If you're anything like me, you and your team make your way to quite a few industry events and conferences throughout the year to speak to, connect with, and learn from others in your space. Obviously, schedules fluctuate each year depending on goals and resources, but I notice ours usually gets pretty busy in the fall.

This is helpful for my team and me, as we, like most companies, spend time at the end of the year analyzing performance and looking ahead to changes in social media and content marketing trends to plan and budget for the new year.

A couple weeks ago, my team had the opportunity to attend Incite Group's Brand Marketing Summit in Brooklyn. With countless expert speakers and various tracks to choose from, the event had something for everyone. To help inspire your marketing strategy for 2018, here are five lessons learned from the Brand Marketing Summit:

1. Honing your brand purpose is critical.

According to John Dillon, CMO of Denny's Corporation, developing a brand purpose for your company isn't just a simple marketing exercise: It's the North Star for all of your operations. Your brand purpose should be both simple and genuine enough to be recited by every member of your organization.

By centering your company's purpose around the why behind the things you do -- rather than the what or how -- everything that extends from your brand will naturally convey your reason for being and ultimately why your audience should care.

Understanding your why is what keeps your brand's content marketing strategy from being all about you and what you sell and makes it more about why you exist and how you can help others.

2. Brands must lean into tension and change.

If you're pushing the envelope and chasing opportunities to grow your business, you should be experiencing a healthy amount of tension. When Peter McGuinness became chief marketing and commercial officer of Chobani, he restructured the company's once-siloed sales, marketing, insights, and product innovation departments under one umbrella called "demand development." Chobani has since achieved double-digit growth.

McGuinness assured attendees that in times of organizational change, marketing should be under tension from finance and law. Most importantly, always punch above your weight. You'll be surprised where your brand can take you, especially when you bring marketing together with other teams.

3. Consumers want to be part of your story, not just told what it is.

Though consumers will use ad blocking at every turn while simultaneously engaging with three devices at once, their expectations of brands continue to rise. According to Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard, these consumers can't be appeased with simple storytelling. Instead, brands should opt for live "storymaking" in which consumers become a part of the story brands tell.

In the case of Mastercard, the brand enabled consumers to tell their own stories with its "Priceless Causes" campaign, in which consumers could donate to their favorite causes while making everyday purchases. Rajamannar knew consumers prioritized experiences over material things, so the brand created campaigns around shared experiences and human connections.

This is a good reminder that none of us likes to be talked at or sold to; we all crave connection with one another and with the brands we're loyal to. To keep your audience engaged, you've got to involve them in your story -- not just tell it to them.

4. Planning and organization are still your greatest assets.

With the oversaturation of content across media, marketers are required to think creatively in order to cut through the clutter. That doesn't mean, however, that they can neglect the nuts and bolts. This was the theme of Bryan Rhoads, head of strategy at Opal, who discussed the proactive strategies and tactics of various brands in terms of their processes and procedures.

These included meeting with your legal team once a week, "prebaking" content ahead of time, and doing story forecasting and content planning each quarter. Get your team together in advance, and plan the scenarios and stories you'll want to tell as a marketing, advertising, and content team. These proactive tactics will make it easier when it's time to create and distribute strong content in real time.

5. Demographics are dead.

Now, don't freak out, but according to Stuart Foster, VP of global brand marketing at Hilton, there's simply no way you can plug in certain demographic data and come up with the exact person who is your ideal client every time (at least not yet).

Rather, Foster suggested treating people as the individuals they are and personalizing customer interactions for smarter, local engagement at scale. In addition, Foster recommended taking a good, hard look at your marketing funnel. Examine the realistic decision-making cycle and behavior for your customers, use digital tools to identify more complex insights outside of demographic data, and create a new "funnel" that allows your business to tap into a long-term connection with these individual consumers.

Ultimately, my team had a good time learning from these industry experts' successful case studies and brought back inspired tactics for truly connecting with audiences. Did you attend the event and pick up different insights? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Published on: Nov 29, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.