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#AWNYC 2021: reviewing Advertising Week NYC’s hybrid form

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Earnest reflects on the lessons learned from last month’s Advertising Week New York

With a thirst for some IRL industry insights and a desperate need to shake hands, I donned my lanyard and headed down to Hudson Yard for my first in-person event in over two years.

There was a wide variety of talks, and below are my top five insights from Advertising Week 2021.

1. Diversity initiatives require intentionality

For me, the word of Advertising Week 2021 was ‘intentionality.’

In their ‘Inclusion Revolution: business at the intersection of culture and commerce’ discussion, Monique Nelson, chair and chief exec at UWG, and Thai Randolf, president and chief operating officer at Laugh out Loud Network, asserted that intentionality needs to be the first step on any diversity initiative.

The first step is actually ensuring that you have an intention. Without one you’re merely taking part in a performative exercise.

Then, when it comes to the intention itself, organizations need to shift from D&I as a ‘goodwill’ exercise to it as an essential component for a future-proofed business.

By 2040 minorities will be the majority, and so prioritizing diversity within your business is a move to better understand your customers and their perspectives. In a later talk Randolf succinctly noted that “proximity equals empathy.”

Additionally, by bringing different voices and perspectives to the table you are creating an environment better suited to developing ‘innovative and elegant solutions.’

The use of the word elegant really stuck out to me, and I think it’s a clear articulation of the sophistication we as marketers need to and should bring to the table in order to create communications that resonate with a broad and diverse audience.

I keep hearing the same question in B2B: ‘How do we push creativity?’

The answer’s here and it’s always been here; diversity.

2. Audio isn’t an add on

There was a whole talk track dedicated to audio, emphasizing how central this channel can and should be within your strategy.

In their talk Lizzie Widhelm from SXM media and Denise Karkos from Sirius XM discussed the current landscape as ‘Generation Audio,’ where consumption is no longer defined by demographics. Instead audio is a medium we are experiencing as a society in different ways.

The growth in audio, particularly in podcasts, is huge, and Widhelm and Karkos predicted that this growth will continue to exist through a variety of smaller focused players and diverse content, not one big media owner.

It’s this broad audience appeal that makes audio such a ripe opportunity for B2B brands, with niche services and hard-to-reach audiences.

When incorporating audio into a strategy, it’s essential to recognize the multitude of ways that your audience wants to and expects to experience audio content – from in the car, to at home, to the background.

If you’re new to audio in B2B, you should check out our podcast stats article.

3. 2022 is the year of in-game advertising

We’ve been talking about gaming at Earnezt for some time, so it wasn’t a surprise to see that gaming was a key topic at Advertising Week.

Game advertising is massively undervalued in B2B marketing. Jonathan Troughton from FramePlay told the audience at Advertising Week that 64% of the US population are gamers. And the average age of a gamer is 34, with a rise currently taking place in the 50+ demographic.

Simply put, you’re missing out on a real opportunity to reach your audience.

Now, when it comes to the creative execution of game advertising, it’s important to avoid simply ‘resizing’ existing ads in your digital suite and consider the creative anew. The gaming environment is immersive, which makes its audience really engaged. Your creative should lean into this.

4. Brand experience begins at the value proposition

Scott Watts from the tank posed the questions: “How do your existing pillars translate to your customers’ real experience of your product and services? And how do brands with abstract pillars make them meaningful across a digital experience?”

For several pre-pandemic Advertising Weeks, the ‘experience economy’ was central to a lot of conversations – the trend being that consumers wanted real-world experiences over things, and in response to that ‘brand experience’ had come to mean immersive events.

Skip forward through a pandemic, and now when we discuss brand experience we are referring to all of the (now mostly digital) touchpoints your customer has with your brand in their lifecycle with you.

Experience is now predominantly digital first.

If this is how your brand is being interacted with, then it should be a consideration at the messaging and value proposition stage to ensure a brand platform that is truly meaningful.

5. Hybrid or nothing

Finally there’s the event planning itself.

Advertising Week showed that hybrid could work, but it did present some differences.

Having a hybrid event can bring positive and negative consequences to event ticket sales. On the one hand a digital-only ticket creates a new revenue stream from an audience who otherwise would not have attended. But at the same time some delegates may be discouraged from the full in-person ticket, knowing they can reduce their costs with a lower price and more convenient digital ticket.

And then there’s the impact, if any, on the event itself.

My purely anecdotal observation was that the in-person crowd seemed more senior and business development-heavy in contrast to previous years, where I felt an additional presence of younger strategists and creatives.

It would be interesting to monitor these trends and look at ways to respond.

For example, in this instance, event organizers could respond to the larger proportion of business development roles by increasing networking opportunities. Or they could design the event and promotion strategy with a focus on attracting more strategic roles.

One to watch.

Sarah Przybylak, client lead at Earnest.

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