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Empower’s Annual Connect Event Reveals Critical Marketing Strategy
This will be part one of a multi-part series featuring Empower’s Connect’18 Home Summit. Tune into our podcast, Breakfast First to hear more from Connect guest and speaker, John Feld, senior vice president of programming at HGTV. And you’ll even hear from Fixer Upper star and famous woodworker, Clint Harp. Focusing entirely on the home shopping category, Empower hosted the biggest brands in media, home and technology to discuss the future of marketing and drive deeper connections with customers.

For two days, Cincinnati’s OTR neighborhood was the epicenter of the marketing universe. The guest list at Empower’s recent Connect’18 event featured the biggest brands in the home category, including Ashley HomeStore, Formica, Shaw Floors, Gorilla Glue, O-Cedar and Dremel, along with Silicon Valley titans like Google, Amazon, Hulu and Roku.

The goal of Connect’18 was to blend the best minds of the home industry with media and technology to better personalize marketing. Connect’s theme focused heavily on story, and how even heavyweight home brands like the ones just mentioned must tell a story that resonates with consumers.

“Things have changed dramatically from the way they used to be,” says Tim Glover, Empower’s vice president of account services. “Attention used to be abundant. You could just throw your brand and message on TV or a billboard and get millions of impressions. But what happens when everyone has their own screen? People today have more options than ever in the content they’ll consume. Today, attention is at a premium.”

And it’s this crucial insight that brought so many people from so many brands together to Empower’s Connect’18 Home Summit. While the event tackled numerous topics, there was one critical question Connect aimed to answer: How can brands in the home space continue to tell their story and resonate with consumers when they have less control over their own narrative?

Answers to this question proved to be most enlightening and gave everyone in attendance something to take home.

“We are constantly looking for relevance,” said Jon Wayman of Meredith Corporation, a media giant that did over $1.6 billion in revenue in 2016. That’s advice from a corporation with 42 brands beneath its umbrella emphasizing the importance of resonating with your audience. The advice would be a reoccurring theme.

Even John Feld, HGTV’s senior vice president of programming, emphasized his station’s ruthless pursuit of relevant content during a time when his audience demographic was evolving. “We had to evolve our brand’s story for a millennial audience,” said Feld. “The data told us we were losing males from our viewing audience. So, we realized we needed to ‘add sawdust’ to our programming to re-engage them. That’s a big reason behind all the DIY and renovation program you see of late.”

Another call for relevant content came during a live panel discussion with reps from Hulu, Roku, HGTV, NCC Media and Empower. During a segment titled “Is TV Dead? No, It’s Having Babies,” Roku maintained that its two biggest challenges for the foreseeable future are creating an AI that’s better at discerning content patterns of watchers and audience development.

If by now you’re noticing a theme, then the Connect’18 Home Summit has worked. Because at its core, among all festivities and entertainment, Connect’18 was a call for quality, consumer-focused content, for brands, content creators and advertisers alike.

“Make it personal is one of our core six values at Empower,” says CEO Jim Price, who facilitated his eighth annual Connect event. “And during a time when consumers have more say than ever before over the content they’ll encounter, the need to make it personal is paramount.”

And making it personal doesn’t happen by accident. Notice how virtually all of these action plans begin with data insight. There’s no guesswork involved in making your marketing personal. The data will tell you what your audience wants, and it’s on your brand to listen.

“Data isn’t sexy,” says Wayman from Meredith. “But its application is.” Leaning on data enables brands like Meredith to serve only the most meaningful, relevant content to its audiences.

The team at Apartment Therapy, a popular lifestyle blog publishing company focused on design and décor, also understands this. Of late, their challenge has been convincing home-décor brands to pivot from product shots to animated illustrations. They’ve leaned on their data insights to convince clients to embrace the creativity behind telling their brand’s story. Even if it means getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

“Our most popular Instagram post ever was a millennial apartment bingo card,” said Chris Phillips, a marketing leader within Apartment Therapy. It was a small, pink bingo card featuring the hottest trends in millennial apartment living, trends identified by data and realized creatively.

Realise Your Story. Then Tell It

The Connec’t18 Home Summit’s theme was ‘What’s Your Story?’, and how every brand had its own to share with its audience. And telling that story in a meaningful way, whether digitally, on TV or radio, means making it personal.

Consider this story about Pizza Hut’s former CEO, who decided to call his top 10 Most Valued Customers (MVC). One MVC he called was a single mom of a big family that worked three jobs, which is why her kids ordered pizza multiple times a week. But instead of just thanking the mom for her business, he took the time to listen to her story – valuing her not just as a customer, but also as a person. Yes, his phone call made an impression on her, but the key insights learned also served as a guiding principle for future marketing ideas. That’s how one national brand made it personal.

From a marketing perspective, if we listen to our customers more, we can do an even better job making sure we understand them and putting them at the center of our brand’s story. That was the key takeaway from Empower’s Connect’18 Home Summit, and how your brand, regardless of industry, will stay competitive in an economy increasingly based on attention.