Review: Joining the Dots at marketing conference

Dots 2017
Dots 2017

A vibrant mix of digital, PR and marketing disruptors arrived from London, Cardiff and Dublin for a seated event in Brighton Digital Festival last Friday - and that’s just the audience.

The Dots 2017 event focused on ‘embracing change’, spotlighting ‘business as unusual’ when applied to campaigns, brand stories, communities, customers and the individuals that define each corporate culture.

Dots 2017 at the Brighton Dome

Dots 2017 at the Brighton Dome

The real pull of the marketing event was the calibre of speaker expertise, and first up it was Becky Parker from The Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), with the best titled talk 'Where’s your homework? It’s in space Miss'. Becky has taken more than 1,000 school kids to CERN (and back). Her young people are involved in cutting edge projects like genome research on whipworms.

On to Muriel Lotto with her frank and refreshing crash course over at Western Union in 'Digitizing a 165-year-old brand'. The next speaker, Bruce Daisley, came along from Twitter, but commented more as a 'workplace culture fanatic’. His podcast – Eat Sleep Work Repeat is 'changing the rules of work' with a dose of radical candour and leanings toward eudonic (as opposed to hedonic) purpose. The moments when you feel ‘born to act’ are part of his ‘new work manifesto’. I’m in, and so was the room - several people said this was their favourite talk.

Neil Perkin from Only Dead Fish is a previous Dots curator and he also runs Firestarter events for Google thought leaders. Responsiveness and manoeuvrability were key elements in 'Building the agile business', plus workplace insights on team size, confirmation bias and the creative benefits of psychological safety. Great delivery and cool reading tips here (and not quite as dry as this sounds, sorry Neil).

In a change of format, Dots curator Ruth Oliver sat to join radio DJ Gemma Cairney in conversation about 'Open: a toolkit for how magic and messed up life can be'. It blended activism and empowerment with a dash of book promo. The vibe reminded me of Salina Godden and Kate Tempest at the Wilderness Festival. My notes say things like ‘revolution is possible’ but the actual take away for me was that eventually, we all get too old to represent the kids in a meaningful way. Better to get them self-oriented within their own peer groups.

After lunch, Robin Christopherson at AbilityNet was slightly upstaged by his stunning guide dog who peeped through the display while he spoke compellingly on 'Embracing inclusive marketing in an age of extreme computing' with a wise overview of extreme UX, mobile sensors, ambient computing, machine learning and augmented reality. Lots to consider here, plus practical observations on why inclusivity matters to all users.

Coming on with a non-digital but clearly ‘glass half-full’ mindset, Sam Linter of Bolney Estate shared her heart warming family story in 'Grape Expectations: the challenges of creating award-wining English wine'. A poignant reminder that people really respond to a good backstory, especially when the brand reaches the top of its game.

Sam Conniff at Livity is known to be a stunning circuit speaker. It’s a relief that he doesn’t punt snake oil, because you’d order it in, regardless. Actually, he put the case for a ‘values first’ approach for campaigns to act as an ethical force. 'Be more pirate. Survive disruption/cause rebellion' swashbuckled between his invention as chief purpose officer into the cause of making good trouble in the middle to get the edges better. He definitely had the best hook.

The last speaker Syima Aslam obviously and unashamedly loves her home town. Possibly even more than we rate Brighton and Hove, and for better reasons. Her talk on setting up the Bradford Literature Festival was very uplifting. 'Hanging the narrative about who can access culture' provided a wonderful end to an imaginative day of learning. There were other speakers I haven’t covered but the overall the programme was very well sequenced. No ifs or buts - don’t wait to book your place at 2018 Dots.

Sarah Morgan works in marketing and PR, in addition to writing and researching Pretty Good Thinking, on natural beauty and wellbeing, for the Brighton and Hove Independent. She also runs BN1 communications. She can be reached on 07789 956 966, or @sarah_morgan