Fostering Deep Consumer Connections
As Pepsi celebrates its 125th anniversary, CMO Todd Kaplan (SOM ’06) fittingly started his presentation by tracing the evolution of marketing over time. Gone are the days of brands simply projecting messages to large audiences through print, radio, and television advertisements; modern marketing is increasingly characterized by fluid access and immersion between the customer and the brand, where contextual relevance is critical.
Kaplan noted that it is tough but exciting to be a brand today, as consumers have both raised their expectations for brands and are faced with a proliferation of new technology and media. Because consumers are bombarded with constant brand messaging and an abundance of choices, they can feel overwhelmed, making traditional advertising less effective.
How can brands adapt their marketing to this new landscape? They can start, Kaplan says, by recognizing that there is a world outside of paid media. “Earned” media, such as news coverage or organic social media hype, helps create a more authentic connection between the brand and the consumer but is significantly undervalued today.
One way for companies to move beyond paid advertising is by deploying what Kaplan calls a “culture bomb.” These creative initiatives drive content creation by exploring new ways for consumers to interact with a brand, such as through opt-in experiences that are distinctive and memorable.
This importance of connecting with consumers was echoed by Walter Frye, the Global Director of Brand Marketing at Amazon, who joined the conference to share his views on the role of emotional storytelling as a critical element of fostering brand love.
Similarly, Monique Le, Head of iShares Digital Wealth Individual Investor Business at Blackrock, emphasized the importance of fostering deeper connections with the end customer by describing the success of one of iShares’ recent marketing campaigns.
With the rise of services that offer commission-free trading, fractional shares, and minimal fees, the wealth management industry is shifting rapidly to accommodate the rise of individual investors. Though iShares offers B2B investing services, Le recognized the importance of building a relationship with the end consumer. She also saw the potential to drastically increase the impact of each dollar spent on marketing by creating a campaign that generated earned media.
These insights led to the creation of the iShares Future Baller$ team, which leveraged the popularity of a sport not typically associated with financial services: basketball. Because long-term investing is crucial for emerging professional athletes, Le and her team recruited 5 top NBA prospects and offered them a new kind of sponsorship opportunity. These rookies would commit to investing their sponsorship dollars toward securing their financial future and have the opportunity to receive coaching from “finfluencer” Lauren Simmons, the youngest female trader in Wall Street History.
With the Future Baller$, iShares was able to generate buzz on social media and gain coverage in new media outlets it does not typically reach. And by encouraging responsible wealth management, the campaign also created a positive social impact—a focus of modern marketing that is increasingly critical for reaching younger audiences.
Marketing as a Force for Good
NFL CMO Tim Ellis also contributed a unique perspective on how organizations can develop more authentic relationships with consumers through commitment to their values. After the protests in the summer of 2020, the NFL found itself in a difficult position as it attempted to project a more neutral stance in an increasingly divisive political environment.
However, this neutrality left some players feeling unsupported. Recognizing the importance of its relationship with its team members, the NFL drastically changed course with a series of impactful campaigns. One of these early initiatives was “NFL Votes,” which encouraged civic engagement and emphasized the importance of voting. The NFL also offered players a visible way to demonstrate their values through “My Cause My Cleats,” which empowered players to wear custom cleats to support causes that mattered to them.
But beyond amplifying the players' voices, the NFL also wanted to ensure fans understood its values as an organization. The NFL launched campaigns to spread awareness of mental health challenges to reinforce its commitment to inclusivity. Its “Football is for Everyone” video not only created a way for the NFL to connect with demographic groups that are traditionally underrepresented among football fans but also drove donations to The Trevor Project.
Ellis acknowledged that some fans opposed these new initiatives but underscored the idea that the causes the NFL supports are about our shared humanity, not politics, and are inextricably tied to the organization’s values. Though it may take time to foster more universal acceptance, it’s essential to keep moving forward.
Mike Hudson, a creative strategist at Google, wrapped up the day by discussing how artificial intelligence and machine learning can supercharge the field of consumer insights. He highlighted the abundance of data organizations have access to but noted that it can be challenging to know where to look.
AI can sort through large amounts of data and identify patterns from which people can gain insights. Hudson gave an interesting example of his team’s recent realization that ads with people wearing glasses drive higher engagement in the realm of breakfast sandwiches. He also discussed “sentimining,” a process by which AI can use comments to identify viewers' feelings about a video. While this technology typically picks up feelings a human might expect based on the video overall, it can also detect feelings and reactions a person might not have thought to look for about a particular clip.
While these new uses for AI and machine learning are exciting, Hudson emphasized that people still lie at the heart of consumer insights. Hudson gave an example of the relationship between searches for romance novels and loneliness. While AI can pick up on this correlation, it takes a human to truly understand the feeling that this link evokes and be able to take action on the insight.
The conference also welcomed YCCI Board Member Kalindi Mehta, the Global Vice President of Consumer Foresight, Strategy, and Predictive Analytics at Estée Lauder. Kalindi also underscored the continued importance of consumer insights and ways in which companies can leverage digital and AI resources to improve their understanding of customer wants and needs.
YCCI extends a big thank you to everyone that participated in this dynamic gathering of industry leaders. As we navigate the intricate landscape of modern marketing, one thing is abundantly clear: the keys to success lie in understanding and engaging with customers on a deeper, more meaningful level, embracing change, and championing values that resonate with humanity.