VentureBeat’s second annual Marketing.FWD Summit unfolded Mon., Feb. 22, in The Westin New York at Times Square. Leading marketers from household brands like Amazon, Target, Facebook, Dunkin’ Donuts and American Express all weighed in on their efforts to drive their industry-shaping organizations forward. As the day unfolded, presentations unveiled novel lines of thinking about workflow and data usage, while revealing some divides over strategy. Top takeaways from the event include:
1. Emotional connections are the pinnacle of engagement.
One clear finding recited time and time again at the conference is that emotional connections matter. A lot. Kevin Bishop, IBM’s vice president of customer engagement solutions, delivered a talk regarding insights from IBM’s recent Global C-suite Study which found two-thirds of respondents identifying the need for deeper, rich customer experiences as a top marketing priority. Kristi Argyilan, senior vice president of marketing at Target, backed that up with a real-world example: A live, four-minute Gwen Stefani music video that Target sponsored received more positive brand feedback than any other message concentrating on brand value. “What we’re seeing is the generosity of brands see huge spikes in sentiment,” Argyilan said. “The amount of emotional response we get is incredibly valuable to us.”
2. Consumer anthropology is the new frontier of harnessing the power of collected data.
It’s clear to any marketer with a pulse that enhanced types data collection are changing the profession. But there are limits to the usefulness of data, particularly when companies are at a loss to turn user info into relevant persuasive tactics. “The roadblock to data marketing is content. We say we do personalization by having a pair of shoes follow you around. That’s not personalization,” Argyilan said.
To overcome this, marketers, who arguably already occupy the most broadly-defined positions on org charts, must learn to wear another hat: anthropologist. This newly emerging specialty will be tasked with relevant uses for the most mundane details that consumers share with brands. An informative example: Vijay Subramanian, chief analytics officer and head of growth at Rent the Runway, talked about tweaking algorithms to market outfits to customers based not only on past purchases, but also on the probability of upcoming distinct events. In other words, Rent the Runway is able to market wedding attire to high-level targets who only previously rented prom outfits or cocktail dresses.
3. Brands engaging consumers via chat apps is the next big thing.
“The innovations of today are the expectations of tomorrow,” said Matt Valenti, vice president of guest experience intelligence at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. Valenti actually was one of the few presenters who didn’t talk about the emergence of texts as a marketing tool, but his message was tailor-made for what’s happening on that front. Brad Smallwood , vice president of measurement and insights at Facebook, revealed how real-time chat apps like WeChat, powered by chatbots, were already dominating marketing efforts in Asia, and were on their way to the U.S. These services, Smallwood said, function not a means of advertising, but rather as a utility that consumers can engage with to better harness brand promise for more meaningful experiences. Backing up Smallwood’s claims was VentureBeat CEO Matt Marshall, who said, “The chat is the new browser, and the chatbot is the new page for brands.”
4. Creative types need to be comfortable with numbers. Data specialists need to be comfortable with content.
The most frustrating pain point articulated by high-level marketers was the degree to which silos emerge between different departments. It’s not that VPs and CMOs expect all content and numbers personnel to be interchangeable. They see those type of “unicorns” for what they really are: non-existent. But what really irks marketing managers is the limiting self-labeling that employees engage in when they say they, “don’t do creative” or “aren’t a numbers person.” A holistic marketing strategy only works when the whole company understands the strategy and is technically familiar with another departments tasks in a back-of-the-envelope way. Time and time again, presenters spoke of the need for cross-channel collaboration as a pre-requisite to power the emotion-based initiatives.
5. The debate over the value of Super Bowl marketing won’t be resolved anytime soon.
Amazon’s Andy Donkin, head of worldwide brand and mass marketing, hyped the effectiveness of its Echo and Alexa Super Bowl campaign, which featured pre-, post- and live-event narratives and necessitated the creation of a game day “war room” of 20 people interacting in real-time with social media users. New GoDaddy CMO Phil Bienert, on the other hand, talked positively about his company’s decision to eschew Super Bowl advertising. “We were actually very pleased with what we were able to do with digital media targeting in lieu of the Super Bowl,” Bienert said. “GoDaddy’s customer acquisition metrics broke records despite forgoing Super Bowl ads.”
6. There’s an emerging awareness for a set of ethical guidelines around data collection.
Data is the lifeblood of the new marketing, so it was interesting to hear discussions about the pitfalls of data collection arise in different panels. Argyilan’s presentation alluded to Target’s 2014 data breach and took a question on the company’s revelation a teen’s pregnancy to her father in 2012. But despite the spotty appearance of these issues at the conference, much was left unresolved on the topic. Speaking later in conversation, VentureBeat industry analyst Jon Cifuentes said, “We need a whole conference on that.”