“What will not change is the need to have a richer, more nuanced, more contextual relationship with consumers”: Top Takeaways from our Look Forward with Stagwell & MDC

May 26, 2021

Earlier in May, industry veterans from across The Stagwell Group and MDC Partners came together for an in-depth exploration of five of the most significant trends driving global markets this year.

The discussion was grounded in the insights from ForwardPMX’s 2021 Global Business & Marketing Trends report, which identified major trends including: Digitally Accelerated Business, The New Wave of Connected Commerce, Consumers at the Heart of the Great Data Strategy Pivot, Globalization & Localization – Planning Hand in Hand, and Brand, Product & Purpose Now Intimately Intertwined. Throughout the conversation, the group dug into other relevant topics like the return to work, and how that relates to future collaboration and innovation in the world of digital.

 We’ve pulled together a highlight of key takeaways from the event:

The New Wave of Connected Commerce

Chief Media Officer of MDC Partners and Moderator of the event, Deirdre McGlashan, began the conversation with a topic that has been very much a part of the “make it or break it” discussion for brands accelerating their digital capabilities over the last year: Connected Commerce. Having a fully connected commerce experience means that brands are putting the consumer at the center of their strategy, and that his/her/their needs, emotions, footprint (both online and offline) and purchases all become part of the new focus point. From a business perspective, a tech stack will need to enable integrated shopping experiences that allow transactions to occur anytime, anywhere, and on any device, with personalized data at every step. CEO of Code and Theory, Dan Gardner, elaborated on the top three hurdles brands face when they start the process:

“There’s a cultural aspect to a true digital transformation change in an organization.” This idea drives home the need for an organization to truly embrace digital acceleration as an active state, constantly developing and growing digital and technology-driven capabilities that meet the changing needs of consumers. From a tactical perspective, Gardner also stressed the need to have a mobile-first strategy, which is key to connected commerce succeeding in both physical and digital environments, as the piece that connects both worlds for the consumer. James Townsend, Global CEO of ForwardPMX, agreed and added in some additional perspective:

“The last year democratized the retail sector. It allowed businesses to go DTC without any tension with important distributors, so I think what happens coming out of this is a much more equal and customer-centric environment.”

Consumers at the Heart of the Great Data Strategy Pivot

With the data privacy narrative now making its way even more into consumers’ lives, we as marketers recognize how vital it is to plan for an increasingly privacy-focused world. As discovered in ForwardPMX’s report, 80% of Americans under 34 have changed their privacy settings in the last year, which reiterates that it is consumer expectations that are driving this shift in the industry. The panelists weighed in on what the future looks like in a marketing ecosystem which will require a clearer value exchange between brands and consumers.

“As a first-party first world emerges, a rich, one-to-one, proactively permission-based relationship with consumers is going to be key. Getting on the front foot in this space is absolutely necessary, especially if you are a business with a heavy retargeting strategy.”

A major takeaway was also that increased privacy forces marketers to engage with consumers as people, rather than with devices and targeting as the focus, following the earlier mention of keeping the consumer at the heart of the brand’s strategy. This forces high standards and perhaps a different kind of value exchange, which can only help create a more sustainable relationship with customers.

Integrated Global Expansion & Localization: Planning Hand in Hand

In the last year, the world has grown even smaller. We’ve had glimpses into our colleagues’ homes and lives, with pets and family members abound popping up on Zoom calls. Together, we’ve seen the global shift to online behavior occur, and while there is certainly a shared closeness that did not exist before, there is still a great deal of local nuances across the globe. Julia Hammond, Global President of MDC Partners, opened up the conversation about global expansion and localization with a great point about the shared humanity we’ve witnessed this year:

“Over the last year, there’s been an element of humanity that’s been put on display…when you’re working across markets on a big global strategy, that level of humanity sometimes gets forgotten. But now we’re really bringing it to the forefront.”

Given this new perspective, it’s a great time for brands to reset and consider what the best methods of integrating global and local really are. Julia explains how to work toward hitting the right balance of local credibility and global cohesion:

Brand, Product, and Purpose Now Intimately Intertwined

In many ways, 2020 brought our global society’s issues to light in a more jarring manner than we’ve perhaps ever had to face. And from a marketing perspective, brands have had to make big decisions on whether or not to take a stance on real issues like socioeconomic disparity, equity and equality, and racial injustices. Ray Day, Vice Chair of The Stagwell Group, explained why there is no such thing as “brand reputation” and how knowing the difference between brand and reputation can help brands focus on purpose in the long term:

“There’s brand and there’s reputation. They work in harmony, but the best organizations know how to work them both together. And that’s when it can really drive the bottom line.”

The main takeaway here: the path forward doesn’t replace profit with purpose, rather businesses are challenging themselves to redefine their approaches so that the two can exist together. Remember that there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to finding the purpose that sits at the heart of a brand. The brands that nail down this strategy will continue to win the hearts and minds of younger generations, who will increasingly be the consumers that influence which brands are relevant in the future.

ForwardPMX CEO James Townsend left listeners with a parting thought as they consider strategy for the next year: “Aim for progress not perfection.” Change is happening at warp speed, and while it’s impossible to plan for every single scenario, adapting your mindset from quarterly planning to thinking for the long game can help your brand be more proactive and future focused. For a deeper dive into these trends, a free download of the PDF of the report is available here.

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