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Earlier this week, along with 6,000 marketers and industry leaders, I made the trek to San Francisco for Marketo’s 2015 Marketing Nation Summit. The annual event is a great opportunity to exchange new ideas, explore what’s new in marketing and celebrate innovation in marketing automation.

The impressive line up of speakers this year includes keynote speakers John Legend and author and syndicated journalist Arianna Huffington. Salman Khan, TED speaker and founder of the Khan Academy, also gave a moving speech about global education access that left many people in the audience teary-eyed.

Here are four #MKTGNATION themes that produced serious buzz in the summit:

1. Engage your customers or risk becoming irrelevant.

In his inspiring keynote on the last day of the summit, Sanjay Dholakia, chief marketing officer of Marketo, talked about the evolution of the marketing practice. His message: mass advertising and campaign marketing are out. To resonate with today’s customers, companies need to embrace a new type of marketing—one that’s based on having a two-way conversation with customers. Engagement marketing - 2015 Marketo Marketing Nation Summit

“Engagement marketing is very simply this notion that we run our marketing the way that we engage as human beings,” he explained. The key to engagement marketing, according to Dholakia, is to stop treating customers as data points and to connect with customers on a human level. “The new era of engagement marketing is about building individual relationships,” he said. 

Providing value to customers is also critical. Engagement marketing is about helping your customers achieve their goals. Dholakia added: “If you’re useful and helpful, people will embrace you.”

2. You need to listen to customers to improve their experience.

Phil Fernandez, CEO of Marketo, opened the first day of the summit by challenging marketers to put the focus on the customer. Indeed, in many enterprises, the CMO is becoming the leader of end-to-end customer experience. One survey revealed that 75 percent of CMOs expect to be managing the full customer experience in the near future.

To provide a more seamless experience, companies should look to their most critical asset: their relationship with their customers. Fernandez said that marketing pros need to focus on marketing that is “built on real relationship with customers. We need to stop spending so much time as marketers talking and listen more.”

 3. Embrace teamwork and look for inspiration outside everywhere.

During his keynote, Legend shared his creative process and revealed how he finds inspiration for his work. “Schedule your creativity,” the crooner told the crowd. “Make time and hold yourself accountable for producing great results.” The “All of Me” hitmaker also stressed the importance of having a great team. “You don't have all the answers. Don't be so arrogant and think you can do it all yourself.” 

Examining what successful people do is critical to creativity, according to Legend. “I studied Al Green, Stevie Wonder and Billie Holiday, to name a few, and they taught me what I needed to know to be great at songwriting.” He concluded, “To be great you have to study the greats. Stay open to inspiration.”

4. Take a break.

In an age when marketers are being asked to do more with less time and fewer resources, taking a break and unplugging might sound like a crazy idea. But it’s necessary, according to Huffington. “Nothing kills creativity more than stress,” said Huffington Post co-founder, who advocates for downtime, meditation and proper rest. Mindfully disconnecting from our mobile devices and finding time to recharge is key to fuelling creativity, said Huffington.

Conclusion It was inspiring to hear marketers talking about customer engagement at the Marketing Nation Summit. This year’s #MKTGNATION validates the importance of engagement and building genuine relationships with customers. More and more companies are waking up to the reality that building a long-term, two-way relationship with customers holds the key to business success. As engagement marketing picks up momentum, the marketers that prioritize customer intelligence are better positioned to gain true competitive edge.

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