I sat in Thursday on a couple of the morning sessions of the second annual Denim Summit hosted by Denim Labs. The conference — created by Denim founder Gregory Bailey — brings together insurtech and financial services experts from Greater Des Moines and around the country to discuss the latest trends in digital marketing. 

The amount of money that companies spend on ads to be viewed by consumers on their smartphones is a big barometer for where the digital economy is headed, Bailey told participants at the sold-out event held at the River Center downtown.  

According to Bailey, whose 3-year-old Des Moines-based startup specializes in delivering micro-targeted mobile and social media campaigns, 70 percent of all digital ad spending is now in mobile advertising. As a category, spending on mobile advertising — about $76 billion — surpassed the $70 billion spent on TV advertising. By 2020, experts project that mobile ad spending will surpass all other categories of ad spending as well. “So we use it as a strong measuring stick of where technology is headed,” he told participants. 

Among the digital experts who spoke was Tim Hoskins, president of consumer intelligence firm Quester, who summed up an underlying theme: “Consumers are going to expect change and drive change for our industries,” he said. 

The Windsor Heights-based company has developed AI-based software that “makes the average person a better storyteller,” through an online interview process that digs deeper into people’s responses. 

“From a [business-to-business] perspective, most [artificial intelligence] is actually being leveraged to create efficiencies in the businesses, whereas on the consumer-facing front, it’s making their lives easier and better,” Hoskins said. “That’s what consumers expect from businesses — to better their lives.” 

Sixty percent of people in a national survey conducted within the past week said they are open to making investment decisions using AI. “That was shocking to me,” he said. 

In one study that Quester conducted for Samsung, his company helped the electronics maker revamp its Black Friday marketing approach, which led to a campaign in which Samsung dropped coupons in New York City’s Times Square that people could redeem on their smartphones to get $100 off during Black Friday. By "gamifying" the experience, it made it personal and engaged the shoppers, he said.  

Overall, engaging customers “at the digital edge” — as discussed in one of the fireside chat sessions — is a journey, as Lori Bochner, vice president of annuity marketing for Sammons Financial Group, said. 

“There are times when someone wants to engage with an agent, and times when they don’t,” she said. “We just need to be there to bring in that personal communication when they want it.” 

Of course, participants were encouraged to post their thoughts during the conference on Twitter, which you can see at #DenimSummit. 

As an endnote, if there was one image that summed up the digital consumer for me, it was the person several rows ahead of me who was busy on her laptop during the presentations while she monitored two smartphones lined up side-by-side. Now that’s connected — at least digitally.