Reflecting on the recent AdAge Digital Conference, I’ve tasked myself with distilling the rich experience of industry knowledge-sharing into three major themes that resonated as insightful takeaways. What was immediately reassuring about the conference — its speakers, their topics of discussion and the general state of affairs facing marketers pushing for disruption and impact — is that branding has never been more important and relevant.
Image is King
Days after Facebook's $1B acquisition of Instagram, David Fischer, Vice President of Business and Marketing Partnerships, confirmed what we all inherently knew. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. User generated images are social media gold.
While Fischer did not elaborate on Facebook's long-term plan for Instagram, he shared statistics illustrating the reach and potency of images on Facebook's platform. Image posts represent only a minor portion of the total posts on Facebook, yet they generate an astonishing 56% of the total comments across all posts on Facebook. Images are prime catalysts for social media conversations, sharing and linking to related content and creating rich engagement.
CEO and Founder of Wildfire Victoria Ransom echoed Fischer's sentiments, and provided research results that shed positive light on Facebook's new image-intensive Timeline format. She advised Facebook savvy brands to create compelling and relevant visual backdrops, pinboards and image posts, and to link to deeper levels of user engagement that reward curiosity.
In the closing keynote address, Tumblr's fearless founder and CEO David Karp revealed Radar, Tumblr's new advertising platform. He apologized tongue-in-cheek for his previously critical remarks toward advertisers on Tumblr, maintaining that it stemmed from a passion to keep Tumblr's primarily image-based creative community free from unimaginative corporate astroturfing. He is challenging and pushing marketers to be innovative in creating branded content on Tumblr and provided a few aspirational beacons that proved his point, most notably, Warby Barker, (Warby Parker's fresh and funny April Fool's.)
Don’t Keep Up, Keep it Real
We officially have more digital tools now than we know what to do with. We cannot even hope to keep up with the emerging technologies that continually arise from global tech innovators to nimble start-ups.
This was the essential wisdom imparted by Google's Head of Display Marketing Deepak Ramanathan at the world premiere of Project Re: Brief, Google's attempt at socializing their display ad technological capabilities through a revisiting of four classic advertising campaigns. Instead, we should focus on humanizing technology and the strength of the idea and not simply fall into the allure of a new technological capability.
This was the second world premiere for director Doug Pray that I was privy to attend, having screened Art & Copy at the 2009 Florida Film Festival. I highly recommend both of these movies as essential viewing.
Gregg Heard, VP of Brand Identity and Design at AT&T, talked about AT&T's role in the evolving relationship between people and technology. In four short years, people have gone from feeling overwhelmed by the speed of technological evolution to empowered by the ways that this technology can enhance their lives.
He shared four cultural insights that spoke to:
*Digital Kinship: The new rituals that we create with our families through technology.
*Digital Intimacy: Our abilities to share precious moments with loved ones.
*Digital Guardianship: How we can stay connected to the ones we love.
*Digital Heroism: Moments where technology can give us the answers we need when we need them.
Heard spoke to the focus of shaping rich, human experiences in both the for-profit and non-profit space. He stressed the importance of never viewing technology as a standalone attraction.
AT&T's presence was greatly enhanced and appreciated by all conference goers thanks to AT&T AdWorks' recharge bar. It helped to keep everyone's smartphones charged and provided an impromptu meeting space for attendees to share business cards.
Many speakers spoke at length about the need for future agencies to combine the agility and innovation of start-ups with the crowdsourcing and knowledge sharing potential within their robust networks. In some cases, as evidenced by the Budweiser Brand Hack, marketers are looking to partner with start-ups to help fuel innovation and provide access to new audiences.
I got a chance to talk with Winston Wang, Global Director of Strategic Innovations for marketing technology at AB InBev, about the challenges inherent in large corporations attempting to be nimble. AB InBev solved this dilemma by opening a Beer Garage in San Francisco, essentially a skunkworks laboratory in Silicon Valley tasked with the responsibility for identifying and experimenting with new digital technologies that are at the cutting-edge of consumer marketing.
President and Founder of Ignited Eric Johnson compared agencies to gambling addicts caught up in the thrill of the chase. His company decided to forge a different path, reallocating a substantial portion of their pitch budget and putting it toward funding internal "start-up" innovation and application concepts that employees can develop while on the clock. If the ideas succeed, the employees receive a percentage of the total profits, incentivizing participation.
Perhaps the conference's most thrilling speaker was LOYAL3 CEO Barry Schneider. A start-up that offers a streamlined online and social media platform allowing everyday people to purchase stock directly from the companies and brand they love, LOYAL3 provides support with an affordable minimum of $5 and no transaction fees.
Schneider called his offering a Customer Stock Ownership Plan, or CSOP. The CSOP is designed to provide an easy and convenient way for companies to make public offerings of their stock directly from the company’s website or Facebook page.
Schneider defined ownership as the "world's first behavioral currency" and pointed to the CSOP, and customer stock purchases, as the ultimate "Like" button, giving brands a self-selecting audience of evangelists. What made LOYAL3's talk so potent was that it was the only one addressing the tangible anger harbored by Millennials and Occupiers who see themselves as disenfranchised and without access to capital, and attempted to think more broadly about pumping new money into the market and rewarding great brands with higher equity.
Forest Young is Interbrand New York's Design Director.