4A’s Decisions 2020 recap.

By Stephani Estes

In an industry where there is no shortage of trends to discuss, this year’s 4A’s Decisions 2020 conference focused on the three biggest topics of the day: data, technology, and privacy. Although data and technology are not necessarily new discussions for agencies, privacy has put a new (and sometimes harsh) spotlight on them. And, consumer privacy poses the biggest potential regulation impact in recent memory (so, appropriately, we had these conversations in Washington D.C.).

Here are some of the major themes discussed.

Data, Data, Everywhere.

It’s not a surprise to anyone that we have more signals on consumers than ever. What might be a surprise is that despite all of this information, we still struggle on what to do with all that data. This was a common conversation on several panels, and there was nearly universal agreement on how to address it. Answering that question requires asking three other questions first.

  1. Strategy: the first question anyone should ask when it comes to data is – what are we doing with it? What is this data collection in service of? It sounds like a simple question, and yet it’s not asked and answered often enough. The strategy behind the data is what gives it meaning and makes it a powerful tool. And incidentally, it’s also critical for navigating the privacy conversation. If you have a strategic north star, you know what data are important, and what data aren’t. And you have a map for explaining the value exchange to your customers.
  2. Creativity: how do we translate that data into insights that yield meaningful customer experiences? We talk a lot about the value exchange for customer data – and delivering experiences is our end of the bargain. Information without insight holds us back from that goal.
  3. Technology: how do we make all of this actionable? The current landscape doesn’t make this easy. We have Lumascapes in 5-point font, and walled gardens of all sizes. Understanding the technical infrastructure needed to collect data and deliver experiences is only half the battle – being able to work across multiple platforms is necessary in today’s marketplace.

Data is often referred to as a “holy grail” for clients, but it can only deliver on that expectation with a clear strategy and creative expression, and a technology approach that makes it actionable. And as one panelist pointed out, the winners in the data game will be the ones who can stitch all of these things together. And at C-K, we couldn’t agree more. It’s why every person in our agency is fluent in data – from strategy to insights. It’s why we get DIRRTI (data-inspired, real-time thinking, tech integrated) for our clients (really, we do!). It’s why we’ve invested in a robust programmatic and technology stack. Because we believe in the power of data to deliver experience – and we’re set up to make that happen for our clients.

Privacy, Please.

The more data we have access to as an industry, the greater our power in connecting with consumers. And as the old Marvel adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility.  And in the brave new world of regulation – GDPR and its continental cousin CCPA – there are still some big questions about that responsibility that remain unanswered. Without an example of how these laws will be enforced, do we really know what the rules are? As states begin to set their own rules, what does that mean for national advertisers? Will we see a federal solution in the near future? What’s the right balance for consumers between making an informed decision and digging through privacy minutiae? Suffice it to say, there’s still a lot to be determined when it comes to managing consumer privacy.

Another big (and oft-repeated) point about privacy from the conference? The industry needs more regulation – yes, more regulations. Straight from the mouths of industry executives on a stage in our nation’s capital. While calls for greater regulation might seem counterintuitive, the likely targets here are the duopoly of Google and Facebook. These companies hold more consumer data than just about anyone – and regulation might be the key to leverage with the walled gardens.

So what do we do in the interim?

  • Build teams that understand regulation and toolkits for compliance – and it goes beyond the legal department. It’s imperative to have digital project managers with an understanding of data and regulation, who can help clients navigate data application in a privacy-safe and compliant way.
  • Create a code of ethics – as one panelist put it, ethics begin where the law ends. In addition to understanding the rules of the road, it’s important to determine the boundaries we think are right for respecting the consumer.
  • Keep waiting and watching – we heard from FTC commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips, who emphasized his opinion that the decision on federal regulation will have to come from Congress, not the FTC. If that’s the case, it’s likely to be a long time before we have any direction at the federal level.

Given the importance of data and privacy, it’s critical that an agency be prepared to manage both. At C-K, we take a friendly approach to data. If you’re going to use data to make friends, your focus has to be on delivering a consumer experience and building the right type of relationship with a potential customer. And that means putting the consumer at the center of your data strategies – and always doing right by that consumer.

Finding the Right (Diverse) Talent

As excited as I was to attend the GDPR readiness panel (and that’s the honest truth – I was!), my favorite panel of the conference was the discussion around talent. The opening panel of the final day centered around how we as an industry can better resemble the diverse audiences we’re often tasked with reaching. The 4A’s Simon Fenwick led a panel dispelling several myths about diversity and inclusion, including:

  • Diversity of thought is enough – as Rosa Nunez from Burson, Cohn & Wolfe said, diversity of thought is the status quo. Lukeisha Paul pointed out that it’s not the same as diversity of representation, which is what we’re really driving towards.
  • Diversity and inclusion are complex to solve – Paul also called out that attracting diverse talent shouldn’t be so difficult to tackle, because it isn’t any different than the work we do for our clients every day; it requires developing and deploying strategies to reach and retain diverse audiences. And it requires creating an inclusive environment to allow that talent to thrive.

The huge potential of diverse talent is converging with the data trend and creating another talent opportunity in our industry – the need for greater expertise in data strategy and data science. Part of why we still haven’t unlocked the full potential of data is because we have a talent gap when it comes to data. We need more minds who understand how to collect, organize, and activate data – and we need that talent to be more reflective of the diverse communities with whom we seek to connect.