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Thinking digital, acting personal

Jill Melchionda, NA Managing Director

Three transformative ideas from the 4A's 2017 conference.

Last week, I spent three days in Los Angeles at the 4A’s annual Transformation conference. I was encouraged to attend the event by one of my mentors, Nancy Hill, who is the departing President and CEO of this respected industry association. I attend many professional conferences, but the subject matter is typically concentrated on our core clients’ businesses and categories. Nancy inspired me to dedicate this time to understanding macro business issues, and how they drive the evolution of agencies, service offerings and client engagements.

Despite its agency focus, I left the conference with several insights and imperatives that are relevant to B2B and many of our clients. Below are three key themes that I came away with, as well as a powerful lasting impression that has inspired me to take action…


4As Transformation

1. AI/Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence is no longer science fiction—it’s a fact of modern life. We’re seeing commercial applications all around us…from self-driving cars and voice interfaces like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri to finding and prioritizing interactions on social media. Brand marketers are already using machine-learning to buy ad impressions, target the most valuable audiences and, even, personalize the creative message to buyers.

Per Emi Gal, engineer and CEO of Teads Studio, this level of personalization has never been possible before today. It’s an exciting, complex proposition for B2B marketers, leading to many important questions. How will individual buyer journeys be impacted as each touch becomes highly customized? How will the advertising and content evolve to support a growing level of audience specificity? What does this AI-enabled world look like for brands, and buyers? In the age of machine learning, will marketing evolve to be truly a science without art?

As I tried to envision the possibilities, it brought to mind The Circle, Dave Eggers terrific novel about a tech worker’s experiences in a powerful Internet company. And as if by AI, telepathy or maybe just coincidence, Emi Gal wrapped up his talk with this book as one of his “must read” recommendations.

2. Experiential Marketing

Another dominant theme for the week was the increasing importance of experiential marketing. Denise Wong, who runs the North America operation for global agency George P Johnson, described experiential as the “final frontier” of marketing. She made the important point that, to create experiences that are truly disruptive and enduring, today’s events must connect people, inspire them and then streamline the decision-buying journey. According to Denise, “Great experiences can leave a dent in culture and change the world.”

One particularly inspired example of an enduring experiential-marketing experience was highlighted throughout the conference. If you’re not familiar with Fearless Girl (#fearlessgirl), she is a four-foot bronze sculpture by Kristen Visbal depicting a defiant girl staring down the well-known Charging Bull (or “Wall Street bull”) statue. The plaque below the Fearless Girl statue states, “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.”

The Fearless Girl concept was created by McCann New York for State Street Global Advisors (NASDAQ ticker symbol “SHE”) as part of their campaign to push Wall Street companies to recruit more women to their boards. The social dialogue and press coverage that followed was global and significant, and a petition for the temporary installation to become permanent accumulated 28,000 signatures in less than a week. Their timing—installing the sculpture the day before International Women’s Day—was, of course, impeccable. This simple, impactful idea helped to bolster worldwide conversations around feminism, equality and empowerment.

My take on this for B2B marketers is that, whether it’s experiential or social, companies will need to be increasingly conversant in connecting brand values to live experiences in new and dynamic ways. And, as touch points become more digital and synthetic, the touch of authentic, increasingly “human” experiences will gain even greater power to engage.

3. Workforce Diversity

Diversity (and gender equality) in the workplace was another of the Transformation event’s macro themes. Maybe it’s because the conference overlapped with #equalpayday, or perhaps the advertising industry is still highly out of balance when it comes to diversity. Regardless, the prospect of getting to a more balanced, representative and equal workforce was deeply embedded throughout the conference.

Reinventing Diversity author Howard Ross described the ways in which our unconscious biases influence decisions, and how we can identify and navigate bias. According to Howard, “Once you accept your biases, you can begin to limit their impact.” When unconscious bias influences things like hiring decisions, it’s not only unfair, but also puts companies at a competitive disadvantage. Particularly in our industry, diversity is crucial to the creation of powerful ideas, especially in an increasingly global world.”

Humanity is Always Transformative

Along with a deeper understanding of the big game-changers for our industry, I left LA with the realization that the human element is as essential to marketing as ever. As our industry evolves, we need more dreamers, idea-creators, gate-crashers and brilliant minds to meet the challenges of a highly personalized, experiential, and AI-enabled future. And, in our pursuit to connect and inspire people in a global marketplace, we must do so with a diverse and dynamic team. So, as I returned to San Francisco, I renewed my commitment to dialogue and the pursuit of equality and diversity…in my industry, at my agency, and within my community.

To that end, on May 10th, April Six will join with thousands of like-minded organizations in celebrating the first annual 50/50 Day, a global event dedicated to achieving a gender-balanced world in all sectors of society. I’m looking forward to inviting clients, colleagues and friends to join the conversation with our team at April Six next month. More details coming soon!

So, at a conference where I expected to return smarter, I came home just a little bit more human, too. And, that’s certainly the most important quality of a great marketer. I guess I have my mentor Nancy to thank for that!