At an industry-wide meeting of marketing minds, you can usually predict what you’re going to get. Ambitious creative? New technologies showcasing brilliant ways to communicate? Clever tips on social platforms and new ways to leverage data? That and more were on stage at BrandWeek Masters Live — Ad Week’s annual conference assembling brand marketers from across industries to discuss the future of marketing. But that’s not what was most inspiring during the event.

The most notable part of BrandWeek was that values took center stage. Amidst a global pandemic, which has turned our lives upside down — not to mention our strategies and plans — and all but eliminated industry assembly, the virtual platform was infused with humanity that radiated warmth and community throughout the conference. In this atmosphere, marketers leaned in to discuss an eye-opening need: who we serve, why we do it, and how we can help.

Putting Consumers First

Almost every session focused on having empathy for consumers. Brands understand that people are suffering — in economic distress, in fighting for black lives, in fear about keeping their families safe — and activities that take care of consumers were first and foremost.

Brand Genius award-winners were the heroes that championed this most loudly. DoorDash, Ally and Frito-Lay discussed the need for brands to become more human, while pivoting to extreme changes in consumer behavior.

“Empathy is the biggest lesson. We’re in unprecedented times. Empathy for your consumers, your customers, your peers, your colleagues…allows us to focus on the right actions, rather than the pressure to be perfect.” – Sadira Furlow, Vice President, Marketing, Frito-Lay.

Others focused on creating greater joy and comfort for their stakeholders. General Mills talked about how solving everyday problems can be a rallying cry, while Chewy focused on helping pet parents connect to their furry friends. In a time of unprecedented change for people around the globe, this high-EQ room of marketers reminded us the reasons we do what we do: we care about people, and we want to make the world better.

Elevating the Role of Marketing

As marketers around the industry focus on taking care of consumers, it’s clear that the role of marketing has grown in companies around the world. “Our role as marketers is to lead our organizations…[to do] things for society and the planet that also have a strong impact on business,” Brad Hiranaga, Chief Brand Officer of General Mills, said. And that means marketers must choose bigger, bolder “north star” goals to lead their companies toward.

The need to inspire action was stated most boldly by Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer for P&G, on the subject of racial equity. “What we do in our industry matters,” Prichard said, urging executives to “build it in, don’t bolt it on.”

Again and again, speakers championed taking care of stakeholders, standing for our values and taking actions for critical imperatives in today’s landscape. Anheuser-Busch’s Marcel Marcondes reminded us that crisis shows us what matters. His advice: “Put people first. Listen carefully. Act quickly.”

“When disruption happens, this is the world sending us a message. We all cannot miss the opportunity to learn from this situation: to reflect on our values and get better.” – Marcel Marcondes, U.S. Chief Marketing Officer, Anheuser-Busch

Adapting with Authenticity

When it comes to reaching consumers, we know the importance of seamless omnichannel communications — but the digital savvy of the multiplatform consumer has only accelerated this year. “I really think we saw 5 years worth of customer evolution in about 5 weeks as it relates to retail behavior and digital consumption” Janey Whiteside, Chief Customer Officer at Walmart, said.

In this landscape, brands like Ulta, eos and e.l.f. are leading the way when it comes to delivering nuanced, authentic experiences to consumers across the platforms they use — sharing the secrets to retaining consumer attention in the cross-channel landscape: humanize by being natural, considerate of time and personalized.

In creating this new relationship to consumers, data is critically important — but also a point of contention. “We’ve been investing big-time behind online panels so we have the possibility to talk to billions of people today on a daily basis,” Poshmark’s CMO shared. Customer research unlocks an incredible amount of implicit user preferences, opportunities, needs — which can add insight to all of marketing efforts.

However, speakers stressed the importance of privacy-safe data, as customers are demanding personalization on their own terms — without the use of cookies. Instead, we must shift our mindset to one of digital guardianship, whereby brands govern and secure customer data in such a way that provides trusted value.

“We need a new way that rights the wrongs of the industry. We need an approach that is brand, publisher and privacy-first…grounded in real data…that delivers faster results.” – Randy Stipes, Chief Marketing Officer, IBM Watson Advertising

Alignment with DISQO

People-first marketing is the way of the future, and I’m proud to see the industry moving toward transparency when it comes to data solutions. This period promises to be a turning point for marketers to create new relationships with consumers built on trust, innovation and mutual benefit. DISQO is committed to providing brands this new path to customer empathy and insight through ethical market research and attribution practices that start with a foundation of consent. This community of people who want to share their experiences provides the agility marketers need to respond to the rapid changes happening in consumers’ lives with data-driven decisions. After all, people-first technical innovation is at the heart of DISQO.

At the end of the week, one thing was clear: the industry is committed to evolving our core values to get ready for a future of strong, supportive, transparent relationships with our consumers that are based on trust. Brand Masters across the industry are leading the way to more human, more authentic, more fulfilling relationships between marketers and all of the people we touch through our stories.