are more than happy to give them that outrageous video, funny meme, or informative blog.


Empathy is essential.

Truly understanding your customers’ pain points results in marketing campaigns that work. In fact, MailChimp went so far as to actually become a customer to gain a better understanding of their day-to-day challenges. MailChimp enlisted the help of one of their employees with no e-commerce experience to run their own in-house e-commerce site, and tell the company her insights on the unexpected struggles of online retail. Now, everyone at MailChimp understands how it feels to be one of their customers, allowing them to provide better support, which creates happier customers and ultimately, more of them.

The takeaways from a conference focused on digital developments were surprisingly human. Which is great news as we move into an increasingly automated future. We definitely welcome our new robot overlords.