Advertising Week 2017 Speakers Take a Bird’s Eye View on Data

Eric Suliga, Creative Director

Every September when Advertising Week rolls around, we do our best to catch all the great conversations, research and insights that bubble up during the week. It’s a great time for those of us in marketing and advertising to keep up with what’s going on in the industry.

However, one theme, in particular, caught our attention this year. It was summed up nicely by Maya Draisin, the CMO of WIRED and returning moderator of the annual “Wired CMOs” panel. Midway through the session, she pointed out that last year’s conversation was all about data, while this year’s shifted to following the consumer--and using data as a tool to do so effectively.

Did you catch what she did there? It’s a subtle shift but an oh-so-important one for marketers. And what a breath of fresh air after hearing so many speakers over the years focus on “Big Data” as the opportunity, in and of itself.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re as much a fan of data as the next marketer, but we do think our industry can get carried away with the numbers and forget that we’re really just talking about people and their behaviors. After all, the real brand benefit of data is that it allows us to make more informed, consumer-centric decisions about our marketing.

The power of data to humanize a brand experience was something we heard time and again during Advertising Week this year. When Maya asked Allie Kline, the CMO of Oath, what was currently on her mind as a marketing leader, she hardly skipped a beat before answering that “the consistent thing we see on each of our brands is the importance of the human behind them. I think about how we can bring that humanity to life.”

The Best Advertising Strikes an Emotional Chord

The topic of bringing humanity to life for a brand is not complete without mention of one of our favorite buzzwords: storytelling. In a panel titled, “Moving From Device-Centric Targeting to People-Based Messaging,” Bridget Davies, the VP of Advertising at eBay North America, reminded the audience that “the best advertising strikes an emotional chord.” And it’s data that gets us there: “The capability of reaching people has existed for some time, but it’s the advent of...AI and machine learning that enables us, as marketers, to deliver messaging that’s so super relevant it becomes personal for the consumer.”

Personal, relevant, human: these are words we use a lot to describe the “holy grail” of producing a brand message that not only captures attention but sticks in a consumer’s long-term memory. This can be particularly hard for brands trying to reach younger consumers, like Millennials or Generation Z, who are more prone to tuning out branded content altogether.

“All of our research on Millennials and Gen Z show that they are open to marketing messages; they are just adverse to bad ads,” said Chris Ficarra of Viacom in a panel titled, “Creating Content for Millennials. “That’s what gets them pissed and that’s why ad blockers have gotten picked up.” He went on to suggest that some of the ways to not create bad ads are to experiment with new forms of content, more visual formats, and--of course--to tell a story!

People Don’t Skip Experiences

Telling a data-driven brand story goes beyond integrating consumer insights into your media plans. It requires taking a bird’s eye view of the entire digital landscape and finding ways that data can help you be more relevant and contextual to the consumer. Another “Wired CMOs” panelist, Melissa Barnes, the Head of Global Brands at Twitter, explained, “We tend to focus on our own platform [most]. The reality is that good storytelling happens on all platforms and in all environments. As brands, how do you think about telling a connected story across platforms?” It’s an important question to ask ourselves, but her follow-up was even more striking: “People will skip ads, but they won’t skip experiences.”

As a publisher ourselves, we think a lot about how to create and harness experiences for our listeners and the brands looking to connect with them. For us, it all happens through the passion point of music. If you evaluate various consumer behaviors by time spent alone, listening to music tends to rank at the top on mobile and other consumer electronic devices, including the ever-popular smart speakers.

According to Susan Panico, our SVP of Strategic Solutions (and a panelist on “Moving from Device-Centric Targeting to People-Based Messages”), “Music listening gives us so many signals that can lead to greater contextual relevancy for more marketers. It’s more about the human performance of your ads--not just the ad performance.” Music can even act as a proxy for targeting, she explained, due to the data and insights that can be gleaned from someone’s music listening habits.

Data Isn’t About the Numbers, It’s About People

Indeed, data is one of the most powerful tools marketers have at their disposal today. Yet more marketers need to think of it as their best tactic for creating relatable brand experiences for their target audience. During the “Creating Content for Millennials” session, Rafi Mamalian, the Global Director of Content & Influencer Marketing at Undertone, summed this up nicely: “We’ve relied on standard ad units for so long and from the beginning they were very bad. But what we do have is great information on user behavior. Why aren’t we using that information to become better storytellers?”

Friends, the time has arrived to take a larger view of the role data plays in our marketing strategies.

Want to catch up on other amazing quotes from Advertising Week 2017? Take a look at our favorite picks on the topics of audio, music and experiences here.