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November 16th, 2021

3 Lessons From This Year's ANA Genius Awards Finalists

The 2021 edition of the ANA Genius Awards program saluted 13 remarkable finalists and 4 outstanding winners edging out the competition to get top accolades. While all the finalists deserve to be in the spotlight for their achievements this year, the winners will each get to donate a share of the $100K prize pool to a charity of their choice. They will also be featured on a number of promotional channels in the weeks and months to come, including at a prize presentation virtual event on Dec 2, 2021 to put a stamp on that crystal trophy and make it all official.

Two organizations that made it into the finalists round but didn’t get a top prize were Advance Auto Parts (AAP) and AT&T Business. We provided a summary of their accomplishments alongside the other finalists, but we wanted to dedicate a separate post to them because their projects offer great examples of the mindsets needed to succeed in the future of marketing. Data and analytics are important, of course, but they need the right environment to make a lasting impact.

Let’s first set the stage.

ANA Genius Awards: What did AAP and AT&T do?

AAP needed to create a media budget and channel allocation plan to support its sales objectives in the Los Angeles market, where it recently purchased over 100 stores from Pep Boys and had no baseline sales or media performance data to work with. The company embraced unified analytics, and thanks to that rigorous framework, was able to optimize the allocation of $3M in additional marketing spend and hit $200M in new revenue.

AT&T needed to coordinate the production of digital content from more than 250 stakeholders across seven teams and four different business units. It adopted and deployed a centralized intake and collaboration tool that has helped streamline asset management and version control throughout the organization. This approach has already become instrumental in supporting onsite engagement, sales leads, and conversions for the company.

Lesson #1: Embrace a unified framework

The first lesson we can draw from AAP and AT&T Business's experience is that they immediately realized that they needed to move past legacy point solutions, and adopt a unified infrastructure. That can be a painful step to take in the initial stages of a project. Point solutions are often deeply entrenched within an organization, with staunch supporters and possibly long-term licensing agreements already in place. But brands looking to optimize media allocation across a wide variety of channels, like AAP, or manage content across a wide variety of contributors, like AT&T Business, cannot afford measurement solutions with conflicting KPIs and incompatible datasets. They need a single source of truth.

AAP found the framework it needed in Neustar’s Unified Analytics. The team wanted a solution that could blend marketing mix modeling (MMM) and multi-touch attribution (MTA) capabilities, and account for external data like consumer segmentation, competitive activity, and local retail investments to get the full picture in a brand new market. It also wanted a solution that was comprehensive enough to accommodate all important online and offline channels, and granular enough to help AAP marketers optimize campaigns for both individual consumers and auto repair professionals. The team quickly realized that out-of-home and local television were relative white-space opportunities, and it was able to justify extra media spending to reach the company’s aggressive sales targets in the area.

AT&T Business combined eight legacy content intake systems into one, and organized its unified framework around one centralized tooling platform for digital asset management, Adobe Analytics for clickstream analysis, and Tableau for dashboard reporting. The team formed a content and strategy committee to centralize the organization’s needs and identify the best tools for the job. Now, marketers at AT&T Business have a way to quickly classify the content they’re producing, identify gaps, and analyze performance across all asset types. The company is already using the platform to develop best practices across teams and product portfolios.

Lesson #2: Break down corporate silos for good

Businesses have long used cross-functional teams to manage big projects. But the moment the project is out the door, team members generally go back to their respective departments and return to business as usual. Rarely do these initiatives translate into durable organizational shifts.

The second lesson we can draw from AAP and AT&T Business's experience is that marketing analytics projects can break down corporate silos once and for all. Organizations that have transitioned to customer-centricity know that marketing data is relevant to every function at the company. Marketers used to wage a tug-of-war with their finance and IT counterparts. But big, bold analytics projects give those teams a chance to align on the same metrics and exchange information much more regularly. It’s changed the way many companies are operating.

The AT&T Business team conducted user interviews across content teams and business units early on in the project, and its strategy committee included members from the company’s advertising, digital, analytics, product, and channel departments. These early users and committee members recognized the potential for the new solution to break down barriers and develop best practices across the company, and they were instrumental in its rapid adoption.

The AAP team involved finance from the outset to make sure that its unified analytics solution was in line with business objectives. Not only did that accelerate adoption, but it created a trusted blueprint for the company’s retail expansion in other markets. The auto parts industry is in the middle of a shakeup, and AAP now has the tools in place to capitalize on new opportunities faster than its competitors.

Lesson #3: Get help from trusted partners

The world of marketing is too complex and moves too fast for you to reinvent the wheel. The right data management and analytics tools are out there for you, but you need a trusted partner to help you sort through the options, and help you develop a marketing ecosystem that truly fits your business objectives. That’s the third lesson from AAP and AT&T Business: surround yourself with experienced partners.

AAP came to us with a need for a unified analytics framework, but it also wanted help sizing up market opportunities in a region where it had no baseline sales or media performance data. The company had few insights on who their target consumers were in that region either, and how those targets compared to what it was doing elsewhere around the country. Neustar has a robust track record using meta-modeling for new product launches. AAP was able to build on that experience not only to meet the requirements of its expansion plans in Los Angeles, but to pave the way for future retail expansions as well. “California is a new market for us and doing local launches is also unusual for us,” said Jen Mara, Director of Marketing Programs at AAP. “The analysis Neustar provided introduced us to new areas to consider, and will help guide us in our decision-making process across the board.”

The AT&T Business team knew that it needed a tool that could sustain its content intake and production process now and into the future. It wanted an agile solution that could capture metadata for back-end analytics, support sophisticated front-end capabilities, and handle all types of complicated version control and lifecycle management requirements. The homegrown legacy intake systems at the company had outgrown their utility, and it was time to bring in trusted partners who could help the team deploy a best-in-class digital asset management infrastructure.

Onward and upward

To sum it all up, your data and analytics initiatives are not just data and analytics initiatives. They can change the conversation about the role of marketing in your organization, and shift your company’s data culture for good. That shift, in turn, can amplify the success of your current projects, and set the stage for future wins in the marketplace.

Please contact us. We’re here to help you follow in AAP and AT&T Business's footsteps.

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