The 2018 ANA Masters of Marketing Conference closed on Saturday after four days of presentations, networking and entertainment. The event attracts close to 3,000 marketers from across North America to listen some of the world’s most influential CMOs and industry experts discuss the trends, challenges and successes of marketing.

The insight provided by the like of Marc Pritchard, CMO of P&G, Raj Subramaniam, CMO of FedEx, Elizabeth Rutledge, CMO of AmEx, Vineet Mehra, CMO of Ancestry.com and Jill Estorino, CMO of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts to name but five is beyond equal.

As with all conferences, a number of key themes shone through. The ANA headline for the conference was ‘Driving Growth’ – a sentiment that every marketer in the audience, indeed worldwide, absolutely would agree with. The simple fact however is that in the US, the declining profits of the Fortune 500 are a sad indictment on marketing as a profession. This statement has polarized the thinking of the ANA who, as a result, used the conference to launch five key tenets they say will help marketers end stagnant sales.

Through its CMO Growth Council which is chaired by P&G marketing supremo Marc Pritchard, the ANA believes there are five ways for brands to drive growth. These are: digital & technology, talent & development, customer centricity, brand experience & innovation and society & sustainability. And it was these broad areas that provided the ingredients for the presentations that together made the overall event so interesting.

As a self-confessed fan of evaluation and insight, it’s fascinating to hear from so many speakers of the importance of humanizing the plethora of data brands sit upon today. It’s long been said that data in and of itself is meaningless. It’s the ability of brands to humanize that data in order to identify actionable insights that gives it value. This point was reinforced by Deloitte Digital CMO, Alicia Hatch, who gave examples of how brands are using natural image processing to understand the emotions consumers experience when viewing an ad. IBM CMO, Michelle Peluso used examples of how IBM Watson sends alerts to marketing owners based on where it sees an opportunity to shift gears or direction in a specific campaign.  In short, the confluence of data and technology, in this case AI, is redefining the way brands are embracing the world of big data.

Talk like a human – and have a purpose

Humanizing was a much used term during the conference. The importance of humanizing the message and leaning into the consumer with emotive storylines was highlighted by many. Raj Subramaniam, CMO of FedEx and Vineet Mehra, CMO of Ancestry.com both used the stage to showcase how their brands have used the power of human storytelling as the very foundation for their brand campaigns. Subramaniam spoke about how FedEx moved the brand message away from how they deliver packages to the impact those packages have when they arrive on the doorstep. In the case of Ancestry.com, Mehra explained how by using actual customers, the brand was able to create highly authentic and emotive content to get across the impact of discovering family history that could then be told via earned media as well as creating their own broadcast content with a documentary series.

Brand purpose is another trend that dominated the discussions throughout the event. One of the most powerful sessions of the conference took place on Friday morning when, in a panel discussion outlining the CMO Growth Council’s five key initiatives, Marc Pritchard outlined how society and sustainability can be a driver for growth. Using data from research, Pritchard said that half of consumers take a more positive view of a company that takes a stand on an issue. This simple fact reinforces the importance of every company having a clear purpose – a statement that was backed up by eBay CMO Suzy Deering who used the experience of building trust in the eBay brand as an example of what can be done when a business is built with one principle in mind.

Pritchard went further. Using P&G’s own data, he said they found ads featuring women in gender equal roles perform significantly better, translating into 26 percent higher sales growth. The impact of creating gender and racial equality in the economy would, he stated, add $28 trillion to the global economy if gender equality was achieved and in the US, the economy would receive a $2 trillion boost if racial equality was achieved.

Embrace agility

Connecting with the consumer, understanding cultural forces and the need for innovation are all top of mind for CMOs. The ability to think and act quickly in marketing terms was a trend that shone through the proceedings. The Agile Methodology – which espouses the collaborative efforts of self-organizing and cross-functional teams – was highlighted as being a driver behind how several of the brands had redefined their business approach. Speed of approach and deployment was cited by several speakers as being a driver behind the trend for in-house agencies. Progressive.com, Verizon and Clorox all spoke of their experiences with their in-house resources. The trend is growing with the ANA reporting that 78 percent of marketers now having some form of in-house team, up from 58 percent five years ago.

Underpinning all of this was a conversation around risk. Progressive.com CMO, Jeff Charney highlighted this in an energetic opening speech where he challenged the audience to rate their risk profiles. His hypothesis is that by default, consumers rank low on the risk scale but that brands must be prepared to take risk in order to break through the clutter and noise. According to Charney, failure to do so would see marketing enter a climate of hibernation. He concluded by saying marketers must balance the right level of risk with the returns that shareholders demand in order to deliver not only marketing impact but business growth.

Think to the future

And finally, no review of the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference would be complete without a shameless plug for our own contribution to the proceedings. Hotwire sponsored the Saturday breakfast during which Laura Macdonald, SVP and head of Consumer North America talked the attendees through our Generation Alpha report. This fascinating insight into the next generation of consumers – those born after 2010 – truly gave the audience a flavour of what brands need to consider in terms of consumer behaviour, buying habits and the influence kids of today have on so many purchasing decisions.

The impact of spending three days in the company of the world’s leading CMOs cannot be underestimated. As a sales and marketing professional in a mid-size PR agency, the chance to listen directly to the challenges faced by this community is invaluable. What’s clear is that as part of the CMO eco-system, agencies like ours must lean into the trends and initiatives being promoted by the ANA and its members. Every voice, no matter how small can have its say and can influence the outcome that we are all focused on – and that is growth. Growth for our clients. Growth for our agency. And ultimately growth for our economies.

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