March began with the ANA Brand Masters conference in Scottsdale, AZ, where some of the world’s leading brands gathered to discuss their unique approaches to marketing, developing strategies that are highly effective and drive results.
ANA CEO Bob Liodice set the focus in his opening remarks: “What do you want to do with your brand?” he asked the audience, building an imperative for change and reinvention. “It’s the most important asset your company has. And we need to think about this intelligently, dynamically and with great purpose.” Those three points exemplify what’s top-of-mind for brand marketers today, as they confront a need to adapt at a time of hyperadoption, in which new consumer behaviors are adopted and dropped at an ever-quickening pace.
But transformation isn’t a simple task for many organizations to wrap their heads around, and ANA Brand Masters wasted no time in exploring how legacy brands—for whom transformation efforts can become highly complex—have adapted by translating consistent values into bold ideas.
Brad Hiranaga, Brand Marketer at General Mills, described how the 150-year-old business retains relevance with today’s audiences. His point that “If you’re going to get fired for an idea, it’s probably a good one” went over well with the audience, showing how important it is that brands be a bit gutsy in their approach to solving challenges—for example, Cheerios giving away free breakfast to the entire city of Buffalo, NY, or Totino’s doubling down on a 4/20 campaign that other, more conservative brands, might have found too risky. At the end of the day, what matters to the brand should be what matters to the audience, and General Mills seemed to have discovered a winning recipe for keeping up with its target.
Test and Learn to Deliver What Audiences Crave
So, how does a brand identify the best opportunity—or know whether an idea is effective? A couple speakers at the event discussed the strategies they use to identify customer needs and white spaces to fulfill. Lesya Lysyj, CMO at The Boston Beer Co., went in-depth on how the beermaker uses an agile practice to quickly zero in and iterate upon new ideas, translating learnings into growth opportunities.
Get it out fast, even if it’s wrong.
Noticing overwhelming sameness across the beer category, The Boston Beer Co. wanted to differentiate in a significant way. They developed a new beverage tailored toward women, only to discover that more men made up the audience than originally anticipated. Rather than scrap the product for failing to appeal to the target in mind, The Boston Beer Co. simply transformed its packaging to fit the new one. Lysyj summarizes this approach simply: “Get it out fast, even if it’s wrong,” she said. Then, iterate it based on feedback and new insights.
Using this strategy, Lysyj says that brands of any size can become challengers in their own right. Firewood Marketing, which merged with MediaMonks last year, uses a similar process called “progressive branding.” “In today’s market, where technology moves marketing at a rapid pace, innovation comes from our ability to invent and try on the go,” says Marco Ianucci, Senior Director, Strategy at Firewood. “The conversation with consumers is two-way, and marketers no longer own their message outright.” A focus on data is crucial for iterating on this process: “It’s less about ‘nailing the idea the first time’ and more about ‘here’s how we think a few options may resonate,’ and then use performance metrics to guide,” says Ianucci.
Drive Emotional Connection by Recognizing Consumer Insights
Lysyj wasn’t the only one who had something to say about insights-driven marketing. In her talk, “Brand with Iconic Roots Driving Future Growth,” Kim Yates, VP of New Brand and Business Model Development at Russell Stover Chocolates, discussed how insight on the joy of gifting—or the emotional benefit that gifting provides for the giver as well as the receiver—became a foundation for driving emotionally resonant experiences.
It's less about 'nailing the idea the first time' and more about 'here's how we think a few options may resonate.'
Similarly, Dove’s Director of Masterbrand US Engagement Molly Kennedy mentioned how its award-winning and culturally significant “For Real Beauty” campaign—which aimed to help women feel more confident in their bodies—was inspired by a key societal insight: that only 2% of women around the globe call themselves beautiful.
For brands to truly connect with audiences, it’s critical that they recognize opportunities to put emotion into the code of the total brand experience. To this effect, Manos Spanos, SVP/CMO of Brand – Yogurt BU at Danone, called today’s consumers “chronically distracted” by an unprecedented volume of content clutter. How do brands cut through the noise? By recognizing that “People don’t need great ads, they need great storytelling,” Spanos says, a point that MediaMonks Founder Wesley ter Haar made in conversation with Adobe last year.
Automation and Authenticity Aren’t Mutually Exclusive
Ensuring efforts like those outlined above requires carefully weaving together data, automation and creativity. “Meaningful human interactions must coexist with marketing automation and digitization,” explained Vinoo Vijay, CMO of H&R Block, in discussing how critical the role of personalization is in inspiring confidence for consumers during tax season and beyond.
Meaningful human interactions must coexist with marketing automation and digitization.
Later in the conference, Ann Rubin, VP Corporate Marketing at IBM, discussed the role that purpose plays in establishing a leading brand—and that it’s important to not only listen to data, but your customers as well. This approach helped the company break down concerns and fears the public had about AI with its Watson technology. Since then, the brand has made an excellent commitment to telling authentic stories about its impact on the world, an example being their feature-length documentary “Code & Response,” which MediaMonks helped produce last year.
Focused mostly on transformation, relevance and emotion, the running theme at this year’s ANA Brand Masters conference may as well be simply listening more to your consumers, whether that be through active research, data optimization or adopting a more human-centric approach to product and experience design. By making a commitment to better recognize and react to consumers’ shifting needs, brands position themselves to remain relevant into the future—and the brands on stage at ANA Brand Masters are a testament to that.
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