4 most important takeaways from ANA Masters of Marketing 2018

"Purpose-driven marketing isn't going away."

Last week, a record number of marketing executives descended on Orlando, Florida, for four days of learning at the Association of National Advertising’s annual "Masters of Marketing."

With nearly 3,000 people in attendance this year, it’s clear that within our industry, there is a palpable need for a sense of community and unity around new inspirations and ideas to help thrive in our massively disrupted marketing landscape.

Here are my biggest takeaways from the event:

Onstage and offstage conversations converged

Typically, the onstage and offstage conversations are vastly different, but this year it seemed that the ANA made a concerted effort to bridge this disconnect and better reflect all of the challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.

In particular, the second stage events -- many of which more overtly addressed the issues across our industry -- were packed and standing room only. This is a testament to the fact that we need more candid conversations and onstage examples of how to blend the old and new worlds of brand building and digitally-driven performance marketing in ways that work, inspire and instruct.

Purpose-driven brands are here to stay

Speakers and attendees alike spoke about marketing disruption driven by data, lack of growth, and shrinking budgets. Of course, there was also plenty of talk about regulation and privacy legislation, as well as the growing in-housing trend among brands and how that has impacted the agency landscape.

But what really came center stage this year was brand purpose. During his presentation Rajesh Subramaniam, executive VP/chief marketing and communications officer at FedEx said it best: "As marketers, we are just beginning to discover the power of unlocking purpose."

Being obsessively consumer-centric, delivering better experiences and attaining deeper engagement is incredibly important, but it is all for naught if your brand has no meaning. In a world where consumer expectations are now set by the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Uber, brands need to deliver fast, frictionless and personalized interactions with their consumers. All that said, brands won’t even be in consumers’ consideration mindset without becoming more purpose-led and rearticulating their core values.

During Advertising Week in New York last month, one stat was on display perhaps more than any other: that Americans feel greater loyalty to purpose-driven brands and are more likely to defend them. In today’s world, consumers want to know what a brand stands for. Clearly, purpose is not just a temporary trend, nor is it something that’s going to go away.

Marketing always has and always will be a people sport

The conversation about data and the plumbing of our industry has finally turned to what matters most: marketing is a people sport, enabled by tech, data and innovation.

Human beings are deeply emotional creatures who strive to live a better and more satisfying life every day. Marketing's role is to engage, delight and build relationships with real people at the correct point in time and in a way that matters most to their consumers.

I was delighted to hear what Lou Paskalis of Bank of America had to say during a presentation with Unilever’s Rob Master: "Stop optimizing the ad. Optimize the experience. You only have so many opportunities. First and foremost, make sure it’s in a brand-safe environment, but understand the mindset of the consumer."

Their conversation reflected an overarching theme of needing to deliver value to consumers. A reminder that in today’s world, consumers are no longer in service to us, we are in service to them. We need to rethink our approach to business growth by ensuring our customers are at the center of all that we do.

Brand + performance = winning

Last but not least is the need to blend the power of brand with the tools of performance. The false lines of division must finally be broken.

Inspirational stories from Ancestry.com, Kohls and American Express demonstrated that when a brand understands the role it plays in people’s lives -- and uses the breadth of tools and partners available to activate that role across every point of engagement -- everyone wins. The consumer, the brand and the business.

As our industry continues to grapple with everything from data challenges to new laws around consumer privacy, it’s important to remember that our collective purpose is to respond to and deliver what consumers want. In order to stay ahead of disruption and ensure our industry continues to grow and prosper, we as marketers need to speak candidly about the challenges we’re collectively facing and identify solutions together.

Further, we have to put people first. It’s the crux of our roles as marketers, and I’m glad this finally came through loud and clear at this year’s conference.

Anne Bologna is the chief engagement officer at iCrossing.

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