After 2 and a bit years of being firmly grounded on Australian shores, it was with a distinct sense of novelty that I boarded a plane again last month to head to New York Advertising Week.
They say that distance offers perspective, and 16,000 kilometers certainly did the trick.
Hosted by Yahoo!, it was a whirlwind experience with over 98,000 attendees, 800 speakers, 300 events and an unhealthy amount of Starbucks. These were my big takeaways.
Don’t look for culture fit, look for culture add
The collective trauma of the past three years (particularly in the US) has resulted in a fundamental reframing of work. One in which the power structures that have ruled employer employee dynamics since the Industrial Revolution have shifted dramatically.
The binary between professional and personal has largely dissolved and, as a result, employers are needing to rethink everything, from what the workday looks like to how they are connecting with their employees.
It was encouraging to focus less on ‘The Great Resignation’ and more on ‘The Great Reset’ – an opportunity for businesses and employees alike to collectively reimagine the future of work.
However, to do so effectively requires elbow grease. There’s got to be a shared dialogue on values, more focus than ever before on empathy and future growth and a willingness to engage on a personal level to foster meaningful relationships.
Particularly when it comes to values, Generation Z employees expect diversity and inclusion to be at the heart of businesses and for the focus to be less on how new hires can ‘fit in’ and more about how they can add to the culture of a business.
Diversity & inclusion is a journey – not a destination
To date, there’s always been a risk that diverse representation has been seen as a tick-box exercise. A one and done phenomenon whereby one BIPOC, queer, elderly or disabled casting decision is seen as a job well done.
The discourse during Advertising Week challenged this.
It pinpointed where DE&I needs to start and the necessity of it being an ongoing initiative.
Crucially, diverse representation needs to begin within businesses (not marketing campaigns), and more specifically, in senior leadership positions. It needs to be benchmarked and strived for. But that representation alone isn’t enough. Diverse talent – as all talent does – needs to be nurtured and provided with a pipeline for growth.
As multiple speakers referenced, it is very hard to create inclusive, authentically representative products, experiences and communications if members of diverse communities don’t sit within the business in the first place.
And once your house is in order, the work doesn’t stop. Instead, it’s an enduring business commitment to understanding, learning and creating while keeping diversity front of mind.
Consider not only how diversity can influence your advertising and media choices but the broader marketing mix. From product and place to price; these are all levers that diversity can inform.
From broadcast to community dialogue
Increasingly, the most important force in the marketing ecosystem isn’t a brand, a channel or talent – it’s the audience. And making them part of the idea is critical if you want to connect in meaningful ways.
This is largely being driven by the advent of Web 3, the rise of FAST channels and the tiktokification of video content more broadly. While each of these represent distinct media and technology evolutions, they intersect around a new point of audience focus which is less about demographic and much more about shared community and interest.
Repeatedly, we heard that the power of advertising now lies not in pushing a broadcast message but meeting audiences where they are, whether it be through better understanding what existing audiences want, capitalizing on cultural trends or understanding what those points (plural) of ‘mass engagement’ now look like.
The shift from brand purpose to brand power
If the better part of the past decade has seen brands making broad, sweeping brand purpose statements (with varying levels of follow up), it looks like the next decade will – pleasingly – be a lot more action oriented.
This shift is being driven by two forces; the first is a growing expectation amongst consumers that brands will exert meaningful change on pressing ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) issues and the second is an increasingly critical and forensic lens through which brand purpose commitments are now viewed by the consumer.
In other words, if brand purpose isn’t baked into the DNA of your business, it’ll be called out.
One of the most refreshing – and surprisingly simple – means of addressing this challenge is via ‘Whole Brand Thinking’. This is the shared belief that branding is not so much an external manifestation of the organization but, instead, the life blood that runs through it, informing everything from people policies and finance to the advertising and products that consumers are exposed to.
By adopting Whole Brand Thinking, businesses can more readily reflect internally on what their brand purpose should be. As one very wise speaker said, at the end of the day, brand purpose has to make sense for your business, your stakeholders and your customers. It sits at the intersection of your brand's USP and what your customers want. And once you find that cross over, you need to support it consistently. Otherwise, it’s just fluff.
What does all this mean for marketers in Australia?
For your team:
We’re continuing to experience a period of work flux which is rife with opportunity. Ask what role you can play in bettering the working environment by listening to talent (new and existing) and reflecting back the values they want to see. In a similar vein, hold an unflinching mirror up to the diversity within your team and identify those opportunities to ‘culture add’.
For your marketing activity:
Consider how you can leverage communities and interests to create work that goes beyond paid spend and gets into culture. Chances are, diverse representation will be core to the success of that work, as will ensuring that a commitment to diversity and inclusion flows through not just your marketing activity but your products and places too.
For your business:
Brands and businesses aren’t separate – they’re one and the same. Knowing this, work to understand how your brand can inform everything. Mine your business to identify brand led opportunities in unexpected spaces and find your purpose there.
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