Brands in Crisis: Authenticity, Relevance and the Quest for Safety (AEF Symposium)

The two-part (two hour) session was a suitable way to kick off the conference. Paul Kurnit jumped right in, asking attendees what they believed was the most substantial pain point in trying to grow a brand. The responses were numerous and covered the entire spectrum of marketing including:

  • Raising the authenticity of brands and status of brands
  • Lack of brand loyalty
  • Short attention spans of consumers
  • Breaking through the intense competition of messaging and consumer engagement. Staying relevant among noise and delivering the right person the right message at the right time
  • Eroding trust in the marketplace
  • Controlling brand image
  • Speed of change in media and tech
  • Complexity of industry
  • Talent retention
  • Social media is a two-faced friend
  • Fear of failure and lack of innovation
  • “Infobesity” – too much information. Most of it is not healthy nor helpful

Once the pain points were properly discussed Paul tossed it over to Scott Hagedorn, CEO of Hearts & Science, to provide insights to massaging these points based on their recent Unreachables study. This was the highlight of the session for me as Scott broke down three of the most pressing issues in media today.

Supply and demand issues

Over the past four years there has been a 30 percent dip in TV ratings, primetime and cable are down an average of 15 percent and an average of 40 percent are consuming content in app on smartphones.  Despite all these figures, the price of TV inventory keeps going up.

Measurements gaps

There are syndicated outages with data. 47 percent of Millennials and Gen Xers are simply unreachable in syndicated platforms and 66 percent of weekly hours are not currently measured by Nielsen. Brands can’t grow because we’re not reaching this audience.

Brand safety

64 percent of Millennials and Gen Xers agree that a brand’s reputation will be tarnished if it appears around hateful or negative content.

What can we do?

Arvind Raman, Senior Brand Journalist at McCann Truth Center, Erik Geisler, Director of US Agency at Facebook, George Newman, PH.D. Associate Professor of Marketing and Management at Yale University School of Management, joined Scott on a panel to discuss new ideas and methods marketers can adopt immediately to protect their brands and compete in the new world of marketing.

The first is one that we’ve advocated for a while, keep your publishers accountable. Know what you’re buying and know where it’ll appear.

Second, stop forcing ads that you use in other mediums into in app and digital platforms. Erik Geisler made the comparison of this practice being like running standard definition advertisements on HD channels. It shows a lack of caring for the way the audience is consuming their content. Start understanding why they moved away from TV to apps and create engaging advertisements and content that fit the medium.

Finally, brands searching for “authenticity” need to start at home. As Arvind Raman mentioned, don’t say something that you can’t back up internally with your culture.

Data and the Ideal State

Cathy Novelli of Quantcast broke down why WE as marketers are the problem when it comes to data a measurement.  With a relevant anecdote, Cathy recounted how in colonial India when the government tried to eliminate their Cobra problem by paying citizens to kill cobras.  The result was a lot of dead cobras and a vibrant cobra farming industry.  Isn’t this the same phenomenon that is feeding the growing number of fraudulent companies who making money by feeding the “click counter?”

She spoke about how we often value what we can measure, rather than measuring what we value.  Continuing the click theme, Cathy spoke about how many firms measure clicks when it is often not the target consumer clicking our ads.  We do this because it easy to count and measure, and as a result we value that metric.

The solution, according to Cathy, is to use today’s technology to focus our advertising on the right person, at the right time, with the right message—something that most firms cannot measure.  We can do this by measuring awareness, interest, consideration, and perception by using some of the artificial intelligence technology that many firms are already using to track actual customer preference and not just clicks or impressions.

Challenger Brand

I was particularly interested in this presentation by John Harmeling of Grant Thorton and Mike Hensley of gyro Chicago. Bionic is the ultimate challenger brand and we succeed because we look at the media planning and buying problems from a different perspective—the prospective of the media planner.  In this presentation, Harmeling and Hensley spoke about how they crafted a strategy that ended up boosting every metric that Grant Thorton cares about—including profitability, employee engagement, and market share.

Ultimately their strategy comes down to a few key things. First, ensure that the conditions are right for the challenger.  Make sure that there is an unmet need or an opportunity that isn’t being capitalized on.  Second, every company must find their slingshot.  What is the unique value proposition? What is the champion’s weakness and your strength?  Find that thing and exploit it.  Third, explore alternate routes.  Going head-to-head is not normally the wise thing to do, so find a way to win that may be a little unorthodox.  And lastly go to market boldly.  This includes defining new criteria of business, getting people excited for your new strategy, bringing some swagger, and taking some risks while make sure to be both respectful and purposeful.

Overall, this presentation was motivating, and one that we should all consider in our business strategy.  Even the biggest brands in the world are challengers in certain markets or channels, and thinking about how to be smarter about challenging the champions is key to being David in our fight with Goliath.

See what happened on day 2