Purpose and diversity: the ANA Masters of Marketing 2021

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In October, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the US advertising industry’s largest trade association, held their Masters of Marketing conference in Orlando, Florida, welcoming both in-person and virtual attendees for the first time since 2019. Deyon Brown, ECI Media Management’s Digital Consultant, North America, was on location, connecting with fellow marketers and stakeholders and listening to industry leaders share their perspectives and experiences from marketing during the pandemic and discuss their visions and business priorities in a post-pandemic economy. 

When Deyon got home, we sat down with her (in a metaverse dimension!) and asked her to share her insights, experiences and learnings. 

What was it like to be at an in-person event after all this time?

It was beautiful, I loved it! It was more intimate than it would normally have been due to many people not being able to travel because of covid restrictions, so it allowed me to meet people more naturally and organically. I loved the more intimate size. It felt good to be around people again – of course, we were all taking covid precautions, but it was amazing to have conversations that weren’t just about work, like Zoom calls often are. We talked about everything! 

What were attendees talking about?

spoke with several agency CEOs about the great resignation and whether it was affecting their companies. It does seem to be an issue that is affecting the industry at large, with staff going to other industries or even to competitors. The pandemic has given people time to reassess what’s important to them in their work. Turnover in this industry is high – it’s a demanding industry, and people can feel overwhelmed – and if they do leave, it’s difficult to just replace them, because the talent pool is limited. Many agency CEOs and senior leadership teams are therefore looking for ways to keep their people happy and keep employee retention high. 

The theme of the event itself was ‘a force for good, a force for growth’, with speakers exploring purpose in marketing and how contributes to company growth. Did that sit well in the wake of a pandemic? Did it resonate with audiences, and feel relevant? What elements of that were picked up in the talks you attended? 

There was a lot of focus on DE&I (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). Following the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 there was a real reckoning in the United States, and indeed across the world. It was a tragedy, but a lot of good came of it. At the Masters, there was a recognition that we need to look at DE&I in all our businesses – it can’t just be a niche. It needs to be incorporated into our everyday living and working.  

The conference featured several speakers who spoke about DE&I in an interesting and engaging way; however, I didn’t see many implemented solutions – I really wanted to see how brands have followed through with their DE&I strategies both in-house and with their customers. It’s important to talk about and recognize the importance of DE&I, and I’m glad that we are as an industry, but I would love to hear more about how they are incorporating it into their business and marketing strategies. Of course, speakers only had 45 minutes, and there has been a lot going on in the last year with the pandemic and the societal reckoning around race and inclusion, so it has been challenging to implement significant changes. Next year, I hope we will hear many more examples of how DE&I has been successfully incorporated into every level of a company’s vision and strategy – and results too.  

Another thing I’d love to hear more about is how brands are working with minority-owned media agencies – not because they are minority-owned, but because they do brilliant work and have so much to offer to enhance a brand’s relationships with its consumers.  

What were some of the most interesting things you learned at the ANA Masters of Marketing?

There were some really interesting conversations around flexible working. It’s well-known that the tech industry has adapted flexible ways of working, offering their workers the option to do what works best for them, with more boundaries between professional and personal lives. The media and advertising industries – which obviously work closely with the tech sector – seem to be following suit. As we’ve talked about above, this can be a hard industry to work in, and burnout is a real issue, so it’s great that they want to help their employees find a balance that means they can deliver results at work without sacrificing their personal lives tooSo if you need to go to your kid’s soccer match or a medical appointment, you can do that and return to work later. Some industries are pushing their employees to come back to the office full time, so it’s great to see that the ad industry is, on the whole, open to a more flexible work model. And it will, perhapslessen the “great resignation” we spoke of earlier.  

What was your highlight of the week?

Deloitte’s CMO Suzanne Kounkel spoke about her company’s Chief Purpose Officer, a new role the company created because they wanted someone who would oversee how the company’s purpose was being interpreted by employees. I think this is such a great idea – employees will always feel more engaged and valued if they understand the importance of their work to the organization and how they are contributing to the organization’s mission, vision, values and growth. It’s even more crucial for large companies with thousands of employees, as it can be difficult to understand how you fit into the bigger picture. 

Another highlight was hearing CMOs such as Kohl’s Greg Revelle and Lowe’s Marisa Thalberg speak about how their bricks and mortar stores have become a key part of their marketing strategies. Thanks to the pandemic, the whole world has spent much of the last 18 months sitting at home, shopping online. These brands want you to get off the internet and go to their stores, so they have focused on making the experience fun and engaging. There are product demonstrations that invite customer participation and special seasonal in-store giveaways. Kohl’s has even partnered with Sephora in creating a dedicated beauty space, making in-store shopping more enticing for the likes of me!  

I think this is a creative, counter-intuitive way of thinking in light of the pandemic and retail headwinds. More and more people are doing an increasing amount of their purchasing online, but instead of investing in their online experiences, these brands are thinking differently and making their physical stores a destination for engaging, immersive experiences, in order to drive higher foot traffic.  

What would you like to see at next year’s ANA Masters of Marketing?

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I’m excited to hear stories of how brands have successfully integrated DE&I into the heart of their business and marketing strategies. But I also want to be wowed by the future. All marketers know that Baby Boomers and Generation X have the biggest spending power right now. But that won’t always be the case – Millennials (Generation Y) and even Generation Z are growing up and earning more money. How are we going to target them? What are the marketing strategies of the future that will engage them and drive brand loyalty? That’s what I want to see at the Masters of Marketing next year. For me, going to a conference like this should be like going to the World Fairs of the early 20th century – I want to see into the future! What is the future of marketing and targeting? How much more involved will social media and influencers be? What is the next big thing? I’ve been reading a lot about the metaverse recently and it’s so exciting – how are marketers going to incorporate technology advancements into their strategies? I want to know where my flying car is, and what the marketing strategy for it will be!  I understand marketers are often focused on the here and now, but it’s never too early to consider the future. 

Header image: ESB Professional / Shutterstock

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