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Sep 21, 2020

Brandweek 2020: Digital, Authentic and Inclusive Are the Way Forward

Brandweek 2020 was unlike any that we’ve experienced in previous years. A fully virtual conference, marketers of all backgrounds, disciplines and industries were able to connect and share ideas that will undoubtedly shape the future of our industry.

This year was particularly important as it was one of the first major industry gatherings to go digital that brought both agencies and brands together to learn how to navigate an ever-changing consumer landscape.

Here are some of the most important learnings and how they can be applied to your brand:

The world changes quickly, brands must adapt with it

2020 has shown our industry that we cannot rely on annual plans. While we can still strategize for the long term, we need to evaluate and adjust in the short-term to adapt to the world as it changes. Nearly every marketer that spoke touched upon the fact that they had to completely scrap or significantly pivot the programs they planned in Q4 2019. Short-term plans and faster turnaround times for campaigns have become the industry standard. In a world where media and culture are “always-on,” marketers need to be agile enough to adapt to overnight changes in social, cultural and business norms.

Have a purpose; be authentic and empathetic

Agility is necessary today because consumers want to hear from their favorite brands, even in uncertain times. However, moving quickly will only hurt your brand if it does not have a defined purpose and its tone is not authentic and empathetic.

During their discussion, Frito-Lay VP of Marketing Sadira E. Furlow, Ally Financial Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Brimmer, and DoorDash Vice President of Marketing Kofi Amoo-Gottfried all emphasized the importance of showing up as a human and leading with generosity. This is more important than ever in today’s world, where many need to feel uplifted and need a little extra support.

Brands that are rooted in kindness and authenticity will be the ones to win long-term. How does this happen? Through the leadership of the marketing team or agency. Marketers today must be the leaders that lead the development of an official brand purpose, if one does not already exist. Agencies must counsel their clients on rooting campaigns in values like kindness, generosity and empathy.

Online communities are filling the consumer connection void, giving brands more ways to engage

2020 has accelerated the role that digital plays in our lives. With many confined to their homes or choosing to live locally, consumers are looking for connection. Digital communities that offer genuine connection provide a solution – the omnipresent manicured social presence of the 2010s is now causing disconnect. Channels that offer direct, genuine connection like Reddit are having their moment.

The platform saw a significant increase in users when the pandemic started. Sub-Reddit pages moderated by topical experts (the COVID page is moderated by epidemiologists), so there is a high level of trust and engagement among users. The channel is also a source of entertainment. Chief Operating Offier Jen Wong noted that those who came for information about how to stay safe at the start of the pandemic ended up staying for entertainment and connection. With a low barrier to entry for brand creative, Wong also pointed out that Reddit users welcome brands with an authentic message to the conversation.

Does your brand want to have an authentic, meaningful discussion with customers? Actively participating by creating a community, facilitating AMA discussions or commenting on relevant sub-Reddits will connect all that are passionate about your brand’s mission.

There is no room for error when it comes to diversity and inclusion or multicultural representation.

Diversity and inclusion was a part of nearly every Brandweek discussion, making it clear that there is no room for error with organization D&I practices and multicultural representation in marketing.

As with all marketing, diversity, inclusion and multicultural representation must be meaningful and authentic to the brand. DoorDash’s Kofi Amoo-Gottfried pointed out that companies need to do what they can with what they have. In an effort to lift up black entrepreneurs, DoorDash partnered with NBA players restarting the season in Orlando to highlight black-owned restaurants in their home team cities.

Another common thread among all conversations was that representation must be prevalent in the entire marketing supply chain – the industry overall needs to improve how it recruits and retains employees of color. P&G’s Marc Pritchard said, “true diversity and inclusion fosters innovation and problem solving because people are allowed to bring their whole selves to work.”

It’s important to know that while there is no room for error with diversity, inclusion and representation, everyone realizes that this might be new territory for some marketers. As Amoo-Gottfried said, this work will take a lifetime.

Remember: 2020 Still Counts

2020 should not be a year with an asterisk – as an industry, we have evolved. Now, we must push our industry to continue to be more agile, empathetic and progressive. The brand that weaves learnings from 2020 into its future strategy is the brand that will win in the hearts and minds of consumers in the future.