I was invited to participate in the Forbes CMO Network and Wharton Future of Advertising Program CMO Excursion on June 27, 2013, along with a group of 30 industry executives responsible for their corporate brands. While it was a long time ago, the question that Wharton posed to its extended contributing committee prior to the CMO excursion was, “What could/should ‘advertising’ look like in 2020?”

What was the bottom line back then? Marketers must create human-centric brands that develop connections that truly count. Connections count by lifting burdens or reducing stress or adding some kind of ideals that the consumer values in their community.

So let’s fast-forward to October 2018 at this year’s ANA Masters of Marketing Conference. We listened to dozens of conversations from seasoned marketers as they discussed marketing trends of the future and pondered the question, “how can marketers lead disruption and drive more growth?” After two and a half days of discussions and presentations, the conversations circled around how growth hinges on taking risks to creatively connect with consumers. Going back to 2013, marketers must infuse the personal into personalization. But everyone is stuck asking, how?

Marketers must start shifting away from “cold” data and begin putting a much heavier focus on re-establishing human connections. This is not only a huge shift but an important one in order to effectively drive growth.

Humanize your data

According to two global players in the industry, AMEX and Disney both agree that the need to humanize data is necessary to build human relationships between consumers and brands. Disney summed it up well: consumers want stories with heart, personalization of experiences and want to be the creators of content. Consumers’ expectations are higher than ever before in history; they want unique products, immersive experiences, control, transparency, personalization, and customization. It’s a tall order but when marketers dig deep and derive the meaning behind their values, those experiences with shared meaning drive brand growth.

Use storytelling to develop brand advocates

Storytelling isn’t a new concept to marketers. However, very few have mastered the craft of telling a story that encourages audiences to get involved, participate and fully engage with the brand. It’s those experiential stories that drive human connections because when we hear stories we’re not just listening, we’re co-creating them and when consumers co-create brand meaning, they take ownership by becoming advocates of the brand. By putting the consumer at the center of your brand, you allow your audience to feel completely embraced by and involved with your purpose.

Bring C.A.S.E into your 2019 strategy

The acronym C.A.S.E. was shared at ANA and helps marketers to remember the vitals as we move into the last year of this past decade.

  • C – creativity
  • A – analytics
  • S – storytelling
  • E – experience
  • Of course, with no connections, no brand purpose, and no stories, you will surely have no growth. Nothing will happen without guts, courage, and risk. As the former Airbnb CMO simply stated, “Have no fear.”

    So, as we ring in 2019 in the coming weeks, be fearless in your communications by focusing on a force for good that helps people count on brands. Develop authentic and customized experiences for your customers, tell incredible stories that inspire your audience to engage with your brand, and never forget the basics of C.A.S.E. As a result, your brand can count on growth in 2019 and years to come.