2023 TMSA ELEVATE Conference Raises Top Issues in Transportation Sales and Marketing

Nothing beats spending three days with your people talking about shared areas of interest. 

The Transportation Marketing and Sales Association’s annual conference provides a prime opportunity for people in the business to dive deep into topics closest to their hearts. There’s nothing like it in the industry and its rare to find an association this big that’s this niche-y in any industry. 

So what did my people talk about during those three days in June? Nothing less than the biggest ideas in the business—brand building in the age of personal brands; the AI content question; diversity, equity and inclusion; great big content-generating ideas (my favorite topic) and more.

If you missed this chance to be with your people, don’t worry. You can read my recap below. Or better yet, you can attend TMSA’s 2023 Executive Summit—a similar, but supercharged shortened version of the annual conference that’s coming up in October. 

Here Are My 5 Top Takeaways from the 2023 TMSA ELEVATE Conference

1 – Go a Little Bananas Differentiating Your Brand 

The Savannah Bananas President, Jared Orton provided the opening keynote and a compelling lesson for marketers on delivering an authentic and agile brand experience. He outlined minor league team’s shaky roots and the revelations and bold decisions which led to them landing a winning formula for their brand.

The lesson of knowing your customers and creating an experience for them – even if it runs counter to convention – is the foundation of their brand.

Many touchpoints combine to make a brand and customers loyal to that brand. Orton’s trial and error tale highlights how the hard work of extreme customer-centricity pays off. 

The Savannah Bananas provide a powerful case for 3PLs regarding the power of a well-differentiated and customer-obsessed brand. It brings up important two questions that are commonly sidestepped: what is the true differentiator of your brand and who are your ideal customers? 

2 – How 3PLs Keep the Killer Content Flowing

Coming up with a continuous flow of fresh and relevant content is challenging.

When you find just the right campaign direction that interests prospects and fuels continuous content marketing – you know you’ve struck gold. 

Examples of big ideas in content marketing in the transportation and logistics space were in full evidence during TMSA’s Trailblazer awards ceremony.

ITS Logistics won a Trailblazer award for their Port/Rail Ramp Freight Index. This monthly report sources proprietary data to provide the prognosis of ports across the U.S. It was a huge hit with clients and prospects and the unique index has been cited in national media. 

Knowing your market and what they’re interested in is the key to successful content marketing. Another 3PL I spoke to has made the leap into NASCAR sponsorship and has sponsored a popular country singer.

Keeping the content flowing is a never-ending challenge for 3PLs. Finding a sweet spot like the prior examples removes the burden of deciding what your next post will be—which is often the hardest part of all.

Every brand has an unconventional content-generating idea waiting to be supported, written about or podcasted about. What’s yours?

3 – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Takes Front Seat

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a hot issue in every industry.  Transportation and logistics is no exception. DEI was featured prominently on three occasions during the conference. 

Aspects of DEI discussed during the TMSA conference included the business benefits of a diverse workforce, practical advice for logistics providers encountering bias at clients, and the creation of a DEI Taskforce at TMSA.

The industry is showing hopeful signs of progress. 

The Women in Trucking Association reports the percentage of professional drivers who are female increased 3% from 2019 to 2022 to 13.7% and female executives make up 36% of leadership in transportation. (FYI, I wrote an article for Women in Trucking’s Redefining the Road publication about trucking technology that’s attracting the next wave of female drivers. Read it here.)

Marketing and sales play a tremendous role in promoting DEI within organizations, and improving conditions within the population of 14.9 million who work in transportation will do much to further DEI in the workplace at large. Does your company have a formal program yet?

4 – The Role of Employees’ Social Networks Is Huge

It makes sense to encourage employees to post about company goings-on. In fact, leveraging employees’ social networks is a tremendous untapped opportunity for logistics companies. Samantha Jones of Rocket Shipping pointed out in her presentation “Your People are your Brand” how people tend to have way more followers than companies on LinkedIn. She made a case for considering job candidates’ social profiles during the hiring process.

There are limitations to the strategy, though. Employees are either active on social or they aren’t, she says. In other words, good luck getting that SME or executive to start posting if it’s not something they’re already doing.

So what can you do? Ghostwriting for company officials can backfire because the authenticity isn’t there, Samantha says. 

It might not be all or nothing, though. As a ghostwriter, I am used to channeling other people’s voices. I can interview a reluctant SME or edit their words into authentic posts. Are your SMEs not posting regularly on LinkedIn? What are you doing to help them?

5 – Should AI Write Your Content? 

This was an irresistible topic for attendees. Comments ranged from skepticism to practical uses.

One presenter liked it for turning podcasts into blog posts. Collaborating with AI to see what kind of ideas are created for generic and market-specific blog content was another use cited by a conference attendee.

A skeptical marketing leader for one logistics company simply asked the question, “What about doing good work with original writing?”

A marketing leader from another 3PL felt AI tools couldn’t replace writing that relied on interviewing people.

Another industry leader expressed doubt that AI could ever replace the experience and insight of a human writer. What do you think?

The conversation is sure to be considered at the 2023 Executive Summit in Chicago, October 11-12. I’ll be attending. You? Let me know. I’d love to say hi.