Four Must-Hear Takeaways From ANA Brand Masters

Last week, marketers gathered in Dana Point, California to hear from some of the world’s leading brands at the ANA Brand Masters conference. The three-day conference brings together the industry’s top professionals to discuss the trends and changes of today’s marketing world and share insights from valuable brand experiences. Here are VSA’s top four takeaways from this year’s conference:

Marketers live in a world of paradox.
In her talk titled “Building a Mass Market, Indie Cult Brand,” Marisa Thalberg, CMO at Taco Bell, questioned whether it’s possible to be both a big-mass brand and an indie cult brand. Today, marketers are living in a world of paradox—marketing is considered an “art,” but also a “science;” marketers are considered “advertisers,” but also have begun acting as “publishers;” marketers need to drive sales overnight, but also drive brand over time. Thalberg argued that, yes, marketers can do it all– but they need to figure out how to navigate these paradoxes that feel true to the brand.

Specifically for Taco Bell, Thalberg described a brand peak with the launch of their Quesalupa in early 2016, but experienced stagnant growth thereafter. She had to meet this decline through a strategic and multi-layered approach. First, she created mass market appeal through product-driven messaging—essentially bringing back some of the beloved basics for a broad audience. She then reinvigorated Taco Bell’s most basic item, the $1 Feast, to bring back value to customers. They also tried some things on for size—celebrating Halloween on social and digital “just because,” creating a flagship “Taco Bell Cantina” store in Las Vegas and inserting the brand into major sporting events including the World Series. Ultimately, Taco Bell has been able to create mass market appeal, but also have an indie cult about them, truly permeating pop culture in America.

Evolve or die.
As brand marketers, we’ve all heard this phrase before. It was a common theme during this year’s Brand Masters with both Steven Fund, CMO at Intel, and Dan Keats, Director of Consumer Marketing at Allstate, making the claim that their brands faced a crucial time to “adapt or die.”

Specifically for Intel, their perception among younger audiences was non-existent. They found themselves looking in the mirror with three challenges: for many, Intel was synonymous with PCs, their core consumer base was aging and they needed to better connect their brand with their business. With their “Intel Inside” program, they were able to let wider audiences truly experience the brand. They’ve taken on innovative tactics such as spokesman Jim Parsons, partnering with Lady Gaga at The Super Bowl and The Grammys, using their technology in sports like The Slam Dunk Contest, The All Star Game and even esports. Their efforts have landed them recognition as one of the Top 5 Dynamic Brands of 2016 and they’ve grown market capital over $35 billion.

Emotion still sells.
Appealing to your customer through empathy is not a new idea for most marketers. But understanding your consumers and creating work that resonates with them, is truly an art.

In 2008, Subaru faced the harsh reality that they suffered from extremely low brand awareness and, therefore, lackluster sales. So, they set out to change course. The brand went to market with a new line, “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru,” which was born out of the finding that Subaru owners have a deep love for their vehicles—their cars play an important role in their everyday lives and owners attribute their positive experiences with the Subaru brand. This new messaging was dramatically different for the category, which typically relied on messaging around performance, features and safety. The brand idea was used across all platforms, heavily relying on TV, and included several out-of-the-box executions like “Share the Love” event and partnerships with national parks and The Puppy Bowl. Ultimately, Subaru took a risk, and it paid off. Since 2008, the brand has seen 8 consecutive years of increased sales and 3.5% market share (up from 1%).

Simple, yet powerful, human insights drive effectiveness.
This statement seems simple, however gaining the right human insights, and then executing creative against those insights, is crucial to campaign and brand success.

Allison Miazga-Bedrick, Senior Marketing Director at Mars Chocolate North America, captivated audiences with the story of Snickers from 2009 to present. Based on the simple, yet powerful, human truth that people are “less themselves when they’re hungry” (today, coined as “hangry”) became the backbone to Snicker’s creative work. Relying heavily on TV, the brand saw sales double within one year in 2010. By 2015 however, the brand saw the opportunity to evolve the campaign from the silver screen to packaging, digital, influencer marketing and unique out-of-home. And, specifically timely, was the brand’s ability to keep pushing themselves at Super Bowl LI—Snickers became the first brand to go LIVE during a 30-second spot. Constantly pushing the boundaries, a relentlessness for innovation and focus on the product, has allowed Snickers to maintain the #1 chocolate bar brand in the world.