By Robert MacLean

What will savvy marketers be doing in 2020? What industry issues are set to dominate this year?

To look into the future, the American Marketing Association’s Toronto chapter (AMA Toronto) recently gathered a panel of agency leaders to reflect on emerging trends, challenges and opportunities in Canada. The popular annual event featured five influential thinkers from creative advertising, media, PR, strategy and technology.

The lineup included Nancy Crimi-Lamanna, chief creative officer, FCB Toronto, special guest speaker Rosane K. Giovis, partner, digital strategy & iX leader, IBM iX, Alexandra Panousis, president, advertising and media, CEO, Havas Canada, Jack Perone, chief strategy officer, Mass Minority and Krista Webster, president & CEO, Veritas Communications.

“The collective vision these agency leaders delivered focused on digital transformation and how to best mix and leverage strategy, technology and creativity,” said event moderator Matt Chong, who is AMA past-president and vice president, brand partnerships, Fifth Story.

Looking ahead to the 2020 marketing landscape there were six big takeaways from the discussion.

1. Tech/digital transformation. While the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are creating opportunities for brands, creating emotional connections with real humans needs to be at the centre of everything we do as marketers. How marketers are choosing to use the new technology is the developing issue.

“Technology enables,” said Giovis. “But marketers must still deliver on people’s needs and expectations.”

2. Customer experience innovation. New research collected by IBM iX shows over 65% of CEOs and CMOs now believe their competitive edges will come from customer experience innovation. This is supported by the findings that 80% of customers report that the brand experience is as important as the product or service they are looking to purchase. And that 86% of them say they would pay more for a better experience.

According to Giovis, these findings reflect a shift in focus from a product-based to an experience-based business approach. The amount of creativity going into rethinking and redesigning customer experiences using technology is redefining brands and product marketing.

“Technology is a way to differentiation,” she said. “It’s allowing agencies and enterprises to build unique experiences that enable new and different connections with customers.”

3. Data privacy. The accelerating transformation of our industry has a dark side. In the “crazy, amazing world of media,” Panousis cited data privacy as one of the most important global themes for marketers this year. A new age of data privacy is arriving. Public awareness and unease about how FaceApp and other brands are collecting, using and losing personal information has made privacy a growing consumer demand and a target of regulation.

“But increasingly consumers are giving up privacy for value,” said Panousis. What she made clear, however, is that in 2020 brands need to begin to sort their data strategies and that privacy-first approaches to data collecting will be rewarded in the marketplace.

4. Diversity, inclusion and equality. More than showing diverse talent in Canadian TV advertising, the teams that develop marketing for brands must be more diverse and inclusive.

While Webster raised the issue that marketers now acknowledge diversity and equality of thought ultimately breeds better creativity and work, she acknowledged that the agency sector is wanting.

“Agencies in Canada assume that we are so kind and inclusive as a country that…we just embrace everyone…and we’re doing all the right things,” said Webster.

The panel agreed; in most Canadian agencies that’s not the case. Despite the average age of the panelists, ageism in the agency sector is widespread. The “agency sage” is dead. The gender wage gap exists. Diverse talent reflecting the makeup of our urban population is not being attracted to the industry.

This scenario led Webster to conclude diversity and inclusion (D&I) benchmarking across the industry is essential if things are to change for the better. And that the most successful agencies of the future will be finding ways to up their D&I.

5. Corporate reputation matters more than ever. Reputation adds value to the worth of a company. And it’s not intangible.
Against a backdrop of global protests and news coverage about climate change disaster, “How you behave as a brand is as important as what you stand for,” said Perone. “You will be celebrated for authenticity and pilloried for lip service.”

Recognizing performance and behaviour, as well as communication, are critical components of reputation, brands will have to make substantial changes to the way they run their businesses to align with evolving consumer expectations and sustainability concerns. Brand activism and purpose will therefore increasingly influence marketing strategies in 2020. With no room for empty promises, bold and authentic talk about important issues will attract interest and drive purchase behavior.

6. Creative excellence trumps most things. “2020 will be the year of creativity,” announced Crimi-Lamanna. “When you unleash creativity across the consumer journey, it’s an economic multiplier for brands and businesses. And there’s never been more proof of that than there is today.”

Drawing on 20 years of data, Crimi-Lamanna summarized how creatively awarded campaigns are 11 times more efficient at driving market share growth. The most awarded campaigns are 16 times more likely to drive growth. And 15 years of winners from Cannes reveal the Advertisers of the Year there outperform the S&P 500 by a factor of 3.5.

Part of a thought-provoking and often diverging conversation full of pragmatic advice, these six big takeaways from AMA Toronto’s agency panel are red threads that should be running through many marketing plans this year.

“The marketing landscape in 2020 looks as demanding as ever,” Chong concluded. “To remain competitive, brands must keep pace with increasing customer and partner expectations, evolve how they plan marketing efforts and better leverage the technology available today.”

Robert MacLean is principal, MacLean PR & Corporate Communications and vice president, Public Relations, AMA Toronto (

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