If anything good came out of 2020, it was time. Time with our family, time to reflect on what’s important—and time to devote to professional development.
2020 brought with it many changes. Never before has the marketing landscape changed so drastically, and in such a short period of time. Staying on top of the latest trends and best practices was of the utmost importance—and often felt like a rollercoaster ride. As the pandemic lingers on and 2021 continues to throw more curveballs, it’s clear to see that we didn’t leave uncertainty and unpredictability behind in 2020. As we dive head-first into the new year, there’s no denying that continuing education and professional development has never been more important.
Gone are the days of road tripping with your coworkers to attend the latest marketing conference in some obscure hotel ballroom. But the shift toward virtual marketing conferences has its upsides, too. Marketing conferences are more affordable than ever, with no transportation, downtown hotel, or associated meal costs. They’re also more accessible than ever. You can attend conferences nation- or even world-wide without ever leaving your desk. While a few 2021 conferences are holding out hope for an in-person event, many are already planning for online events or are offering a hybrid of in-person and virtual.
Searching for the best marketing conferences in the Midwest and beyond? We did the research so you don’t have to! Here are eight marketing conferences in 2021 that are worth your time, however you attend.
Date: Various dates (GO! Event on Jan. 27, 2021)
Cost: $225 (GO! Event is FREE)
Virtual or in-person: Virtual or In-Person
Consider the Melders big fans of the Digital Summit (DS). We’ve attended this in-person in Chicago the past few years and enjoyed every second. Think of this conference as a digital marketing education on steroids for 2-3 days. Typically they hold events all across the country to make travel less of a burden, but that’s changed nowadays.
In 2021, Digital Summit is holding virtual, in-person and hybrid events. This year they developed Digital Summit GO!, a free-to-attend single-day event scheduled on Wednesday, January 27, 2021. This would be a great way to kick off the new year. We are fans of DS because they bring in experts on a variety of topics so we can learn more about video marketing, social ads and how to get more out of analytics all in the same day. You can’t go wrong with the Digital Summit. There are also plenty of in-person events starting in June and running through December. Be sure to check those out if you feel comfortable!
Smartly.io Sofa Summit
Date: January 27, 2021
Virtual or in-person: Virtual
You had us at “sofa.”
Smartly.io’s ads product is disrupting social advertising and their virtual marketing conference is changing the way we educate ourselves—from the couch. But don’t let the name fool you;, this conference is no joke. Focused on all things social, this conference’s Keynotes from 2020 featured social guru Guy Kawasaki, NASA’s Rebecca Roth and more.
Interested? Act now! Sofa Summit 2021 is scheduled to happen on January 27, 2021 with keynote speakers including Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk–both masters of modern marketing in their own right.
If you want to focus on how to attract and hold consumer attention in the evolving landscape that is social media, this is the conference for you.
Date: Feb. 4-5, 2021
Virtual or in-person: Virtual
We must not forget about the sales team! If you’re looking for a sales-specific conference, look no further than BOUNDLESS 2021.
Created by NutShell, a company that makes a CRM that helps automate the sales process, BOUNDLESS is a get down to business-type conference that reminds its users it has “no celebrity influencers, no filler.” The best part of tThis sales conference currently has is they currently have 21 speakers scheduled over two days. Even better? It’s virtual—and it’s free! and it’s 1. Virtual and 2. free! The ere’s also a VIP Masterclass during the second half of day one that requires registration, but is also free.
Is the conference itself a sales pitch for their platform? Sure, just the same way that Inbound 2021 is for HubSpot. But that doesn’t that mean it won’t be full of educational content that could help change your year for the better! If you’re in sales, get registered for Boundless today.
Date: April 27-28, 2021
Virtual or in-person: Virtual
“The future of customer experience is waiting for you.”
With more than 200 total sessions across 10 tracks, Adobe Summit is staking its claim for top customer experience conference of the year. Content, design, personalization and all things Adobe Experience Platform are the highlights of what you can expect to learn at this year’s free virtual event! It’s worthy to note that even if your company does not use any Adobe products, the content of this conference will still be very beneficial. Make sure you get signed up for their mailing list (near the bottom under “Top FAQ”) to be reminded of the event in late April.
Date: June 10-11, 2021
Virtual or in-person: Plan on in-person
If “buy local” is your mantra, you’ll want to mark June 10-11, 2021 off your calendar because EntreFest is back (in person, we hope)! EntreFest is where the Corridor comes together to learn, share, network and keep moving forward. Members of the Meld team have spoken at EntreFest in the past.
When we say networking, we mean it. One of the best parts of EntreFest is that you’re meeting other entrepreneurs, creatives and business minds local to Cedar Rapids/Iowa City. Make sure you introduce yourself to someone new because you may just see them in a coffee shop next week.
Other than networking, this conference offers world class keynotes, practical workshops, and good ol’ fashioned Midwest comradery.
Click here to read why you should attend EntreFest straight from the source.
Content Marketing World
Date: Sep. 28 – Oct. 3, 2021
Cost: $1,099 (virtual pass: $649)
Virtual or in-person: In-person or virtual
Behold what is largely considered the best content marketing conference in the world: Content Marketing World 2021 (CMWorld). Over four days with 100+ sessions, CMWorld is the premier digital marketing content conference in America. In 2021, the event is planning to be held in-person in Cleveland, OH at the Huntington Convention Center. Although this may be full of big brands, don’t be intimidated—there’s a lot to learn when it comes to content marketing.
Looking to go all out and plan on an in-person conference this year? Check out CMWorld. You won’t be disappointed.
Date: October 2021
Virtual or in-person: TBD
Adobe MAX 2020 included 350+ sessions and hundreds of inspiring speakers. This celebration of all things creative is focused on design, but there’s plenty of sessions each year on photography, social media, illustration and business productivity—all concepts a designer needs to understand to excel in their role. There’s plenty to focus on in design and Their session list gives you a flavor of what you’re getting into when you sign up for one of the best design conferences in the world.
Feel free to join the Adobe Max mailing list so you’re aware of any updates to this year’s conference.
Date: November 2021
Virtual or in-person: Online, live and on-demand.
Billed as the largest digital marketing event in the world (with over 10,000 attendees), DigiMarCon is back in late 2021 and ready to serve up content on nearly any digital marketing topic you could imagine. Lead generation, customer loyalty, building traffic, programmatic advertising – you would be hard pressed to find a topic you can’t learn about at this conference. Like many other conferences, their 2020 version was virtual and it is currently slated to befor online this year as well. Whether you’re a senior manager or an entry level marketer, you will learn a lot at this popular conference.
All Year Long
Digital marketing certifications
Virtual or in-person: Virtual
If you were ever thinking of getting an official digital marketing certificate, master’s degree or taking a class on social media from a college or university, now is the time. This is a great way to learn a specific skill (like LinkedIn ads), better prepare yourself for a leadership role, or better comprehend how to read marketing metrics (like Google analytics). Even if you’re not ready for the commitment of a master’s degree, many higher ed institutions are offering digital marketing certifications.. Although a bit more expensive, these certificates are a great long-term investment. Many of them can be earned in under a year—plus it’s a great way to focus on continuing education from a virtual perspective.
Other than searching online for a certificate that might work best for you, here are two of our recommendations:
University of Vermont
Digital Marketing Fundamentals Certificate
Paid search, email marketing, mobile marketing and all of the analytics in-between—this program has everything you need to become digital savvy. This certificate even ranks #1 in the world according to Best Online Marketing Degrees.
Digital Marketing Strategies: Data, Automation, AI and Analytics
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) seem cool and all, but how can you use them as best practices in digital marketing? Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business is here to help. This 8-week course is taught by Professor Mohanbir Sawhney, a globally recognized scholar, author and academic.
Despite the unpredictable year that undoubtedly lies ahead, you can rest assured knowing there are plenty of opportunities in the Midwest and beyond for you to learn from the best and brightest in the industry. Even better? Half of the above conferences are free! This is definitely the year to take advantage of free virtual professional development. The Meld team is doing the same.
Have any questions on conferences? Looking for help with your marketing efforts or reaching your 2021 goals? Our team stays on top of the trends so you don’t have to. Reach out and let’s talk!