November 10th, 2021

2021 Genius Awards Finalists in the Spotlight

Every year around this time, we have the privilege of reviewing submissions to the ANA Genius Awards, the annual celebration of the best and brightest achievements in marketing data and analytics. And every year, the quality of the submissions just keeps getting better, making it harder for our esteemed panel of judges—experts across publishers, brands, platforms, research, and academia—to select award finalists and winners. This year was no exception. 

To be a marketer in 2021 means juggling dozens of channels, exceptional creativity, testing hundreds of promising new tools, and staying alert to ever-changing consumer behavior and privacy regulations—all while navigating fundamental shifts in the ecosystem brought about by the deprecation of third-party cookies and device IDs, and fending off constant pressure from the C-suite to justify marketing budgets.

But the very best rise up to the challenge and thrive in that environment. They know that in turbulent times, data-driven decision making is more important than ever, and that with the right data and analytics infrastructure in place to drive investments, marketing can have a transformative effect on business outcomes. As one of this year’s finalists so aptly stated, “Layering our various marketing efforts has become a force multiplier for our business.”

We received dozens of entries in this year’s four categories: Innovation, Adoption, Storytelling, and Growth. Please join us in congratulating the companies that rose to the top in the 2021 ANA Genius Awards:

Innovation Adoption Storytelling Growth
American Express
Avocados from Mexico
AT&T Business
Forbes/Capital One
Avocados from Mexico
Hill’s Pet


Finalists in the Innovation category

In the ANA Genius Awards' Innovation category, our judges evaluated whether the companies had embraced a progressive, analytics-based approach to solve a vexing business challenge or seize a new opportunity​. To say that we were wowed by our three finalists in this category is underselling their achievements and bright ideas. They used data and applied analytics in ways we hadn’t heard of before, and are sure to inspire bright new developments in the future.

American Express developed an AI-assisted tool to automate the review and compliance process involved in getting thousands of creative assets out the door every year. Creative errors can poke holes in a campaign budget and hurt the company’s reputation. And in the heavily regulated financial services space, they can also lead to serious financial risks and legal penalties. The creative review process at American Express had previously been long and tedious, according to the company. It’s now a harmonious partnership between man and machine, with much better speed to market, and more control over the quality of the company’s creative output.

Avocados from Mexico launched Avocados Studios, an online library of hundreds of avocado-themed videos, from recipes to documentaries and even reality-dating parodies. The small nonprofit organization captures data on how consumers interact with that content, and uses machine learning to understand behavior patterns and identify lookalike clusters in its giant first-party database. This process helps the company optimize the style, format, and length of its promotional material and draw more engaged audiences for its retail partners.

USA for UNHCR noticed that its donors weren't receiving coordinated asks across different channels, causing confusion and affecting bottom line metrics. Through cross-departmental collaboration, the teams streamlined targeting using data and unsupervised algorithms to cluster donors based on past behavior and demographic attributes. The new process included automated uploads of target audiences to publishing partners like Facebook, freeing up the team to focus more on the creative aspects of mapping their donors’ journey, both for existing and new donors. Thanks to those efforts, 26% more one-time donors are converting to monthly donors.

Finalists in the Adoption category

Most organizations are saddled with legacy tools that limit their marketing capabilities. But recent breakthroughs in data management and analytics are making it possible for companies to finally retire those old solutions and unlock the full potential of their marketing initiatives. This year’s four finalists in the ANA Genius Awards' Adoption category offer outstanding examples of how the adoption of a holistic data and analytics framework can boost business outcomes.

Advance Auto Parts (AAP) embraced a unified measurement framework 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. The company had no baseline sales data for that region, but it worked with its agency and measurement partners to pull together competitive spend and local benchmarking data, relevant customer segmentation data, and media response data from both marketing mix modeling (MMM) and multi-touch attribution (MTA) models based on other regions around the country. Thanks to this rigorous and unified approach, the AAP marketing team was able to justify $3M in additional marketing spend and hit its target of $200M in new revenue.

AT&T Business adopted a centralized intake and collaboration tool for all digital content produced across the company to support onsite engagement, sales leads, and conversions. Three months after rollout, that tool is used by more than 250 team members across seven teams and four different organizations. It serves as a single source of truth and performance feedback for digital, analytics, marketing, advertising, legal, editorial, product, and channel teams, as well as external agency partners. Content production, version control, and asset management are now streamlined and transparent across the company.

Kroger used to rely on antiquated measurement tools that delivered insights twice a year, and failed to make an impact outside of the marketing organization. It invested in a unified analytics framework capable of ingesting disparate datasets and producing actionable always-on models. Insights are now driven by relevant and timely data, and shared across the organization on a monthly basis, not once every six months. Kroger’s media spending is now 16% more efficient, and faster, better-informed decisions have already translated into $100M in incremental revenue for the company.

Finalists in the Storytelling category

Data and analytics don’t cut it alone. Marketers need to leverage them to tell a story that resonates with their audience—clients, internal and external partners, consumers, even the general public. Especially today, when so much keeps changing in the marketplace and people are looking for clear and simple explanations. This year’s three finalists in the ANA Genius Awards' Storytelling category led the way with compelling data-driven stories.

Forbes and Adobe partnered to tell the story of how the Covid-19 pandemic was transforming the workplace. They conducted a survey of 500+ senior digital and technology executives, and launched a global campaign to share its findings through sponsored articles, social promotions, virtual events, custom webinars, and presentations at highly visible industry conferences. Most CIOs today are struggling with how best to manage a hybrid physical and remote workforce. By focusing the story on current widely shared pain points, Forbes and Adobe positioned themselves as thought leaders in the hybrid workplace movement.

Forbes and Capital One teamed up for a survey of top executives as well, this time capturing data from 1000 respondents to discover how business decision makers approached resilience, agility, and growth in their financial affairs (three key Capital One themes), particularly in light of the pandemic. They then launched a multi-faceted storytelling campaign to share their findings and engage Capital One customers and prospects. That campaign involved a dedicated hub, premium articles, short-form video content, digital ads, animated social videos, and even a long-form promo. It gathered millions of cross-platform impressions and was successful in elevating the bank’s status as a thought leader in business intelligence.

Twitter realized that the best way to strengthen its story was to help its clients tell their own stories better. The company conducted a massive research project to analyze what specific creative features within Tweet texts, images, and video assets worked best for different types of advertisers. It then translated the findings from its machine learning models into best-practice recommendations. Clients who adopt those recommendations are seeing a dramatic lift (up to 2.5X) in key brand effect metrics all along the consumer journey. Now, internal teams at Twitter have the hard proof they need to guide future product design, and to support their advertisers and their ambitious business objectives.

Finalists in the Growth category

While innovation, adoption, and storytelling are powerful indicators of marketing success, growth is where the rubber hits the road. However, brands are often passing on long-term growth objectives to meet short-term sales targets, or passing on short-term wins in order to capture larger gains in the future.

Binet and Field captured the marketing world’s imagination almost 10 years ago with The Long and the Short of It, reminding us that “Great marketing campaigns need both short-term sales activation and long-term brand building, and they need them to work together.” Our finalists this year managed to use data and analytics to find the right balance between the long and the short. They invested in data governance, developed a single source of truth for their consumer data, and reconciled short-term tactics with long-term strategy. When marketing effectiveness and business outcomes pull in the same direction, the benefits can be enormous.

Avocados from Mexico was an early adopter of CDP technology, and the company has built its first-party data into a 120-million+ user powerhouse that allows it to analyze granular consumer behavior, cluster its most valuable users, and perform A/B experiments to fine-tune campaign performance. The company cut its cost per visit by 33% over the past year, while increasing average time per visit by 22%. In a brand- and package-less space, its ability to constantly engage visitors with compelling content is doing wonders for its retail partners, and avocado imports from Mexico have doubled in the past seven years.

Hill’s Pet witnessed a major shift from pet specialty stores to DTC ecommerce during the Covid-19 pandemic, and an increase in pet ownership too. The company saw an opportunity to scale its marketing spend to drive short-term sales while investing in the future with brand equity messaging. The team that was assembled to achieve that balancing act spanned many departmental functions (marketing, retail, finance, operations, leadership), and capitalized on a robust unified framework from the company’s measurement partner. That effort has already doubled short-term sales and drastically improved cross-brand pollination at the company. It’s a blueprint for future initiatives, and Hill’s Pet plans to increase its media spend by 50% in 2022.

PepsiCo transformed the way it approaches marketing with CANVAS, a homegrown integrated marketing platform that’s become a one-stop destination for internal teams to optimize media plans and create consumer-centric experiences. Championed by all key decision makers and embraced across all functions at the company, the platform has already delivered $5M in operational savings and an ROI of 170%. In its first year of deployment, marketing ROI at PepsiCo has improved by 7%, and media allocation what-if analyses produce results in real time where they used to take six weeks to complete.

Twitter wanted to understand how its paid, owned, and earned marketing efforts contributed to lifting key brand impact metrics and business outcomes. The relationship between brand perception and usage metrics on Twitter sits at the heart of the company’s measurement needs. The organization's analytics team corralled sophisticated statistical and machine learning techniques into a unified analytics framework to untangle that relationship. Among other key benefits, the team realized that current events were an important exogenous factor, and that an effective communications strategy on top of earned media and paid media investments could double the impact of its marketing campaigns.

Key takeaway from the 2021 ANA Genius Awards

If there’s one main takeaway from the success of our 13 finalists this year, it is that data and analytics are empowering marketers across all industries to innovate, be more rigorous, change their company’s culture, and become key contributors to the bottom line. Marketing is morphing from a cost center to a revenue center, and the C-suite is finally taking notice.

Congratulations to all the ANA Genius Awards finalists this year! But while all are deserving of high praise, our judges had strict instructions to select only one winning entry per category. Click here to find out what companies in that elite group were named overall winners  and claimed a share of the $100K prize pool to donate to a charity of their choice.


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