I'm going to go old-school on you, for a moment.
Lands' End ... 1993. Our marketing management team (not me) attended the Catalog Conference. This was a big deal, back in 1993. Meetings. Parties. All the leading ideas ... stuff like alternative delivery (i.e. somebody other than the USPS delivering catalogs to your front door), neural networks designed to optimize name selection for catalogs, best practices for negotiating great rates on list exchanges. More Parties. Drinks. Stories of industry leaders consuming several drinks. Food.
Cataloging wasn't just at a local maxima, it was at an absolute peak of industry power! And the place you went to partake in catalog marketing was the Catalog Conference. Heck, it was at a point where you didn't even go to learn anything, you just went there because it was fun and all the other people you worked with in the industry were there, too.
The Catalog Conference was eclipsed by Shop.org, Shop.org was eclipsed by Internet Retailer, and Internet Retailer will be eclipsed by something that skews mobile.
Humans want to be entertained. They will go to any conference where they are entertained and are with like-minded colleagues.
OneKingsLane, for instance (a Jasmine-based business with a Judy-based subset demographic, click here to learn more), has buzz ... how many businesses in our industry went from $0 to a projected $200,000,000 in 2012 net sales in just three years? We want to learn just how the heck they did that?! One can hear those stories at vendor-based conferences (see hashtag here). Heck, this example is from a vendor claiming to be "multi-channel", and they created buzz! It can be done.
When I talk about entertainment, I'm not talking about getting Conan or Colbert to speak at a conference. No, attendees seem to want, as one conference attendee recently told me, "the next big idea". And they don't want to be put to sleep while being told what the next big idea is.
I know, it's not easy to run a conference. I ran a series of failed conferences in 2001 and 2002. They were the most boring, information-filled conferences in history. I know what it takes to put on a conference that is poorly attended.
The catalog industry can put on good shows ... just ask the folks at NEMOA. But the format, the content, the buzz, and the entertainment factor must be different, must be relevant for modern times. We need to create vibrant conferences, ones that speak to the concepts of being "cross-channel" without ever mentioning the phrase "cross-channel". We need to market ourselves to our own industry. Why can't we do that?
Maybe, in our quest to build a bridge from the past to the future, we've forgotten how to market ourselves to ourselves?