On its surface, last week’s inaugural Dx3 event was a coming-out-party for Canada’s thriving internet-based industries. But it turned out to be more of a fond farewell to digital itself.

Yes, you read that right, and no, we’re not about to turn in our laptops and fire up the printing press. I’m not saying that digital is dead – far from it ­– but in 2012 we may have finally reached the point where digital is no longer the next big thing, the bleeding edge or the Great Disrupter. Digital is the new status quo.

Plastic Mobile had more than eye candy at its booth

So long, silo

The most persistent (and counterintuitive) lesson of Dx3 was that digital no longer lives in a department or silo of its own. Whether they were referring to social media, web publishing or online retail, speaker after speaker delivered a version of this message.

In a session called “Selling Social to the C–suite” that outlined the worldview of the current generation of top-level executives (from their college days in the ‘70s, through the dot-com era and the 2008 financial crisis), Forzani’s Duncan Fulton explained (paraphrasing Facebook’s Steve Irvine) that “if it’s not social in real life, it’s not going to be social online.”

Similarly, in his second-day keynote, Retail Prophet Doug Stephens noted that “we’re not going to focus on technology for technology’s sake.” Meanwhile, in a discussion about “Social CRM” (or how brands are leveraging social media in customer relations) ­Twist Image President and digital thought leader Mitch Joel explained that “social CRM is just CRM.” In other words, social is the new black (which also happens to be the only colour Mitch wears).

Or as our colleague and columnist Arjun Basu put it (in his session with Sparksheet publisher Raymond Girard), “content is platform agnostic.” It doesn’t really matter if a product, strategy or piece of content is digital or not. As long as it works.

TV host Amber Mac conducted interviews on the trade show floor

Welcome to the real world

Digital has leaped out of its silo, and it’s landed in the real world.

In his retail keynote Doug Stephens argued that the line between the online and out-of-home worlds are becoming obsolete as Facebook becomes the world’s biggest marketplace, and everything from our fridges to our washing machines are connected to the internet (platform inter-connectivity was also a major trend at this year’s International CES, as we reported earlier this month).

Stephens used the much-YouTubed example of supermarket chain Tesco’s virtual store in a South Korean subway station as evidence that “we’re on the cusp of a digital landgrab” and that brands both online and offline should “start thinking about brick and mortar as a media point.”

Louis Vitton gets creative with QR codes

Place still matters

So it’s clear that the digital and real worlds are converging, but that doesn’t mean the planet is one big monolithic market. On the contrary, Dx3 demonstrated that place is as important than ever.

In a session on Jaguar’s success with location marketing, the company’s Canadian marketing manager explained how the venerable British car brand used mobile apps, QR codes and highly-targeted airport ads to cultivate a new generation of drivers.

Another international brand with location-specific lessons at Dx3 was Yelp, whose brand ambassador, Crystal Henrickson, offered session-goers lessons on how brands can engage customers – and respond to negative reviews – on the popular user review platform (“different audiences mean different cultures”).

But once again, when we talk about “place,” we’re not just talking about geographic locations.  In a session called “Is your brand game?” Patrick Scissons of Grey Canada explained how video game makers (whose audiences can range in the 15 million range – see “Call of Duty”) are monetizing through in-game billboards and virtual goods.

Digital marketing agency BNOTIONS held an app development battle...in a wrestling ring

The old media are new

This relates to our first lesson, the silo thing. Digital isn’t just about so-called “new media.” It affects all media. Doug Stephens talked about how TV is being “brought back into the loop” in the retail world. For instance, some providers are partnering with eBay to recommend products related to the TV shows people watch.

The Spafax guys talked about how brands like Benetton, John Deere and Michelin continue to leverage print in their content marketing efforts. And speaking of content, Dale Hooper of Rogers Media explained how the telecom giant uses its various print, online and broadcast channels to deliver audiences to advertisers.

As he put it, “it’s not an intersection between commerce and content. It’s a traffic circle.”

Another example of QR codes that are "more than a footnote," as one presenter put it

We’re only human

Here at Sparksheet we’ve been talking about the humanization of brands for years. At Dx3, this lesson related to everything from hospitality, to retail to Twitter.

In his social CRM session, Mitch Joel revealed how he once asked his favourite Toronto hotel for an extension cord so he could plug in his phone at night. They’ve had one waiting in his room at check-in every time since. Is it really so hard for hotel brands to keep track of their customers’ preferences?

Ultimately, the human element was what made this maiden event such a success. At its most basic level, Dx3 was all about getting people together for two days to meet, learn and do business face to face. It turns out digital is even more powerful in person.

Sparksheet Editor Dan Levy interviews Radian6 Marketing Director Jon McGinley

Sparksheet is Dx3 Canada’s official content partner. As part of our Sparksheet Events content services we launched a micro-magazine called the Dx3 Digest filled with original content about digital marketing, advertising and retail in Canada. Check it out at dx3.sparksheet.com