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Resonate and Activate Marketing’s Age of Empathy

By Anne Wagner

With President Biden’s declaration that all American adults will have access to vaccination in May, he has perhaps defined the optimistic beginning of the end of this pandemic. The pandemic’s disruption, felt so deeply in personal terms, has also profoundly impacted the business of marketing to our forever-changed population. It has become essential that dialogue and exploration thrive in our quest to discover the empathetic words and images that will now resonate with consumers and importantly, activate the client’s customer base.

As Vice President Product Marketing at Effectv, the advertising sales division of Comcast Cable, Lisa Ahern has vigorously engaged in this exercise. During AMA New York’s virtual presentation on February 25th, she outlined a framework for ‘marketing rethought’ emerging in part from a survey of 700 advertisers and agency executives commissioned by Comcast Advertising and conducted by Media Village and the Myers Report in early 2020. Participants were asked to rate the importance of 13 different attributes. As Lisa amplified, when all is said and done, industry respondents agreed on time-agnostic basics:

  • Relevancy:  In reference to audience reach, they are in search of media partners who can deliver audiences that are valuable to their, or their clients’ needs. “Understanding your client’s customers so that you can test out new ways to reach their target audience and provide them with information about business that is relevant to them today.”
  • Trusted partnerships:  It is critical that partners consistently and reliably deliver on promises. “Listening, learning, and acting in your customers’ best interest.”
  •  Brand safety: “Protect brand’s integrity by delivering their message to their target audience in premium content and across brand-safe media platforms.”

The latter will surely be bolstered by the industry’s first global brand safety and sustainability initiative. Spearheaded in late 2019 by GARM, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media and led by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), the Brand Safety Floor + Suitability Framework has identified the need to adopt common definitions for and measurement of harmful content, providing necessary transparency for brand owners and their agencies to appropriately align marketing and advertising messaging across platforms.

Three additional attributes also scored high on this survey, not surprisingly:

  • Cost efficiency: On behalf of clients, carefully spending “precious marketing dollars” with an eye to understanding they are managing short-term survival and long-term success.
  • Responsive sales organization: “Above all, show kindness. We often have no idea who’s been affected by the upheaval we’ve all undergone this year in so many ways. A kind, caring, genuine person will always be remembered in the best light.”
  • Advanced data and analytics: “Data and technology are at the center of marketing,” although caution is needed to avoid the “shiny new object syndrome.”  “Numbers alone can’t tell a story; we need people who can truly understand data to show us how to use it and how to benefit from it most effectively.”

Creative Solutions Through an Empathetic Lens

Lisa cited one example literally close to home in NYC, of a local restaurant that created a weekend “Picnic in the Park.” Faced with rapidly declining revenues, the owners expanded limited sidewalk dining and their traditional take-out menu to a city park across the street, also hiring a musician to play for everyone at an audible distance. Empathetic understanding of their loyal customer base’s frustration with extended confinement while still feeling strong reticence to “eat out,” drove a creative solution that met with such success that it has been incorporated into their ongoing business model. 

On a larger scale, thousands of Effectv’s advertisers were broadsided when college and professional sports were abruptly canceled, leaving brand messages undelivered to a typically engaged and responsive fan base. First things first, the sales team connected on a personal basis with their client contacts to assure their safety and well-being. Simultaneously and with heightened urgency, their team of data scientists jumped in to analyze Comcast viewership data from 20mm+ set-top boxes. Through this new and unanticipated lens, a key insight, a “really powerful story” and subsequent solution emerged: Heavy sports viewers also watch a great deal of other non-sports programming. According to Lisa, the average Comcast household watches 17 networks per month, both national and local, and so new data-driven schedules were built to deliver advertisers’ messages within non-sports content. Lisa cited the “huge responsibility” felt by all to shepherd valued clients through this crisis. 

Rethinking Marketing in 2021 at Comcast is driven in large measure by the empathy emerging from a turbulent year, inspiring a far-reaching $100MM initiative. Launched in October of 2020, Comcast RISE (Representation, Investment, Strength, and Empowerment) has already helped strengthen over 1,200 small businesses impacted by COVID-19. To help combat systemic social injustice, the initiative emphasizes Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)-owned, small businesses, providing media and technology resources to help empower them to succeed in the face of ongoing economic distress. Lisa encouraged applicants to take advantage of the third round of opportunities currently open for applications through the following link: Comcast RISE.

Resonate and activate. In a remarkable collaboration borne of the crisis, Mnemonic, Effectv’s creative agency, offered their formidable services to reimagine advertisers’ TV creative in order keep client messages relevant as the world changed around them. This was, according to Lisa, “a real game-changer.”  She went on to say, “Importantly our sellers and business partners went out of their way to show that we cared about them as people. This superior customer service will resonate with our clients for years to come.”

Anne Wagner Beginning in 2020, Anne has been active in AMA New York as an editor and writer, and serves as the organization’s Speaker Outreach Director. Follow her on LinkedIn.