In a world characterized by chaos, complexity and contradiction, traditional markers of intelligence may no longer be sufficient tools to help comms pros navigate the marketplace.
During this session, sponsored by Plus Company, a panel of C-suite brand directors and industry leaders discussed how comms pros are changing the way they think about marketing challenges to unlock greater potential for the brands of the future. Participants included:
Cat Wiles, chief strategy officer at Cossette
Harvey Cossell, chief strategy officer at We Are Social
Dan Green, VP EMEA marketing at Activision Blizzard
Steve Barrett, VP, editorial director, PRWeek/Campaign US, moderator
Navigating a complex market requires comms pros to adapt quickly as consumers change their behaviors and new platforms present new ways to reach them. Comms pros need to explore new ways of thinking and using data in order to truly connect with their audiences.
“Adaptability is the key,” said Dan Green, VP EMEA marketing at Activision Blizzard. “Our business has evolved, so how we adapt our route to market is one of our biggest challenges and opportunities. We’re working with a broad spectrum of specialists to help us connect with culture in different ways. Ideas can live in lots of different ways. It’s less about trying to force it to exist in those channels and more about being adaptive and trying to find the fit.”
Left to right: Cat Wiles, Harvey Cossell, Dan Green, and Steve Barrett.
Strategists find new ways to connect
In a world of increasing chaos, contradiction and complexity, Cat Wiles, chief strategy officer at Cossette, noted that comms teams can’t control the environment, only navigate using a sophisticated blend of tools. Pros should be including IQ, EQ as well as AQ (adaptability quotient) in their toolboxes. “AQ is about openness to change. As a planner and a strategist, I value curiosity and embracing difference,” she said.
Strategists also need to stay focused on the consumer. “As strategists, we need to have a healthy respect for our consumers. We need to be connecting with them,” said Harvey Cossell, chief strategy officer at We Are Social. “A lot of brands show up in consumer culture, but they don't necessarily connect.”
To truly connect with consumers, it’s essential for a company to really understand their business and who they are as a brand. “We’re obsessed with empirical understanding and sometimes that can get a get in the way. You need a qualitative understanding around those numbers,” said Cossell. “We’re trying to get clients comfortable with the bigger challenges they face at a fundamental, strategic basis so they have a better sense of who they are. When you build a three-dimensional view of the brand, it opens you up to greater opportunities to connect through multiple activations that all ladder up to a singular point of view.”
Creative partnerships can widen the focus
Brands are exploring innovative ways to partner with other brands to reach entirely new audiences. It’s a bold approach, but needs to be carefully considered in order to be successful. Wiles, a self-proclaimed fan of challenging the orthodoxy, cited the recent partnering of Bayer and Heineken and the blending of streetwear and high fashion brands as examples of how brands are using creative approaches to reaching new audiences.
“We’re trying to look for ways to be inspired and ways of doing things differently,” said Green. “We have an abundance of data, but you can ever lose the value of a core consumer insight that can drive a great piece of thinking. You have to get comfortable taking risks required to nurture ideas. It’s a longer term play and a more optimistic view. We try to find partners and connections that can help take calculated risks and connect with new audiences in ways we haven’t done before.”
Engaging with external and internal audiences
Panelists noted that consumers increasingly want to engage with products that they believe in. That means brands need to be proactive on issues that are important for the audiences — external and internal. “It allows you to find those tensions in culture, to have a point of view and say what you want to say” said Cossell. “You’ve got to be prepared to deal with some backlash, but you have more authenticity with your audience.”
Activision Blizzard’s creation of a Call of Duty endowment fund, which is committed to getting veterans back into meaningful work, is one example of how brands can establish an authentic connection with an audience by expressing a point of view.
At Cosette, comms is focused on candid internal conversations about mental health. “We’re creating the space for people to share their stories. It’s got to start internally, making the space for discourse and allowing people to work in different ways,” Wiles said.
Panelists agreed that adaptability is important to how creative teams work together. “There’s been a move toward being much more empathetic and collaborative with your co-workers,” said Cossell. “Empathizing, understanding and being respectful of different ideas and the inevitable friction needs to be part of that creative development process. You get to a better place, in the end.”
While navigating a complex, fast-changing marketplace can be challenging, those brands that adapt best will be most successful. Wiles said teams should be running toward difference. “Sometimes there will be hiccups and it will be a bit painful, but growth is painful,” she said.