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Four days, 98,000 attendees and 1,216 speakers later…

Our team of digital media professionals, account managers, and creatives put together some high-level takeaways from talking, listening and networking with other marketers and thinkers.

Overall, Ad Week was a reminder of the importance of a long-term, strategic approach to building relationships with an audience. Whether it’s leading with a purpose, protecting privacy or taking a hard look at the full customer journey, brands and marketers are focusing on how they impact their target market over the long haul.

The reminder comes as the breadth of opportunity the digital age offers forces brands to be deliberate about how, where and why they engage in the global, seemingly-eternal, infinitely-accessible conversation. As one expert put it, “We are no longer in the age of digital marketing, we are marketing in a digital age.”

That isn’t to say there aren’t exciting, new opportunities. Gaming, for instance, seized the spotlight with esports revenue reaching $1 billion last year. But the unifying theme was how brands’ deepening relationship with customers impacts activism, trust, privacy, the customer experience and the future of marketing.

Brands Are Investing in Social Good

The discussion of social issues was inescapable. In many ways, this is not surprising: brands are seeing long-term benefits from voicing a conscientious purpose.

This is not a “big brand” trend. Brands of all sizes are taking a stance on social issues whether it is directly related to their products or supply chain or simply a major concern of their customers. The risk of boycotts or social media backlash is seen as shorter-term and outweighed by the longer-term benefits of attracting or keeping talent, engendering fierce loyalty from customers, and increased net trust scores.

Topics that received a lot of attention included toxic masculinity, mental health, election politics, cannabis products and cannabis marketing, and gender equality. But with that humanistic appeal comes a responsibility to act or risk undercutting the authenticity of the message.

The most successful brands are clear on their precise, unique reasons for jumping in beforehand, tailor their specific initiatives to their goals and are measuring outcomes.

Brands (and Governments) Are Getting Serious About Data

Momentum continues towards building or owning first party data and combining with second- and third-party data, especially from the walled-garden giants. The approach uncovers incredibly specific targeting opportunities that require equally sophisticated hyper-targeting strategies. It also creates complexities over who owns data (users, service providers, apps, etc.), and how or if that data is shared.

Two major issues loom – ad fraud and user privacy. I covered what brands need to know about ad fraud previously. The second issue stems from the fact that consumers are in the dark about their data. One session mined 287,000 opinions on mobile marketing.

Unsurprisingly, 78% of consumers do not read consent notices. That might be because it takes 18 minutes to read the average privacy policy. And even when consumers do take the time to read the notice, 52% don’t actually understand how their data will be used.

For the first time, government does not seem to be backing away from regulating the major tech giants. California will likely be the first state to pass legislation specifically dealing with digital privacy. It is likely that other states will follow, potentially reshaping how much control users legally have over their data.

Mobile Marketing is Maturing

A mature approach to mobile marketing is now a must for brands. It is a huge opportunity, but it demands a holistic approach. Mobile marketing should be used to establish digital touch points with consumers throughout their customer journey. That means brands need to ensure that the entire digital journey is efficient, effective and positive. And with more touch points, brands will need a more complete approach to measuring.

As a result, brands are seeing the need to integrate mobile-first marketing campaigns into wider efforts and break free from the silos and “funnels” characterizing previous efforts. It has resulted in roles specifically for the consumer journey such as the CJO (Customer Journey Officer).

Maturing mobile marketing also means that brands have moved past tailoring for the nuances of each platform, and instead focus on individual users. Hershey’s head of addressable media and technology, Vinny Rinaldi put it this way: “You can’t just take a TV ad and serve it on every platform… what we really need to start doing more of is taking our audience strategy and developing creative that aligns to every single different audience.”

Gaming Opportunities are Becoming Unmissable

Esports can be a polarizing topic ­– many marketers feel that it’s a completely foreign world or are outright incredulous that a marketing opportunity exists. But just in the U.S., gamers spend more than 50 million hours a day playing video games. Many players do not have a TV subscription and don’t watch other sports on a regular basis. Gaming is an opportunity to reach an engaged audience that may not be as accessible through other channels.

Brands should explore both sponsorships and media buys to reach gamers, or any sports audience. Approaching gaming using one or the other runs the risk of failing to create wide enough awareness of your sponsorship or misses the opportunity to identify with a passionate fan base.

Both opportunities have tremendous diversity. Media buys are generally mobile or OTT (Over-the-top) to tap into gaming consoles and live streaming platforms. Partnerships are even more diverse, ranging from players and teams to leagues, games, and platforms. Some of the best opportunities are partnerships with game titles that can allow brands to leverage intellectual property to drive awareness of the sponsorship.

Either way, esports represents a projected $1.5 billion market next year, a global audience of 385 million people. With OTT streaming of all types of media becoming the norm, it is hard to imagine esport marketing not establishing itself as a key strategy for many marketers.

Photo credit: AWNewYork/Shutterstock


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