ICYMI: 2019 Marketing & Sales Conference Answers, 'What Is Marketing?'

By Laura Withers, Vice President of Strategic Communications, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association 

May 9, 2019

The theme of the 2019 NTCA Marketing & Sales Conference, held April 29–May 1, 2019, in New Orleans, La., was “Marketing is”—a play on the idea that marketing can be all things to all people, depending on who you ask. Let’s play a bit with that theme in some highlights from the conference that answer the question, “what is marketing?” through conversations overheard and presentations observed. Here is what marketing “is,” according to those of us who were there:

Marketing Is … Growing!

The conference marks the first time NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association has focused in earnest on marketing and sales strategies for the rural broadband industry, building on the successful PR & Marketing Conference of the past. The 2019 conference also drew more than 300 marketing and sales professionals from across the industry—more than 50 of whom were first-timers. The attendance growth reflects new industry entrants as well as an increasing focus on marketing and sales among NTCA members and nonmember broadband providers, with multiples in attendance. Good news all around!

Marketing Is … Inspiring Change

One of the favorite sessions during the conference was “Innovation Ignition,” featuring five-minute presentations about broadband-supported innovations. Larry Montgomery, director of sales and marketing for Etex Telephone Cooperative (Gilmer, Texas), presented his company’s sales and customer service strategy, featuring highly personal emails and meaningful face time with business clients. He shared that the co-op’s focus on creating long-term customer relationships has transformed its culture by making everyone part of the “Etex family.” The true star of the session, however, was a stick of 288 strands of fiber optic cable capable of connecting thousands of Etex customers that Montgomery and his team use to sell the power of broadband and connection. What a great idea!

A unique marketing tool of the Etex team.

Marketing Is … Future-Focused

As I have attended this conference over the years, I have seen firsthand a transformation in its energy and enthusiasm. In the past, chatter about overcoming regulatory challenges and plugging holes in federal cost recovery support was regular fare. Now, hallway discussions focus more on bringing broadband to new customers and engaging those customers with unique service offerings. The future is very much in sight, plans are in place, and those plans are being worked in furious fashion. What’s more, talk of innovative partnerships—overcoming distance and density with innovation and entrepreneurship—is both invigorating and inspiring.

Here are some of my other favorite takeaways from the 2019 NTCA Marketing & Sales Conference:

  1. 2019 Marketing Excellence Award winners provide solutions to “crappy” broadband.
  2. Big data is dead; smart data is alive and well.
  3. Smart Rural Communities are building a better future for rural America.
  4. Foundation for Rural Service launches $100,000 grant program to support initiatives in rural America.