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Lessons for brands from Advertising Week. Really!

Those who follow us on Twitter probably noticed the #awix hashtag included in many of this week’s tweets. That’s because Emma and I were at Advertising Week for the launch of The Economist Group’s new research on mobile users as well as to see what others had to say.

While the week offered some great examples of what brands and agencies are doing, I must mention one lowlight: “There is a fundamental shift occurring from print to digital”. In the numerous sessions I attended, various experts kept repeating this “insight”, which was useful five years ago but is old news now. Really, media experts, really? Take a risk and say something bold and new.

Now, on to the main reason for this post. Rather than describe each session we attended in detail, I’ll take a step back and comment on the broader themes addressed by the various speakers and what brands and media companies can learn. Today’s post takes a look at lessons for brands while Monday’s will address lessons for media companies and agencies.

What are the key takeaways for brands from Advertising week?

1. Social media metrics are directional.
Every CMO is asking and being asked by others in the company what the numbers stand for. Metrics such as likes, shares, comments are important but they don’t provide the full picture. Scott Sorokin, global digital leader at Mindshare, suggested that the ultimate judge of success is the end result. Did people visit the store or website? Did your brand awareness increase?

2. Take risks.
During a discussion on the future of media, Miles Nadal, chief executive of MDC Partners, encouraged companies to take risk to innovate. “Brands that are winning lean forward…and they know competitive advantage comes from innovating at scale against competitors”, Nadal said. It’s particularly difficult when marketers are being asked to reign in ad spending, but bold marketing helps differentiate brands from competitors.

3. Digital advertising is not cheap.
Dave Clemans, executive creative director at Taxi, lamented that “marketers have been fooled into believing that digital is or should be cheap”. Taking full advantage of a digital campaign involves integration across all devices, and monitoring the effectiveness to optimize campaigns as they are ongoing. This costs money.

4. Authenticity is essential.
With so much content, it’s not enough to have great content. You need great content that is authentic to the brand or authentic to the audience. Vivien Godfrey, chief executive of MilkPEP, gave a great example of how while at Häagen-Dazs, she refused to change the name of “dulce de leche” to “carmel” despite her marketing department’s insistence. Dulce de leche is now the 4th most popular flavor, and has inspired others ice cream makers to come out with their own version.

5. What works for Facebook and Twitter does not work elsewhere.
Laura Houghton, senior manager of social media marketing at Coca-Cola, spoke of her company’s entry into Tumblr. “Tumblr is a perfect mix of platform and community, and we wanted to add something to the experience.” Tumblr users have a deep sense of community and use the site to explore their passions. Coca-Cola was conscious to avoid coming across as a distant corporate brand.