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Ukraine War Tests Whether Marketers Can Address Crisis Meaningfully



Ukraine War Tests Whether Marketers Can Address Crisis Meaningfully

Consumers want brands to take concrete measures addressing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a reflection of growing public awareness of the influence companies wield over major global events and widespread concern over the conflict. Despite these expectations, marketers should not rush to wave their flag around a situation that is fast-moving and highly sensitive — though many organizations may have already learned that lesson following two years marked by society-wide crises.

Still, the marketing industry is taking action. Already, a number of marketers and service providers have cut back or stopped doing business in Russia while industry event Cannes Lions said it will exclude Russians from this year’s festival. In one of the most substantial developments for the advertising industry, agency giant WPP said Friday it plans to discontinue operations in Russia. The group has about 1,400 employees in the country.

“Everybody’s in a big emotional place,” said Kate Muhl, vice president analyst at Gartner’s marketing practice. “The messages that they are looking for are: Support for people in Ukraine, peace, and to some degree, resources. But [talking about] what you specifically are doing, it’s just too soon.”

A survey Gartner conducted found that most U.S. respondents were concerned about the Ukraine crisis, with eight in 10 naming at least one step they would like to see marketers take. At the top of the list was reconsidering doing business in Russia or with Russian partners, cited by 60%. Other leading recommendations included ensuring the safety of personnel in regions embroiled in the fighting (55%), minimizing disruptions that could affect product supply and pricing (46%) and preparing emergency measures in case the U.S. is more directly impacted (46%). Sixteen percent of consumers said they don’t think brands should do anything in regards to Ukraine. Gartner polled 281 consumers between Feb. 25 and March 1 for its research.

“We now have mainstream consumers who have awareness of the idea of corporate governance, supply chain operations,” said Muhl. “That awakening, I think we see it applied here.”

Lower on the ranking of desired responses were brands donating aid (31%), making a public statement (13%) and pausing or pulling back on marketing activity (11%) — tactics that all fall much closer to the CMO purview. Weaker demand for traditional communications combined with a clear pressure to take some sort of meaningful action puts marketers in a bit of a bind in the near term, but they should still be strategizing for a moment where receptiveness to consumer-facing messaging is higher.

“It’s tricky, because you’ve got to be able to tell people about the things you’re doing at a time when they say that they want you to do those things more than they want you to talk about those things,” said Muhl.

Crisis playbook

The current focus on practical measures, including safeguarding employees in Ukraine, is indicative of a larger shift in what consumers perceive as effective action from brands, according to Muhl.

The idea that corporations are more capable of enacting change than individuals and even governments has taken hold over several years, notably around issues like climate change. It came even further to the forefront first with the pandemic and then mass protests for racial justice in the U.S. in 2020. Both instances served as examples of a paradigm shift where consumers applied greater scrutiny to brands, with many companies finding out the hard way that they had to live up to the standards shared in their marketing internally or face backlash.

A similar principle applies to the Ukraine conflict, while carrying different nuances.

“The fact that wanting messages is so far down the list does make it different than what we saw with [Black Lives Matter] and what we saw with COVID,” said Muhl of the Gartner research. “That doesn’t mean it will always be that way.”

“If we have, say, Russia, unleashing cyberattacks that have a direct impact on Americans, you’re in a whole different ball game,” she added.

But if the biggest agenda item consumers have for now is brands reconsidering doing business in Russia, then many seem to be meeting the moment. Netflix, Ikea, Ford, Apple and Disney are among the consumer brands that have started to peel back Russian operations. Services providers like Accenture, BCG and McKinsey are similarly making a swift exit from the country.

Exclusionary tactics are also becoming common. Cannes Lions, advertising’s most significant awards festival, announced in a statement it would not accept submissions or delegations from Russian groups this year. It will waive charges for Ukrainian creatives in attendance and refund those who cannot make the show.

There are more extreme cases as well. Some establishments are dumping out what they believe to be Russian vodka — even though few spirits sold in the U.S. are actually distilled there — or renaming menu items like Moscow Mules and White Russians to be Ukrainian-themed, summoning the specter of the “Freedom fries” push that emerged in the U.S. after France declined to participate in the Iraq war.

Whether or not these are just moves for companies to make is debatable. What’s not up for debate is that CMOs — and other members of the C-suite — will need to keep a close ear to the ground to be able to adjust course as the situation evolves and avoid a botched communication.

“This is moving very rapidly,” said Mulh. “I don’t think that it would be wise for marketers to say, therefore, we shouldn’t say anything.”

Ear to the ground

Closer executive collaboration and transparency, mandates driven by the pandemic, have benefited some brands amid ongoing volatility. They have not necessarily made marketers’ jobs any easier, as CMOs must be on the ball with operations outside of their usual remit, including the supply chain and employee welfare.

“That actually can make it more complex because you now have the machine works in place to activate immediately,” said Muhl. “You now are agile, and with great power comes great responsibility. You have to be thoughtful: What are my brand’s values? Where are my exposures as a brand?”

If and when a stronger consumer-facing platform becomes appropriate, the pandemic carries other lessons as well, according to Muhl.

“What we’ve learned through COVID is that it’s very easy to hit a kind of message fatigue. It’s important to recognize that these crises are not experienced in a monolithic way,” she said. “There needs to be more than one message and it should be folded into a range of other things that you’re saying.”

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Publicis Performance Marketing Unit Acquires Influencer Platform Perlu 01/30/2023



Publicis Performance Marketing Unit Acquires Influencer Platform Perlu 01/30/2023

Publicis Groupe-owned performance marketing agency CJ, which specializes in affiliate marketing, has acquired Perlu, a Syracuse, New York-based influencer networking and technology platform.
Perlu’s platform enables companies to activate, network, and collaborate with a community of influencers.   

Perlu will initially retain its name and organization as it is
integrated …

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Reports Show that Facebook Usage is Up, as Meta Continues to Develop its AI Targeting Models



Reports Show that Facebook Usage is Up, as Meta Continues to Develop its AI Targeting Models

While Facebook is no longer the cool app, especially among younger audiences, it remains a key platform for many users, and its capacity to keep people updated on important updates from friends and family is likely to ensure that many continue to return to the app every day for some time yet.

But more than that, Facebook usage is actually increasing, according to internal insights viewed by The Wall Street Journal, which also include some interesting notes on overall Facebook and Instagram usage trends.

As per WSJ:

Data gathered in the middle of the fourth quarter showed that time spent on [Facebook] was up worldwide, including in developed markets, over the course of a year.”

Which seems unusual, given the subsequent rise of TikTok, and short form video more generally. But actually, Facebook has been able to successfully use the short-form video trend to drive more usage – despite much criticism of the platform’s copycat Reels feature.

Indeed, Reels consumption is up 20%, and has become a key element in Meta’s resurgence.  

How is it finding success? Increased investment in AI, which has driven big improvements in the relevance models that fuel both Reels and its ads, which are also now driving better response.

On Reels, Meta’s systems are getting much better at showing users the Reels content that they’re most likely to be interested in. You’ve likely noticed this yourself – what was initially a mess of random clips inserted into your Facebook feed has now become more focused, and you’re probably finding yourself expanding a Reels clip every now and then, just to see what it’s about.

Reels has actually been too successful:

“Because ads in Reels videos don’t currently sell for as much as those sold against regular posts and stories, Reels’ growing share of content consumption was denting ad revenue. To protect the company’s earnings, the company cut back on promoting Reels, which lowered watch time by 12%.

So again, while Meta has been criticized for stealing TikTok’s format, it’s once again shown, just as it did with Stories, that this is a viable and beneficial pathway to keeping users engaged in its apps.

You might not like it, but replication works in this respect.

But for marketers, it’s likely the development of Meta’s AI targeting tools for ads that’s of most interest.

Over time, many performance advertisers have been increasingly recommending that marketers trust Meta’s AI targeting, with newer offerings like Advantage+ driving strong results, with far less manual targeting effort.

Advantage+ puts almost total trust in Meta’s AI targeting systems. You can choose a couple of targeting options for your campaigns, but for the most part, the process is designed to limit manual impact, in order to let Meta’s systems determine the right audience for your ads.

Which may feel like you’re ceding too much control, but according to Meta, its continued AI investment is now driving better results.

Heavy investment in artificial intelligence tools has enabled the company to improve ad-targeting systems to make better predictions based on less data, according to the interviews and documents […] That, along with shifting to forms of advertising less dependent on harvesting user data from off its platforms, are key to the company’s plans to overcome an Apple privacy change that restricted Meta’s capacity to gather information about what its users do outside its platforms’ walls, the documents show.”

That’s likely worth considering in your process, putting more trust in Meta’s targeting systems to drive better results. At the least, it may be worth experimenting with Meta’s evolving AI for ad targeting. 

It’s not all good news. Meta also notes that while time spent in its apps is on the rise, creation and engagement is declining, with fewer people posting to both Facebook and Instagram than they have in the past.

That’s particularly true among younger audiences, while notably, usage of Instagram Stories is also in decline, down 10% on previous levels.

So while Meta is driving more engagement from Reels, which draws on content from across the app, as opposed to the people and Pages you follow, that’s also led to a decline in user posting.

Is that a bad thing? I mean, logically, engagement is important in keeping people interested in the app, and Meta also relies on those signals to help refine its ad targeting. So it does need users to be sharing their own content too, but if it can get more people spending more time in its apps, that will help it maintain advertiser interest.

In essence, despite all of the reports of Facebook’s demise, it remains a key connective platform, in various ways, while Meta’s improving ad targeting systems are also helping to drive better results, which will keep it as a staple for brands moving forward.

If you were thinking of diversifying your social media marketing spend this year, maybe don’t reduce Facebook investment just yet.

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Effective Ways To Personalize Your Customer Touch Points Even More In 2023



Effective Ways To Personalize Your Customer Touch Points Even More In 2023

Will 2023 be the year of personalization? Consumers hope so. For the past two years, shoppers have been craving the personal touch: In 2021, McKinsey & Company noted that 71% of customers expected companies to deliver personalization. In 2022, a Salesforce survey found that 73% of people expected brands to understand their needs and expectations. So, this year is looking like one where personalization can no longer be seen as a “nice to have.”

The problem, of course, is how to get more personalized. Many companies have already started to dabble in this. They greet shoppers by name on landing pages. They rely on CRMs and other tools to use historical information to send shoppers customized recommendations. They offer personalized, real-time discounts to help buyers convert their abandoned shopping cart items to actual purchases.

These are all great ideas. The only problem is that they’ve become widespread. They don’t move the needle on the customer experience anymore. Instead, they’re standard, expected, and kind of forgettable. That doesn’t mean you can afford to stop doing them. It just means you must devise other ways to pepper personalization throughout your consumer interactions.

If you are scratching your head on how to outdo 2022’s personalization in 2023, try implementing the following strategies:

1. Go for full-blown engagement on social media.

One easy way to give the personal touch is through your social media business pages. Social media use just keeps growing. In 2022, there were about 266 million monthly active users (or MUAs) on Facebook, one billion on Instagram, and 755 million on TikTok. Not all these active users will fall into your target audiences, but plenty of them will.

Make engaging with your social followers one of this year’s goals. People spend a lot of time on social media. It’s where many of them “live,” so it only makes sense that it should be a place to drive personalization.

One quick way to ratchet up your company’s personal touch on social media is to personalize all your retargeted ads. Quizzes can also offer a chance for personalization. Simply set up an engaging quiz and allow people to share their results. It’s a fun way to build brand recognition and bond with consumers. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going very personal and answering all comments. Depending on your team’s size and the number of comments you receive, this might be a viable option.

2. Leverage AI to go beyond basic demographics.

Most companies rely on customer demographic information to bolster personalization efforts. The only trouble with this tactic is that demographics can’t tell the whole story. It’s impossible to get a lot of context about individual users (such as their lifestyles, personal preferences, and motivators) just from knowing their age, gender, or location. Though demographic data is beneficial, it can cause some significant misses.

Michael Scharff, CEO and cofounder of Evolv AI, explains the workaround for this problem: “The most natural, and therefore productive, personalization efforts use demographics as a foundation and then layer in user likes, dislikes, behaviors, and values.”

You can leverage AI’s predictive and insightful capabilities to uncover real-time user insights. Scharff recommends this technique because it allows you to stay in sync with the fast-moving pace of consumer behavior changes. He adds that AI can be particularly beneficial with the coming limits to third-party cookie access because it can be a first-party data source, allowing you to maintain customer knowledge and connection.

To flesh out your organization’s strategy, look to other companies that have gone beyond demographics. Take Netflix, for example, which constantly tweaks its AI algorithm to help improve personalized content recommendations. Bottom line? Going deeper than surface information makes all the sense in the world if you want to show customers you know them well.

3. Keep your data spotless.

The better your data, the better your personalization efforts. Period. Unfortunately, you are probably sitting on a lot of unstructured or otherwise tricky-to-use (or impossible-to-use) data. One recent Great Expectations survey revealed that 77% of data practitioners have data quality problems, and 91% say that this is wreaking havoc on their companies’ performance.

You can’t personalize anything with corrupt or questionable data. So, do your best to find ways to clean your data promptly and routinely. For example, you might want to invest in a more centralized data system, particularly if the personalization data you rely on is scattered in various places. Having one repository of data truth makes it easier to know if the information on hand is ready to use.

Another way to tame your data is to automate as many data processes as possible. Reducing manual manipulation of data lessens the chance of human error. And you’ll feel more confident with all your personalization efforts if you can trust the reliability and health of your data.

4. Go for nontechnical personalization.

It’s the digital age, but that doesn’t mean every touchpoint has to be digitized. Consumers often react with delight and positivity when they receive personalization in decidedly nontech forms. (Yes, you can use tech to keep track of everything. Just don’t make it part of the actual personalized exchange!)

Consider writing handwritten thank-you notes to customers after they’ve called in for support or emailed your team, for instance. Or send an extra personalized gift to buyers who make a specific number of purchases. These interactions aren’t technical but can differentiate your customer experience from your competitors’ experiences.

A groundbreaking Deloitte snapshot taken right before the pandemic showed that people were hungry for connection. By folding nondigital experiences into your personalization with customers, you’re showing them that you see them first as valued humans. That’s compelling and appealing, making them more apt to give you their loyalty in return.

Putting a personal spin on all your consumer interactions takes a little time. It’s worth your energy, though. You’ll wind up with stronger brand-buyer connections, helping you edge ahead of your competitors even more.

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