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Let’s Get Physical: Flexing Our Brand Activation Muscles at ANA Chicago
The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) hosted its annual brand activation conference in the windy city where marketers, retailers and agencies shared insightful data and personal stories. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t the only element delivering chills.

Content stretched from challenger-brand cases that prove it pays to be different, to Frito Lay’s story about elevating the two-dollar snack experience to include fine-dining and even diamonds. After a marathon of rich and inspiring sessions, three key themes sprinted to the top: experiences are king, relationships are vital and storytelling has to be personal.

Dare to Be Different

VKTRY Gear CEO Steve Wasik talked about how a challenger brand must be different to succeed. Look at the category with fresh eyes. The brand leader usually sets the rules, whereas a challenger brand should break them to stand out. He quoted the popular book, Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan, which stated: “Being a challenger brand is a state of mind… not a state of market. Be bold. Be creative. Change the rules in your favor.”

Take Naya Waters and competitor Evian as an example. In this scenario, Naya is the small fish in a big pond. When the challenger brand asked themselves why big fish Evian is only targeting upscale women with their product, they uncovered an untapped audience and a way to be different within the category. That’s when Hungry for Life: Thirsty for Naya took flight. By focusing on an audience Evian ignored, Naya grew sales $30M to $110M in three years.

Cheesy is Cool

While no one can deny the fact that Frito Lay works with a budget most companies dream about, the interesting lesson is how they use it. Take Cheetos® for example. Rachel Ferdinando, vice president, core business, media & digital at Frito Lay explains that Cheetos fans are some of the most passionate people on the planet. So how do you focus on the super fans and empower them to influence others? You deliver a memorable physical experience.

Cheetos opened a pop-up restaurant in NYC called The Spotted Cheetah where people could enjoy the fine dining side of Cheetos. It was booked solid for its three-day run.

As if that wasn’t enough, the brand worked with a local designer in Dallas to create fine jewelry known as the Chestora Collection. Encrusted with over 190 black and white diamonds and set in 18 carat gold accented with orange saphires, the jewelry set sold for $20,000.

Finally, Ferdinando shared the story behind the online Cheetos Museum that encouraged purchase frequency and won an ANA REGGIE Award and two PR Cannes Gold Lions. Building on the insights that the shapes of Cheetos are curious by design and people treat the snack like rare toys (e.g., is it a seahorse? Is it a guitar? Is it a dog?), the “Cheetos Museum” campaign asked people to look at Cheetos in a whole new way. Cheetos fans everywhere were looking to discover the next Cheeto character in the next bag of Cheetos. By the third week of the promotion, the brand achieved a new sales record.

Squad Goals

MOD Pizza will unapologetically admit that their company is for profit, but that doesn’t mean money is the only thing that matters. In fact, the company does an amazing job of empowering their top influencers – employees, also known as “The MOD Squad.” CMO Tracy Cioffi explains that one of the key ingredients to MOD’s business success is trust. The modern-day pizza joint has created a corporate culture with very few rules and regulations. As a result, employees feel a personal loyalty to the company and its patrons, which provides a meaningful experience for all.

With more than 7,000 squad members employed, the company has been able to make quite a social impact with its core values and beliefs. For one, they empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and honor second chances. One of their most successful store managers spent years in prison and in his words “If you can lead and manage survival in prison, you can hang anywhere.” And in 2017, more than $1M was donated to support local communities and squad members in need.

These three case studies are just a few examples of the amazing programming we experienced at the ANA Brand Activation Conference, but reflect similar challenges both big and small brands deal with in today’s ever-changing marketing landscape.

IBM Corporation’s CMO, Maria Winans, closed out the week stating that within 10 years, 40 percent of today’s Fortune 500 companies will be disrupted out of business. And to that point, 68 percent of companies focus on customer experiences versus products.

What Does it Mean for us?

It means we have to stop thinking about consumers as consumers and more like people. Humanizing each interaction establishes trust and leads to meaningful relationships between brands and people.

How Do We Do This?

Take a customer-first approach. This means listening to people and going “all in” on brand positioning and/or strategies that address consumer needs, wants and interests.

Nurturing this new era of marketing with personal experiences that go beyond the digital touchpoints in our tech-saturated world will set the businesses of tomorrow apart from the ones of yesterday.