Event Recap: The 2013 Annual Ad Agency Panel

B.C. marketers left the BCAMA lunch sated.

The trends and predictions from B.C.’s top marketing minds.

As often happens, the best part of the January 31st Breakfast Speaker Series (BSS) Annual Ad Agency Panel was at the end, when things got really ambitious. Not to give too much away, but it revolved around the idea of “not communications partners, but business partners” and “the West Coast marketing culture” rolling across the country to other major marketing cities. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The Annual Ad Agency Panel was about the future of marketing and about predictions and trends to watch out for in 2013. Four of B.C.’s major agencies and their thought leaders were brave enough and kind enough to go out on a limb and try to predict what’s going to be in store over the next year or so. Bringing together this quality of speakers—four of Vancouver’s heaviest hitters, influencers and business leaders—meant that the joint was packed. And the audience was appreciative.

There was a lot offered during the 90-minute presentation. So, rather than give a verbatim account, I’m going to provide a more impressionistic account.

We Need More “Frontal Nudity”
First up was Lance Saunders of DDB, who quite rightly provided disclaimers about how poor humans were at predicting. That said, Lance took a huge risk by stating that families would not be naming their newborn sons “Lance” in 2013. Whew, got that over with.

That’s Lance’s message. (Translation of “frontal nudity”: transparency.) As there has been a serious loss of trust between people andinstitutions, brands, businesses, the strategy to look for is the “frontal nudity”, or transparent, one. Mcdonald’s has long suffered a decrease in market and mind share, but they have started engaging with honest storytelling, as in Why doesn’t my Big Mac look like… (successful communication), versus Coca-Cola’s Coming Together obesity ad (not so successful).

Big data: good or evil?
Both, actually. We have Google able to predict, through search and purchase decisions, where the current flu epidemic is going geographically better than the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. And share that information. But then there’s Target, who data mines right into the centre of a family crisis by targeting messages to the16-year-old daughter (pregnant teenage girl—true story). So, we have a thoughtful, benign use of data, and then we have the Orwellian Big Brother use of data. Both exist, so watch out.

Lance also said to be inclusive. Listen to your interns.Don’t be intrusive. And give people a choice; otherwise, they will switch you and your communication off.

Lance’s bottom line? The market has changed, society is always changing, but humans don’t. We still are connected by universal values. We just have to keep these in mind, and be active. Less watching, more doing. Understand the nature of need.

Trends – Too Many of Them
Next was Ute Preusse of Cossette. who said the following:
We cannot control all of these trends. But we can control our brands.

As marketers, we end up being deeply confused, as the influx of information is anywhere, anytime. But people are still seeking something and someone to believe in. So we have to ask ourselves “Why do we exist as marketers?”

People buy a “why,” not “what,” which led Ute to suggest that we have to find purpose. And purpose transcends positioning.
Why would we buy a toaster from Apple? Because we believe in the Apple purpose. In contrast, would we buy a toaster from Dell? Not somuch.

So, what is emerging in the market?
· Brand purpose (Audi)
· Retail is everywhere (Tesco)
· Peer-to-peer example (Air BNB)
· Transparency (enough said)
· Private in public (e.g., Orange Wi-Fi-free zones)
· Alpha boomers (they’re just like everyone else, except richer)
· Big data plus and predictive personalization (British Airways can tell business from pleasure travellers without being specifically informed and adjusts service levels accordingly.)

In the end, look inward before you communicate outward. And think ”why” before you think “what”.

Ute’s final prediction: no one will be able
to escape the new Royal Baby.
It’s chaos out there: a chaos of trends.
Lance Neale of Station X:
To get results, today’s marketers need to be many different things. Consider the following personas and try to be all of them, if you can:
· Strategic thinkers
· Data analysts
· Brand gurus
· Communication experts
· Media owners
· Tech geeks
· Journalists
· Scientists
· Etc.
Yikes, can we do all that? Do we have the skills and passions to function in all of these roles? Some of them? (At this point, Lance advised us all not to forget to breathe.)

There are five imperatives for the current environment:
1. Place your bets (focus on what works, conduct diligence and build foundation)
2. Define brand essence and voice
3. Content is king—quality storytelling and journalism rule
4. Data is the marketing opportunity of this generation (Brand Y + Data X = Conversion)
5. Modernize your organizational structure. People like working with people who are not like themselves. For example, data people and creatives form a great team. And remember to delegate—you can’t do it all.

Another key message was people: Empower them. Listen to interns. Give them responsibilities.
Lance’s conclusion? “Every day is a great day to be a marketer!”

It’s a Bazaar Out There.
A recent visit to an ancient bazaar in Morocco gave Alvin Wassermann of Wassermann + Partners new insight into what’s happening in 2013.

His question: “Where do trends come from?”; his answer: “From really ancient practices”. For example: visuals rule, everyone is special (“For you, my friend, anything”), and connections matter.
The idea was that it’s as simple as that. But of course, it’s not simple at all!
What marketers need to survive:
Marketers also need a sense of discovery. They have to discover what is secret. If you have a secret, you have a story. And if you have a story, then the story will bring you though to the sale.

To me, a key aspect of Alvin’s talk was the concept and reality of thinking, doing and buying locally. We all know that consumer spending drives the economy. Alvin’s example – the Vancity Good Money Mob ad that starts with “Does your dollar really make a difference? Can buying local effect change in your community?” – talks about buying locally, which means strong local businesses and a stronger community – and greater wealth at the grassroots level. The bazaar isn’t just in Morocco; it’s in your neighbourhood too.

And, by the way, there is only one screen; the one you’re looking at.

Overall Conclusions
To say that marketing is broken would be taking things a bit too far. However, to say that marketing is in a transition away from the old playbook of past decades is pretty close to the truth. The four speakers stressed that new realities dominate.
Above all, it seems, the old paradigm of marketing being the communications department for brands is increasingly less and less viable. The budgets just aren’t there. Consumers won’t be “spoken at” any more.

The new paradigm is something like “marketer as strategic partner.” Marketers are increasingly tasked to solve and resolve business problems. So the approach to the client would be “We embed with you because we have to understand how your business works, where business solutions can beprovided – or not – and help build not just your brand but your company too”. This means that, unlike the stereotypical ‘ad man’, marketers have to bring new skills, perspectives and passions to the table.

The other insight that got my attention was the notion(reality?) of the West Coast marketing culture or style. This has to do with the idea that humans are not just here to get and to spend, but also to live, and to participate in the community and society in every possible way. Examples of the West Coast style were (no surprise) Lululemon (which has ramped the private/public concepts of marketing), Yyoga and the ubiquitous Vancity.

It was suggested that, although this style is unique to the West Coast, it may be gaining traction in other centres. “It’s starting to roll across the country.” Another example of local boosterism? Time will tell. And good luck with that.

Parting Shots
I gleaned the following tidbits during the lively Q&A that followed the presentations:
·       Alvin Wasserman: Make sure marketing is part of your DNA
·       Lance Saunders: Use the technology, both digital and social
·       Lance Neale: Develop corporate responsibility; brand with that as your core value
·       Ute Preusse: If you have nothing to hide, then talk about it

What’s next for BCAMA? On February 20th, at Succeeding When Marketing Formulas Fail (the next Evening Speaker Series event), the Central 1 Credit Union marketing team will talk about surviving an industry shift and coming out stronger. And the next Breakfast Speaker Series event, on branding, will be held in mid-April. For both events, watch the BCAMA website for more details and make sure you get your ticket early!


Bruce Nickson is involved in marketing and selling custom technology across medical, industrial and automotive verticals. He once had the title of Executive Director.