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What’s on CMOs’ Minds; Takeaways from ANA Masters of Marketing

Last week, I attended the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing conference for the first time. The four-day event, which drew 3,000 people to Orlando, was, to be honest, a bit of a blur. There were just so many presentations to see, people to meet, problems to solve and opinions to dissect. There was a lot of attention and agreement on certain themes and rightfully so. These included the need for diversity on all fronts, especially diversity of thinking, building brands with purpose, and forging more emotional bonds with consumers. But certain other topics were a bit less settled, and more open to differing interpretations. Here’s a closer look at a few of those topics that really stuck with me.

Need for Speed

It’s not news that marketers are under increasing pressure to move faster, especially in retail. According to Target CMDO Rick Gomez, the biggest risk is moving too slow, but the key is to balance when to be intentional and when to be fast. Be intentional with big branding initiatives and getting the insights and creative platform right. But be quick to pivot if conditions change or things aren’t working. When it was clear their newly launched rewards program wasn’t working, Target admitted the mistake and delivered a new one in nine weeks that was more about building community and relationships (more on brand), not just share of wallet.

What’s a Brand Anyway?

Brands are clearly no longer just about what you say. This sentiment was echoed repeatedly in presentations and conversations. Some of the best creative examples weren’t emotional anthems or brand manifestos; they were actions and experiences. Ally’s “Banksgiving” and Buffalo Wild Wings’ “Jewel Stool” were two prime examples. I don’t recall exactly who said it, but this quote summed it up nicely: “Brands are nothing but reputations. Reputations are not built by what you say they are, but by how often you do what you do.”

Data vs. Insights

Data is driving more and more marketing decisions, as it should. But that doesn’t mean it’s the answer to everything. It was refreshing to hear some of the most forward-thinking marketers discuss the limitations of data. “Data isn’t an insight. Insight is deeper than facts or trends. If your competition knows, it’s not an insight. Others referred to “data-inspired insights.” “Data can be used as a crutch. We have a strong belief that unless you're 100% sure you have the right data and are interpreting it the right way, data can lead you in the wrong directions,” said Mike Messersmith of Oatly.

Personalization vs. Privacy

Looming over the personalization trend are the complications of gathering consumer targeting data amid increasing privacy concerns. Personalization is great, but there’s a point where it starts getting creepy. “The question for all of us is in this new world of personalization and privacy is how do we do more with less data,” said Kirk Perry, Google’s president for global client and agency solutions. “The next 10 years are going to be about personal relationships, and first-party data is core to that relationship building.”

Recession Fears

What a recession would mean to client budgets is in the back of everyone’s mind and quickly moving closer to the front. Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and public relations officer at Ally, said “While the economy is strong, push it as far as you possibly can and then make the proper adjustments.” (Sounds like she’d make a great client.) Obviously, marketers should be ready to change their messaging should a downturn hit, but they should avoid slashing marketing budgets as that only dilutes the investments you’ve already made and makes it harder to rebuild when things inevitably return to normal. Here’s hoping that recession doesn’t hit before next year’s conference, because I’m looking forward to it already.