ANA Digital and Social Media Conference Debrief

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Last week, Flock attended the ANA Digital and Social Media conference in San Diego, California. It was the largest edition of the conference since its start about 10 years ago. Some of the attendees who have been going since the very first edition talked about how this year’s conference was not only the largest in size (over 600 attendees) but was also the strongest in terms of the seniority of attendees and speakers.

Flock learned a lot, and here are our key observations:

  1. Transparency is still a big issue

The ANA “celebrated” the one-year anniversary of the Media Transparency Report, released in July of 2016. In it, there was significant proof regarding the big four media agency holding companies, and some of the smaller players, making significant amounts of money by inserting multiple layers of “taxes” levied for all kinds of services related to digital media placement. There was also ample proof of media agency holding companies buying digital media through dark pools (i.e. undisclosed placement and pricing), arbitrage (kind of the same, but essentially this is agencies buying space and reselling it at their own prices without disclosure) and other strategies which are highly profitable to the agency, and not in the interest of the advertisers.

The ANA worked with a third party to try and find out what the percentages are that disappear for each advertising dollar spent. They enlisted the help of their members, but in the end were only able to deliver a very limited view as almost all members discovered that their agency contracts specifically forbid them to share any kind of transparency around data to third parties. So even if the advertisers now want some level of transparency, their own contracts with their own agencies are blocking them from doing so.

Bob Liodice, CEO of the ANA, urged its members to please change their contracts urgently. Flock very much agree and we have helped a number of our clients already with bringing their contracts up to date for today’s murky digital media environment. It is, after all, the advertisers money that the agency holding companies are using to make money for themselves.

You can download a copy of the report and its recommendations here for free.

  1. Data, data, and more data… but what about actionable insights

This was probably the most frequently used theme used in presentations from advertisers. We heard from airline Southwest, clothing retailer Lane Bryant, Allstate Insurance, Amazon challenger Jet.Com (owned by Walmart), Marriott Hotels, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola and all showed how they are beginning to use real time data to figure out not only where and when to say something, but also what to say.

The challenge is not so much the lack of data, although many advertisers shared that mapping what data they have is sometimes a challenge as well (it often sits in many different parts of the organization, not just in marketing). But once they have the data map, and have a tool/tech solution in place that can crunch and structure the data, the next biggest challenge is to figure out what it actually tells you. And here all advertisers talked about having to retrain or recruit a new and different kind of insights team. In the olden days, marketing insights focused mostly on sales data (like Nielsen) and consumer research data (i.e. copy testing, brand equity, etc.). And while these are still important, the number of data sources and the types of data has exploded along with the explosion of the marketing landscape and eco-system. And this means that an insights person today needs to be more of an analyst rather than a number cruncher. The focus is firmly on “what does the data tell me”.

The marketers mentioned above all showed how analytics led them to using different platforms, different forms of story-telling, different forms of measurement for success, etc. Here are two links to cases that were presented:

Lane Bryant’s CMO Brian Beitler talks about their campaign (from an earlier ANA meeting; same content), and here he talks about how Lane Bryant keeps pushing its body positive campaign through advertising online.

Allstate’s character “Mayhem” finds people who posted through social media that they are not at home, then breaks into their home and starts an online auction selling their stuff. Hard to believe? They really did!

Flock has worked with a number of clients on creating bespoke content and distribution models, including pitches, contracts, outsourcing of production, etc. Feel free to ask for some case histories.

  1. Branded content is king

We noticed (and you can see in the examples above) that advertising needs more and more content across more and more platforms. Flock noticed two trends in this space:

  1. Who creates all this content? Traditional agencies are mostly not set up to do this, i.e. lots of content with very short turn-around times and a dynamic development process (a lot of content is created “in the moment” of something happening, or reading the data and responding). The other reason traditional agencies are not set up for this is that their cost tends to be prohibitive for advertisers to scale the amount of content needed. Many marketers have begun to create in-house production units, where others have found smaller and more nimble external producers to create and push out the content needed. Flock has worked with clients to find solutions for both. It is not so much that one is better than the other – it all depends on how the client is set up and what resources (people and cost) you have available. We will gladly show you what we’ve done.
  2. The role of the influencer is decreasing. Many advertisers have made product available to influencers, and sometimes even paid them, to just get the product featured in the influencers’ social media stream. But that seems to have reached its peak, and advertisers have learned that while this can sometimes be helpful, it usually does more for the status of the influencer rather than the brand. Advertisers are now more interested in aligning themselves with causes, platforms or events that have a logical link to the brand platform or target audience. This again is where data is used to discover what people care about, talk about, share about, etc. Flock has told its clients that when you are considering building a content factory, you first need to build a listening factory. We will be happy to share how we have helped other clients do this.

These were the most important areas that came out of the conference, but there was so much more. Feel free to ask us for feedback or input. We are always happy to share! And you can download most presentations from the ANA website here.

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