3 Lessons Learned as a First-Timer at ANA Masters of Marketing

The key is to be real and human with consumers

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I was a first-timer to the ANA Masters of Marketing conference and my first impression was simply one of scale: 3,000 delegates, reflecting the size and significance of the U.S. market. Having two ears fully tuned to the uniqueness of that market and the needs of some of our most important U.S. clients was incredibly useful and productive.

The theme was very firm on driving growth—and we all know growth can be harder to find in a disrupted, technology-powered world—or at least found in different places, using different techniques. As a host of speakers talked about how they’re doing just that, three things stood out for me.

We are nothing if not culturally relevant

ANA CEO Bob Liodice opened the conference with a call to “expand growth by expanding your world view,” a rallying cry that spanned the entire event. He placed a strong emphasis on multicultural marketing as a growth driver, questioning why multicultural media investments only make up roughly 5% of marketing spend.

As marketers, we are nothing if our work isn’t seen as culturally relevant. We have to build our brands and deliver experiences around what our consumers—all of them—are telling us they really want.

The work shared by AB inBev’s Marcel Marcondes proved that relevance is key. He referenced the widely acclaimed Game of Thrones work from Bud Light and Budweiser’s inclusive, always-on grassroots support of the U.S. women’s soccer team. But the example that captured the importance of being culturally relevant best was perhaps Budweiser’s tribute to Dwyane Wade. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as we celebrated the man—not the basketball star—as a caring and inspiring human being.

Humanity is perhaps the operative word here. In the age of technology, the core principles of our work are more important than ever: We need to be real, and we need to produce work that instills an emotional response in the people we share it with.

We need to be real and we need to produce work that instills an emotional response in the people we share it with.

Customer-centricity is king

Another theme that rang true across many sessions was a relentless obsession over the consumer.

Target’s Rick Gomez explained how they were able to get their business back in exceptional shape with nine consecutive quarters of growth to prove it. The key success factor was a focus on core products and on customer-centricity, or what Target calls “guest-centricity.”

For Target, being guest-centric means providing great products that are accessible to everyone. It’s a long-term strategy with 20 years of “Design for All” underpinned by the philosophy that “design is about improving the life experience.” What I also loved about Rick’s talk was that he told us what didn’t work. He was humble and honest and—back to that word—simply human.

On the same topic, Jill Estorino from Disney was insightful about the need for both brand consistency and local nuance, which most global marketers grapple with. She talked of the Disney Resort expansion overseas and how the latest resort in Shanghai is “Distinctly Disney, but uniquely Chinese.”

While many marketers are shifting their focus, spend and attention to customer experience, for Disney, the brand and the experience are inexorably, magically interlinked. A resort in Shanghai might look and feel different to the one in California, but Disney will always be Disney. We should celebrate that uniqueness and trust that the product will be consistent no matter where you engage with it.

A super-energized Kirk Perry of Google addressed some of the challenges of customer-centricity and the contradictions we all now face, particularly the desire from consumers for both personalization and privacy. No easy solutions, but Google (and Facebook) deserve credit for listening and leaning into both the ANA and the 4As.

Purpose, humility and fun

Marc Pritchard showed us four new ways to reimagine what we do through constructive disruption. #LaundryNight for Tide, which blended or blurred advertising, entertainment, sports and content and played with the rules of what we expect on TV, was really fantastic work. And it was unique. Only here does the ritual of Sunday Night Football make sense, coupled with some amazing talent across the NBC network.

Marc speaks eloquently about making P&G “a force for good and a force for growth,” and there was much talk of purpose throughout the conference, along with fantastic examples of brands making a positive and tangible difference to its communities and the world around it.

At the same time, there was clarity, humility and a sense of lightness and fun about the role a brand truly plays in people’s lives.

I loved what Tony Weisman said about Dunkin’s purpose: “We refill optimism.” Simple. Clear. Positive. Who wouldn’t love that?