Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit is like starter’s pistol for marketers in Q2. Spring has sprung, and thousands of marketers descended on San Francisco to learn from one another, share some drinks at the annual gala, and discover new technologies to take their marketing to the next level.

This year’s event was bigger and better than ever. Featuring an all-star lineup of speakers and keynotes, and a huge partner showcase in San Francisco’s iconic Moscone Centre, Summit educated and inspired marketers on topics from storytelling with content to managing employee engagement.

Here’s what we learned at Marketing Nation 2015:

Nothing Kills Creativity Like Stress

Arianna Huffington opened Marketing Nation 2015 with a sobering observation: more people, especially the connected, high-energy marketers in the room, cared about keeping their phone batteries above 10% than about recharging their own bodies. After suffering a collapse in 2007 Huffington realized that while she was taking exceptionally good care of her business, her own well-being was taking a back seat.

Citing that workers who get adequate rest and downtime are significantly more productive, she called on organizations to offer nap rooms for employees to recharge, make sure vacations are treated like vacations, and for managers to take charge on eliminating device usage during meetings. All of these have helped revolutionize employee culture at Huffington Post, and have helped them grow into one of the largest, most read media sites in the world.

Engagement is Everything

Engagement has always been a trendy buzzword in marketing, but Marketo CEO Phil Fernandez set the tone for Summit 2015 by saying bluntly “Mass advertising is dead. We need to let the data do the driving.”

Citing the rise in internet-enabled devices, Fernandez offered marketers an exciting new avenue for engaging with prospects, but warned that the always-on mentality comes with expectations. As connectivity and communication moves beyond tablets and phones and into appliances, cars, and even medical and fitness devices, marketers must spend more time listening and less time talking so that their messages are more targeted, relevant and personalized. While this becomes difficult as businesses grow and expand to more broad customer bases, Salman Khan, director of the Khan Academy, echoed this point during his keynote saying “The biggest challenge is how to scale while retaining a personalized, authentic product.”

With consumers using more products that track and measure their interactions with the world around them, marketers must adapt and learn how to use this data effectively.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

Marketers aren’t new to storytelling, but as Fernandez pointed out, consumers are being bombarded by messaging from every angle – brands that understand the power of stories are brands that stand out.

During a breakout session on Tuesday, Taulia CMO Joe Hyland showed marketers how they use humour in their video content to tell engaging stories in an otherwise unsexy industry, and have driven huge results from their video campaigns. Rather than simply tell marketers about how they build their storytelling culture, Hyland presented a framework that every B2B marketing team can use to start producing more engaging stories:

Hyland also pointed out that mass virality isn’t always the goal of their video content. Targeting employees in the accounts-payable space, Taulia narrowcasts their content to appeal to specific goals and needs, as evidenced by their P2P superheroes series:

Salman Khan backed up this idea during his day two keynote about the educational videos he created, saying “I wasn’t trying to go viral. I was just making content that met what people needed.”

Content Must Fit with Context

One of the more popular keynote presentations at #MKTGNation was John Legend’s talk and performance after Arianna Huffington. Alternating between playing songs from his grammy-winning catalogue of music and sharing the story of his life as a performer and former management consultant, Legend gave the audience deep insight into his songwriting process.

Starting with the instrumental music, Legend said he begins developing a song by singing gibberish until he finds the right sound, and then works to craft compelling lyrics to match. He gave a demonstration of the process starting with a melody composed while collaborating with Will.I.Am, and ending with the immensely popular Ordinary People.

Legend finished his performance with All of Me, an immensely popular ode to his wife, but not before encouraging marketers to collaborate, citing his own work with a wide range of artists. Much of John Legend’s initial popularity came from collaborating with artists like Kanye West, the Black Eyed Peas, and Lauren Hill. Legend encouraged marketers to look at the teams around them for inspiration, and not to be afraid to work together towards a common creative goal.

Looking Forward to the Future

While Summit 2015 has come and gone, Marketo gave marketers a glimpse into next year’s event, leaving a distinctive souvenir on tables during the final lunch break on day two:

Whether Vegas is ready for the kind of party that Marketo throws is something we can debate next year. For now, let’s all take some time to digest the amazing lessons learned this year, and find a nap room and take a few minutes to recharge our most important marketing tool.

Jon Spenceley