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I Attended Activate ‘23—Here are My 4 Takeaways

Last week at Activate ’23 in San Francisco was such a whirlwind!

When I look back on the festivities, it’s overwhelming to imagine how I can possibly distill three days of content and networking with dozens of speakers and hundreds of the industry’s leading brand marketers and customer experience experts.

As a marketing consultant who previously led Iterable’s brand & content team, I’m intimately familiar with Activate since its founding as the company’s flagship event, but only in the past couple of years have I been able to fully appreciate the outside attendee experience.

Here are four reasons why I found Activate ‘23 to be uniquely special.

1. Iterable infused inclusivity from the beginning

I’ve been to enough tech conferences to know that opening with a keynote panel exclusively made up of senior women leaders—on the subject of unpacking AI, no less—is a rare feat.

Listening to chief marketing and business officers from Iterable, Strava, Vimeo, and GitLab set the mood for the rest of the event and created an atmosphere where everyone deserves a seat at the table when it comes to brand-building and customer engagement.

This communal feeling was evident as I mingled between sessions, participated in roundtables, and walked around the buzzing partner hall. I spoke with recent college grads, startup entrepreneurs, and marketers on teams of all sizes. Everywhere I turned, there were folks from around the world, in a variety of industries, all looking to solve similar challenges.

We’ve all heard the platitude “we’re all in this together” (many of us sending pandemic emails with this exact sentiment), but at Activate ‘23, this message felt tangible from start to finish.

2. Marketing innovation was front and center

As someone who splits her time between freelance marketing and fiction writing, I’m simultaneously intrigued by and skeptical of AI technology, especially as it relates to the ethics around content creation.

But the sessions dedicated to AI managed to open my perspective to the profound impact it will have on businesses, both now and in the future. In Denys Kapush’s presentation, “How to Include AI as Part of Your Marketing Team,” he referenced jaw-dropping stats, including that the global market for AI in marketing is expected to grow by 578% by 2028, and more than 80% of businesses will adopt AI for online marketing use cases.

AI is clearly here to stay, and all the speakers reiterated how this technology is allowing them to dramatically improve their efficiency, reduce costs, and increase revenue. And rather than resist the inevitable, keynote speaker Ukonwa Ojo advised the audience to consider AI as a further bifurcation of marketing between automation and humanity. According to her, becoming an expert at either is critical, since average work will be less valuable over time.

And speaking of valuable…

3. The real value comes from connecting with others

I jotted down so many valuable statistics and insights in the sessions, but the biggest treasures I gained from Activate were, as the cliché goes, the friends I made along the way.

On the main day of the conference, I attended two roundtables: the women’s empowerment lunch sponsored by Shaw/Scott and moderated by Markita Jack, Iterable’s VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and “Navigating the Job Search Journey,” hosted by Emily Sung, Sr. Manager of People Operations at Glassdoor.

Markita shared her lived experiences as a Black woman working previously in banking and urged roundtable participants to “take up space” because everyone’s voices deserve to be heard.

I took that advice to heart in the next roundtable, where I offered my advice to job candidates as a former hiring manager. The result? Several attendees came up to me afterward to ask follow-up questions or add me to their network.

It can be too easy to discount what you have to offer, either as a consumer brand or a human being, but these roundtables served as a wonderful reminder that if you speak up with the intent to help your community, the right people will listen.

4. The biggest “a-ha” moments came from the most unexpected places

I’m already a fan of many Iterable customers, whether it’s searching for a forever home on Redfin, maintaining my to-do list in Asana, or reading the latest celebrity news in PEOPLE Magazine, a brand of Dotdash Meredith.

But one of the most intriguing sessions was hosted by the marketing team at Sandboxx, which connects loved ones to military recruits in basic training. How do Sandboxx customers communicate with service members who have limited use of their cell phones?

The answer is through Sandboxx Letters, which provide a critical offline touchpoint to the company’s user journey. Depending on whether a loved one’s email or phone number is provided on the recruit’s family address card, Sandboxx sends email or SMS messaging with updates on the recruit’s military career.

As marketers, we’re always told to go cross-channel, but Sandboxx is testament to the tangible impact communication plays in our daily lives. As their team asserted, each user interaction is a touchpoint on a path leading to a conversion. Your company can be selling skincare or improving the morale of the military, and the mission is the same: bringing joy to your customers.

What I Plan to Activate Going Forward

There were so many great nuggets of information I wrote down while attending Activate ‘23, from viral TikTok sensation Corporate Natalie’s reminder that “perfect is boring” to Iterable’s customer success team offering tips to get “one-percent better” with each message.

But my favorite was Ukonwa’s poignant truth: “You will never be the best in the world at something you hate.” Life is offensively short, but it’s also the longest thing we do, so we might as well craft our careers so we can focus on what we love most.

I’m already thinking of how I can carry the ethos of Activate into my work. I downloaded TikTok (thanks Corporate Natalie!), I’m considering ways to improve my monthly newsletter, and I’m brainstorming how to maximize my future book launches.

Now if I can just get my hands on Iterable’s brand-new Copy Assist, that would be rad.

Don’t forget, all Activate sessions are on demand now. Go watch!

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