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OCTOBER 11, 2018 //     

Data, storytelling and consumers in the boardroom: Key takeaways from Advertising Week 2018

By: Sara Stephens


New York City’s Upper West Side boomed with advertising, marketing and creative leaders from around the world attending 2018’s Advertising Week New York. This year, #AWNEWYORK held thoughtful conversations on the past, present and future of today’s global industries. Over the course of the week, I attended sessions that ranged in topics from digital fluency across generations to machine learning and creativity, to blockchain’s role in preventing advertising fraud to the changing role of the CMO. I walked away with the following key learnings:

Measurement will drive the ‘future of’ everything

With ad campaign life cycles as short as a few days, data now drives impact and makes compelling campaigns scalable. All of the panels I watched discussed measurement in some way, shape or form. Whether it was measuring sales as a result of an integrated campaign, A/B testing an ad or conducting surveys on consumer attitudes, measurement tools and capabilities are must-haves for all marketers’ toolboxes.

While data-driven decision making is not a new concept, one of the more interesting perspectives on measurement was the idea that if we over index on data, we may lose creativity in the process. For example, will we no longer listen to our marketing “guts” that have made successful campaigns in the past? Will robots take our jobs? Thankfully, the answer to each question is no.

On one particularly interesting panel, “How Machine Learning Can be Used for Creativity,” executives from Amazon Web Services, VidMob and IHG discussed how leveraging AI will give creatives “more time to think.” Ultimately, advertising is still about delivering the right message to a target audience. And right now, humans still need to craft the messages. But we can use machine learning in various forms to analyze, optimize and unlock new ways to use data. 

 Empathy is critical to storytelling today

Analyzing data and storytelling are important capabilities, but marketers also need to apply empathy to derive purpose through data and stories. Nearly half the sessions referenced the wild success of Nike’s recent Colin Kaepernick ad. The data most likely would have told Nike to shy away from this. But one reason for the campaign’s success is that it told an authentic story relevant to the brand’s purpose.

The Female Quotient hosted The Girls’ Lounge and Men of Action Summit, where Gillette and Venus North America Director Pankaj Bhalla described bringing empathy to Gillette’s famous tagline: “The Best a Man Can Get.” He also discussed how his marketing team evolved it to fit the varying definition of a man in 2018.

Northwestern Mutual Chief Marketing Officer Aditi Javeri Gokhale noted a gap in the lack of financial advertisements targeted at women and saw an opportunity to target this critical market in a way that resonates with them.

It’s about asking – what do you stand for in addition to what you sell? How do you bring this purpose to life so you resonate with your consumers in an authentic way? While we use data to drive decisions, there is still a lot of room in marketing for thought leadership and standing for a purpose. And importantly, buyers look for this from brands when making their purchasing decisions.

CMOs are the bridge between buyers and the boardroom

CMOs are influencing their C-Suite counterparts through the consumer perspective by being the customers’ voice in the boardroom. Thanks to the wealth of available data, marketing is no longer just about brand awareness. CMOs and their teams understand the end-to-end customer experience better than anyone.

As a result, the CMO role has evolved into that of a general manager – a person who can work collaboratively with chief technology officers to leverage new technology, chief financial officers to prove marketing dollars are driving revenue and CEOs to establish and help align with brand purpose and be a thought leader. By bringing in the end buyers and their needs, desires and wants into the boardroom, the CMO can help drive meaningful change – and revenue – for their organizations.

As marketers, how can we adapt to these changing times? First and foremost, we need to be curious. Take a class, engage with a mentor who has taken a different path and get ahead of the curve by understanding new tools and capabilities available to use. There is no right way forward, but we certainly do not have the luxury of guessing what customers want and creating tone-deaf ads. We now have the data to help us fuel decisions. It’s an exciting time to work and learn in this space, and I look forward to applying data and storytelling to communicate a brand’s purpose.

Sara Stephens is an account director in Allison+Partners corporate practice.

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