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INFLUENCER: Purpose, trust and imagination are the ingredients to making a difference, says CMDC president Shannon Lewis

As we move forward in time, it becomes clear that we all want better - as thinkers, creators and as customers. We are able to see, from all around the globe, both things we want and things we don't. Still, it's easy to feel that the things we believe could make a better world are inconceivably becoming more elusive. Yet, the solutions for us as individuals and as companies are really quite simple. If we act with purpose, deal with trust, act with integrity, and real creativity, we can shape a better marketing world for all. 

Purpose: Is this a new and reliable recipe for success? 

“Build brands that transcend the test of time. Brands have to be anchored in purpose; impact people’s lives, build strong emotional connections, behave with integrity and re-inventing themselves to deliver a vision.” - Antonio Lucio, CMO, HP.

At the Cannes festival this year, it may come across as basic, but 'purpose' was paramount for every CMO. As the digital ecosystem transforms the economics of marketing, marketers can't help but face that the traditional way of doing business is broken and will never again be sustainable. There was a legitimate and near universal shift in conversation. Because people can and do listen and watch as never before, we must build brands that are not only more relevant to our customer, they must have a positive impact on society. Purpose must be tangibly aligned to a brand's DNA and profit focus, and must present long-term sustainable goals. 

Purpose was best advocated by Antonio Lucio, CMO at HP, when he pronounced that now is a time for brands to stand up. Brands still have the unique power and opportunity to stand up for ideas and actions that unite rather than divide us. Of course, for CMOs, the decision to ‘take a stand’ will never be a simple one. However, the potential for brands to create strong emotional bonds with customers based on shared beliefs is as inevitable as it is invaluable. 

Sure enough, Lucio's words were prescient: The world of sports marketing was just made transcendent by Nike's release of its new campaign featuring the contentious (ex-)NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. With their iconic ‘Just Do It’ positioning, originated by Dan Wieden in 1988, the brand has consistently told the story of overcoming weakness, fear, doubt, resistance to achieve greatness. The brand heritage was built on speaking or standing up for issues that reflect these specific brand values. The Kaepernick campaign, initially targeted to urban youth, engaged in civic issues and has, at time of writing, reached over 12 million views on YouTube, and provoked a thundering groundswell of Twitter commentary. Despite an initial 3% dip in the stock price, support rebounded, with online sales spiking 31%. Nike, despite the backlash, continued to stand by their brand purpose of boldness – on or off the field. My prediction? A Cannes 2019 Glass Lion Winner.

Other work this year, like Sick Kids ‘Vs.’ to GE’s ‘Unseen Stars’, also used purpose-driven, innovative communications to ignite positive change and results. The award-winning, universally beloved, Sick Kids Vs. advertising campaign, continues to seize attention, transforming suffering into power. Moreover, the entire team feeds on goodwill to amplify its energy and thus push the boundaries of charity advertising in order to help achieve its ambitious fundraising goal. Which is, nobly, to build a new state-of-the art and internationally recognised children’s hospital. GE’s ‘Unseen Stars’, a visually rich installation, also inspired. It generated conversations on the history of women STEM leaders through transforming real stars of science into famous constellations. 

Ultimately doing what’s right, acting with purpose, just makes sound business sense. Who loses when everybody wins? Who can be opposed when something is profitable for all: employees, customers, citizens, and for the economy as a whole?

Credibility is the currency that counts.

“A brand without trust is just a product, and today trust is even more important and still core to all we do in industry and building brands." - Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever.

In a world of political and social chaos, people are clamouring to connect to authentic voices of authority. Trust remains an integral aspect of our marketing dialogue. It is widely recognised that consumers are calling for, and practising, a more cautious approach on the use of data. Thus, expectations are shifting for all parties, from marketers, media, and creative, to business leaders. 

Keith Weed, CMO at Unilever, called out to his fellow marketing leaders to pledge real action accountability across all partners and platforms. He was adamant that it encompasses all of our roles to create ways to work together to combat the global trust issue. This must happen before trust erodes entirely and forever. 

At Cannes, we witnessed packaged goods giants reinforce a commitment to rebuild trust into the digital ecosystem. For instance, as social media influencers have been growing at speed, and influence over the past four years, we must examine this with a far more critical eye. For one, Unilever pushed this approach a step further. They committed to rebuilding trust by pledging to create responsible content that reflects society for the better. They will also focus on creating a better, more reliable digital ecosystem, based on the foundations of measurement and improvement of the customer experience. They went even further by announcing that Unilever brands would cut ties with social influencers who would purchase fans to gain credibility. On the other side of the aisle, tech titans voiced their own views to restore brand trust. Addressing the headline news of privacy concerns they vowed vigilance and addressed a goal to press for the use technology only for good. 

Agency of the Future | From where will we draw the next generation of talent? 

“What is creativity tomorrow?” 

With voice and AI becoming the norm, one continuous conversation is the future agency model. What will it look like and how will it attract and inspire the next generation of the best and brightest? 

As our media agency industry is fluent in all aspects of business from data to creativity, tech to human behaviour, we have the ability to create and implement powerful and significant ideas. For media agencies, we can go deep with specialists, yet remain broad enough to pull it all together in order to solve business challenges holistically. 

There is no doubt the profile of the agency has evolved. And will evolve ever more. To the benefit of us all, it consists of more diversity in thinking, of voices and skill sets from engineers and data scientists, to design thinkers. However, elemental creativity still resides at the heart of our business. Syl Saller, CMO of Diageo, explained, “The World Economic Forum study stated that ‘One of the most sought after skills going forward, is creativity and creative thinking.’ So, if I put those two things together, I'd say ‘wouldn't it be great if AI took more of the grunt work out of people's jobs and freed them up to be ever more creative, to do even bolder things, to take more risks. And if that can happen, it will empower us.” 

Shannon Lewis is President of the Canadian Media Directors’ Council

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