What we heard from brands at the ANA Digital & Social Media Conference

September 18, 2020

Looking back on the recent ANA’s Annual Digital and Social Media Conference in San Diego, I find myself reflecting on the conversations that we had a chance to observe and participate in. The ANA brings together leaders from across the industry, including marketers from leading global brands and technology partners to discuss the big opportunities. Particularly the opportunities on the horizon for marketers leveraging digital and social media channels to make their messages come to life. As a result, it’s the perfect environment to spend time engaging with brand marketers and learning about what’s top of mind for them. 

This year we heard very clearly that transparency, the desire to create relevant experiences, and the potential of new technology were all top of mind for marketers in attendance and so we wanted to share some of our key takeaways: 

Embracing relevance 

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that, at a conference of digital and social marketers, relevance was a hot topic. Kristi Argyilan, President of Target’s Roundel media offering summed up the sentiment in no uncertain terms, pointing out that every business failure has been precipitated by a loss of relevance. It’s a theme that cut across many of the conversations taking place both on-stage and off. The need to create relevant experiences, whether on the television screen, the mobile device, or the email inbox was pervasive. 

Target and Roundel Image from the ANA Conference.

“What every failure has in common is that it was preceded by a loss of relevance” –  Kristi Argyilan, President, Roundel

For many marketers, the path to relevance is personalization. The last year has seen many brands dramatically ramp up their ability to collect, understand, and act on customers data by creating personalized messages and experiences. Increased engagement is a signal that consumers appreciate the added personal touch, at Innovid we observed a 79% year-over-year increase in the use of data-driven video to bring personalized experiences to the screen. 

Artificial Intelligence and Optimization

Digital transformation remains a hot topic in all its forms, but this year’s conference-goers were particularly focused on the wide-ranging changes likely to be wrought by artificial intelligence. Given that focus Joanna O’Connell, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester took the stage to share some surprising statistics. While 62% of marketers said they’d gotten a start on their AI journey, just 42% of decision-makers described themselves as clear on how AI will support their business. 

Forrester’s research suggests that AI has already made it’s largest impact on media planning and forecasting, look-a-like modeling, media buying, and optimization performance measurement, and creative developing testing and optimization. While many of the functions currently being impacted by AI are more repetitive or labor-intensive, O’Connell suggests that the future of AI is at the intersection of “the mundane and the magical” creating personalized experiences in environments that feel uniquely human, like social media. Ultimately, there’s an overriding sense of optimism about the future of AI, as O’Connell points out, the future will not be one of man versus machine, but rather man and machine working together to improve results. Technology, O’Connell posits, remains a powerful tool in the marketer’s arsenal, even as machines grow smarter. 

Trust and transparency

Trust and transparency have been the undercurrent of much of the marketing industry dialogue for the last few years. Top of mind for attendees this year are ways to create transparency through reliable third-party measurement and how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the traditional walled gardens with new emerging channels like connected TV. 

Michael Tiffany, President and co-founder of fraud detection provider WhiteOps, urged marketers to remain vigilant, lest fraud tactics familiar from traditional digital media emerge in new mediums. He pointed to the example of spoofing, a tactic common to fraudsters targeting digital display advertising, which has now been adapted to connected TV environments. While fraud remains a challenge across channels, Tiffany called on marketers to adapt the lessons learned in previous eras of digital marketing to new mediums, utilizing independent measurement, fraud detection, and industry-wide cooperation to ensure that the opportunity of emerging channels like connected TV remain fraud-free. That’s one reason that Innovid has brought measurement and analytics to the forefront of our effort to explore and expand opportunity in the space. 

YML Panel from the ANA

“A customer is a person but with higher expectations.” – Stephen Clements, Chief Creative Officer, Y Media Labs

The enduring power of storytelling

At any gathering of marketers, the spotlight tends to shine brightest on new tools and old challenges. However, one consistent theme across conversation was the power of the oldest tool in the marketer’s arsenal; storytelling. Whether in a discussion on streamlining the content creation process, or panel on building brands through social, it’s clear that story in all its forms remains king for marketers looking to connect with consumers. New technologies may change how that story is delivered, or even reshape how the story is told through data, but ultimately the basic challenge and opportunity remain the same. 

The big picture

We chose to bring our Innovid Living Room to San Diego, to give the marketing leaders assembled there a chance to experience the connected future of television today. We know that marketers who have mastered the art of creating engaging messages for digital and social channels would intuitively grasp that huge opportunity represented by connected TV. 

Innovid ANA Living Room Set Up

We brought to life the interactive living room to give conference attendees a glimpse of the tremendous opportunity to reach connected households. 

Ultimately, three major themes cut across conversations regardless of their subject matter: 

  1. New technology, whether it be an exciting new channel like connected TV, a new tool like augmented reality, or a paradigm like the rise of artificial intelligence as an integrated part of the marketing function, can produce a myriad of opportunities for marketers savvy enough to see their potential.
  2. With those new opportunities will come new challenges many of which can be met with foresight. Marketers should avoid repeating the mistakes of the past but also keep solutions to those past challenges top of mind. 
  3. No matter the tool or channel, the fundamental challenge for marketers remains the same: Creating relevant experiences with customers at their center. New technologies can help to power these experiences in unexpected ways, but the creativity of the marketer and the needs of the customer are the critical pieces of the puzzle