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Marketers connect with humans to shape the future of their brands Marketers connect with humans to shape the future of their brands

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the WFA’s Global Marketing Week in Toronto (#GMWTO) and was confirmed in my thinking that marketers and brand owners face similar challenges as the insights industry. They are dependent on humans to shape and build the future of their brands. WFA President and CMO at RBS, David Wheldon put it very clearly in his state of the union for brands: “Put People First”. What that means is that brand marketing succeeds by building connections that fulfil enduring human needs. “Only through knowing what is of meaning and value to people will you truly find a way into their lives” he states rightfully. A statement that was clearly reflected in many of the presentations at the GMWTO conference.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: #Stateoftheunion for #brands: Put People First #GMWTO insit.es/2riHE0b by @dwheld via @CoolBrands cc @wfamarketers

According to Raja Rajamannar, CMO & CCO at MasterCard, the company realizes we live in an expectation economy where people are (1) better informed, (2) looking to be delighted (and not just to have their needs fulfilled) and (3) seeking to be constantly rewarded. With an abundance of content available today, people are seeking for uninterrupted experiences which brands are often cut out of. MasterCard seeks to cut through this by means of establishing human connections through storymaking (not telling) in its 9 passion points (e.g. sports, movies, music, culinary, philanthropy, travel, arts and culture, shopping and a sustainable environment). They created 4 platforms around Priceless Cities, Causes, Specials and Surprises. For the latter, they created over 600,000 surprises which according to Rajamannar “costs less than TV campaigns and generates bigger impact” – sic (without giving further detail).

Such attempts to stand out boils down to getting people’s attention. Marketing seems to be suffering from ADD as people’s attention spans are now shorter than that of a gold fish. Coca-Cola’s Ivan Pollard (SVP Strategic Marketing) stated that it may also be that (young) consumers’ processing power has gone up because the brain is better trained than ever to process the mass of stimuli around us. Whereas a brand like Coca-Cola was ubiquitously present in the ’50s, it is now about being present at the decisive moments – another way of saying the brand must be timely relevant.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: #Marketing seems to be suffering from #ADD insit.es/2riHE0b by @Niels_InSites via @CoolBrands #GMWTO cc @wfamarketers

For Vice’s Mark Adams (VP of Innovation), brands often play the role of the embarrassing drunken uncle due to the boardroom first communications model. The model linearly decides which product to talk about, in which media and slaps a creative execution on it to make people notice.

But it leads to reduced absurdity like in Burger King’s Facebook activation “Can you find the hidden chicken nugget? ‘LIKE’ when you find it”.

Burger King Facebook activation

The boardroom first (or is it bored-room? ;-)) model creates a lot of meaningless and expensive NONTENT. In fact, when you ask people to tell you what they are passionate about, they will almost never mention a brand spontaneously. Because people would not care if 74% of all brands would just disappear. Instead, we need to evolve to an audience first model and relate to people’s passions! Brands should create content which only they can make. As Byron Sharp would state it: we need to create distinct memory structures and then refresh them with reach and frequency at an efficient rate that keeps these top of mind. But the distinct memory structures are the key. Finding these content white spaces, however, can only be done by means of generating real empathy with audiences and truly understand them.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: The #boardroomfirst model creates of lot of #nontent insit.es/2riHE0b by @Niels_InSites via @CoolBrands #GMWTO #marketing cc @wfamarketers

The party was closed with the come-back marketing case of Barbie. Lisa McKnight (SVP & Global Brand General Manager at Mattel) explained how the brand went back to it is original purpose and insight of founder Ruth Handler when she invented Barbie. For girls, playing with a Barbie offered them a platform of imagination as “through the doll, a girl can be anything she wants to be”. After a long period of success, the brand came to a hold as it was hardly considered a role model and no longer served its purpose. Mattel’s mission was to change the way the world perceives and talks about Barbie and their brand management undertook 3 bold moves:

  1. Get buy-in from parents. While girls are the users (and are often still delighted), the brand did not speak to moms. Moms needed to reappraise Barbie as to what she enables to do. The brand manifesto “You can be anything” became a viral sensation with over 50 million views and over 718 impressions and a series of creative awards to follow.

    The brand shifted from mass marketing to mass mattering and the core of the success was that people do not buy products but buy into them. Current and future campaign will be more inclusive, e.g. by means of focusing on dads – see Dads who play Barbie – because dads play a big influence in the overall development of girls.
  2. The product line got a complete diversity overhaul, now including different skin tones and reflecting multiculturalism.
  3. The body style of Barbie was altered now offering curvy, petite and tall, as imagination comes in all shapes and sizes.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: 3 bold #branding moves by @Mattel #Barbie insit.es/2riHE0b via @Niels_InSites @CoolBrands #GMWTO #marketing cc @wfamarketers


The results McKnight reported were impressive with over 5 billion media impressions, a n° 1 global news story and a positive brand sentiment of nearly 100%. But there is also a clear business impact: Barbie is now the n° 1 girl toy property and the n° 3 overall toy property while sales have increased by 10%. As an insights professional, I was glad to hear Lisa McKnight conclude the key to such success is constantly listening to people and create a story that is true to your brand’s purpose.

The red thread throughout all these presentations was that marketers (and the insights professionals that help them) live in an age of relevance. Brands should be loyal to people, not the other way around. Brand owners are not their own consumers! So brands need to rely on human insights and collaborate with people to shape their future, more than ever before.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: Brands should be loyal to people, not the other way around insit.es/2riHE0b by @Niels_InSites via @CoolBrands #GMWTO #marketing cc @wfamarketers

To close, here is an infographic summary of the entire conference:

Global Marketer Conference infographic

Posted in Insights