4 Takeaways Ad Age Digital 2016

At this year’s Ad Age Digital Conference there were a number of common themes across panels about ad sales, content creation, social campaigns, the Internet of Things, and the role of agencies in an increasingly digital world. Again and again, panelists and attendees returned to these key points:

1. Iterate. Valerie Vargas, VP, Advertising and Marketing Communication at AT&T, presented a series of projects targeting younger audiences through social channels. In February, she launched AT&T Hello Lab, a year-long program of original interactive entertainment. The program features 10 original content creators who are building custom fan experiences, all connected by AT&T. In order to build up to the current format of this initiative, she and her partners took an approach that she aptly articulated as, “Try it. Nail it. Scale it.”

In 2012, she started explorations into original programming, influencer marketing, and social storytelling with Summer Break, a reality show built in real time; this was her ‘try it’ moment, where she tested the potential of bi-directional storytelling targeted to a younger audience. After the first season, her team tweaked the format and then tried it again. By season three, they were nailing it. In January her team launched Snapper Hero, a snapchat scripted series. I expect that after trying out Snapchat, we’ll see more iterations coming from AT&T that will lead to a scaled up use of the platform.

2. Understand Your Customers. Core to the development of the social influencer content projects from AT&T was a relentless focus on authenticity, which meant acting less like a brand and more like a consumer. Those of us who grew up working in digital are familiar with the need to focus on user needs over business goals; after all, if you satisfy your user/customer needs, you will by default satisfy your business goals. But a lot has changed in digital over the past twenty years—imagine that a mere 9 years ago we didn’t even have iPhones—and with increasing numbers of platforms combined with the always-on, mobile Internet, comes many more challenges for brands.

Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand officer for P&G, reminded us that “the opportunity to be creative is in infinite supply; how you get it is through understanding what people want.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your creative is if it isn’t grounded in delivering what customers want and need. As an example, Pritchard shared the work his team did for Always, which was centered around a campaign called, “Like a Girl.” The campaign took aim at emojis which feature men in various jobs but do not offer many female representations beyond dancing girls. Woman could request the kinds of emojis they’d like to have available and Always created them. The genius of the campaign was that it tapped into the popularity of emojis, but gave them a purpose that was tied to the pillars of the Always brand: empowerment and confidence.

3. Virtual Reality (VR) Is Here To Stay. From Carnival Cruise Lines to Samsung to Hollywood studios, VR was a hot topic at this year’s conference. As someone working on VR projects, it was clear to me that there are still a lot of unknowns about how to use it well, and what tactics will pay off in terms of bringing a brand experience to life. Marc Mathieu, CMO of Samsung, said that, “the beauty of VR is that it goes beyond the frame”; in reality it does much more than that by extending the frame and putting the user at the center. Samsung is clearly putting a lot of effort into bringing VR to a critical mass of people by giving away its Samsung Gear VR headsets with a purchase of their latest smartphones.

More remarkable, and potentially game-changing, is their upcoming release of a theGear 360, a consumer-grade 360 degree camera. Why is this such a big deal? Currently, VR has a  content problem. A lot of the content that is available is either focused on a niche market, not particularly well produced, or pure-play marketing. By allowing users to generate their own content, Samsung is creating a more meaningful role for VR in social channels. Facebook and YouTube support 360-degree video, but until the content catches up, those channels won’t have much of a purpose. It is possible that Samsung will open the gates with its new camera. I won’t be surprised to see Apple and Google jumping on this bandwagon soon.

4. Relevant, Contextual, Conversational, Valuable, Useful, Personalized. Not surprisingly, these six words came up again and again. In many ways, those of us who work in marketing and branding have been focused on these principles for a long time. But, the data and analytics that come with a digital ecosystem allow us an opportunity to go much deeper in providing the kind of valuable content that users want.

Peter Naylor, SVP of Sales at Hulu talked about the importance of providing ads which are relevant and valuable, partly by providing choice in advertising. John Collision, President and CEO of Stripe, talked about the importance of enabling mobile commerce in an age when more and more of us spend time browsing and purchasing online. He noted that those brands that make it easy to buy on mobile devices enjoy deeper relationships with their customers, because they are giving them something useful. Chris Malliwat, Head of Product Management for Warby Parker noted that they “speak in the voice and context of the platform,” instead of having one message blasted out to all channels and platforms. In other words, how you speak to your customers on Snapchat is different to how you do on Facebook. Ev Williams talked about how creating Medium was about allowing people to engage in the world more deeply by providing context around the content. And by rolling out Medium for Publishers, he is making a bet that the context of Medium will be valuable to brands.

To find out more about the Ad Age Digital Conference, check out the hashtag on Twitter or read the round up on their website. Maybe I’ll see you there next year!

This article originally appeared on Sullivan’s blog at http://sullivannyc.com/blog/4-takeaways-from-ad-age-digital-2016 

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