2019 StratFest At-A-Glance

The 2019 StratFest recently took place in New York with a “Power to The People” theme and top-notch lineup of industry experts and hands-on workshops. Keynotes ranged from Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising & Partnerships, NBCUniversal to YouTube Creator Ingrid Nilsen. Over the course of three days, we celebrated the strategy community and saw awe-inspiring case studies from the 2019 4A’s Jay Chiat Awards winners. Overall, the key message was the need to swing the pendulum back towards staying human in the age of technology and data.

Given this theme, there was no better keynote to kickoff the event than Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Growth Officer, Publicis Groupe. His session, Welcome to The Era Of The Empowered Citizen Marketing To The Globally Conscious, Highly Connected Content Consumer, explored the new marketing ecosystem and how strategists need to reframe their thinking in this new age. Tobaccowala reminds us “if you optimize only for the consumer, you optimize for your destruction because people are people, not consumers.” He goes on to illustrate by stating “we forget people choose with their hearts and then use data to justify that choice” and cautions strategists not to lean on the idea data told someone to do something. If you do, you’ll find yourself outsourced by a spreadsheet. Tobaccowala elaborates on this idea, and much more, in his soon to be released book Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data.

In addition to a handful of keynote speakers, one of the most advantageous learning opportunities the StratFest offers are hands-on workshops. This year topics ranged from Planning In The Age Of Voice detailing actionable steps marketers can take to get involved in the voice space to Succeeding In The New Amazon Economy breaking down how Amazon is changing how brands sell products to customers and how brands can leverage Amazon’s evolution into a full funnel closed loop marketing platform.

One workshop that stood out for relevance and actionability was Mindsets Over Matter: Evolving Personas for Inclusivity and Reduced Bias In The Brief by Hunter Sunrise, Director, Business Strategy and Liston Pitman, Strategic Planner, McGarrah Jessee. We know audiences are craving authenticity from brands. But when bias and tropes are not considered in the briefing process, products and campaigns are released that do anything but offer authenticity. Sunrise reminds us as strategists, our job to bring human truth from the street into the boardroom and for that reason, we must evolve personas for inclusivity and reduce bias in the brief.

The workshop explored alternate persona-building methodologies that focus on mindsets, need states, and archetypes in an effort to reduce bias and create more inclusive and multi-dimensional audience descriptions that inform the creative briefing process. We know a strategist is only as good as the questions they ask, and therefore the best way to evolve our thinking is to evolve the questions we ask. One way is to make sure the audience and their needs are addressed in the question. For example, a few evolved questions might include:



Get: [Audience] To: [Objective] By: [Strategy]

Get: [Audience + Need] To: [Objective] By: [Strategy]

How would a brand about [positioning] solve [business/marketing problem]?

How would a brand about [positioning] solve [consumer need/problem] for [audience]?

What are they thinking, feeling, and doing?

What do we want them to?

How do we get them there?

What are they thinking, feeling, and doing?

In a more favorable situation, what would they be?

How can we support making that a reality?

Additional ways to evolve our thinking and be stronger, more inclusive strategist is to uncover our own biases. One interesting why to do this is to look at what your inner circle looks like, and how that might be impacting your perspectives. To illustrate this, take a piece of paper and list 6-9 names of people you trust (not including family members). Now, across the top write gender, age, ethnicity, education, sexual orientation, ability/disability and other. Next, go down your list of names and check the box if that person is similar to you for each. Is your BFF the same gender, age, ethnicity – check, check, check. Do this for your entire list of names. How similar is your inner circle to you? It might be enlightening what you uncover. To make sure we leave biases and tropes out of the creative briefing process, Sunrise and Pitman provide a few helpful tools to consider:

Tool: Reexamining How You Work

Look around and ask:

  • Are we missing perspectives? Who has a voice? Who has a vote?
  • What current processes need to be adjusted in order to create access?
  • What current assumptions need to be challenged to allow for other perspectives?

Tool: Growing Beyond Biases and Tropes

  1. When defining an audience be aware of preconceptions and association; if someone feels too familiar, you could be leaning on an implicit bias or common trope.
  2. Work to grow relationships outside your familiar sphere—humanizing differences in real life helps dimensionalize audiences in our work.
  3. Withhold judgement of differences while staying committed to accountability for your own inherent biases and perspectives.
  4. Adopt a growth mindset: Welcome multiple perspectives and realities; Use ‘yes, and’ language, 5 whys and open-ended questions to demonstrate curiosity and facilitate others to open up to you

Overall, the event did a great job celebrating the strategy community (a function too often forgotten in the agency ecosystem) and reinvigorated the need for human truth in the creative process. If you’re interested in more highlights and the full list of Jay Chiat Awards winners, check out the 4A’s Post-Event Report. See you at StratFest 2020!

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