Trust is everything: Key takeaways from the ADMA Global Forum

It began with a Mexican wave, had its fair share of jazz hands, and culminated in a slow clap. But you'd be mistaken if you thought this year's ADMA Global Forum was gimmicky. There were plenty of takeaways for those in marketing and advertising, writes Andrew Banks.

The Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) has just held its Global Forum event over two days at the ICC Sydney and the key theme running throughout was the importance of trust.

The speaker/panellist lineup was impressive: Dr Catherine Ball (scientific futurist and associate professor, Australian National University); Gary Vaynerchuk (chairman of VaynerX & CEO of VaynerMedia); Mark Webber (F1 champion); Kathryn Carter (general manager APAC at Snap Inc); Adam Jacobs (co-founder of The Iconic & Hatch); Brett Armstrong (general manager, global business solutions at TikTok); Melissa Hopkins (VP marketing, chief marketing officer at Optus); Stephanie Tully (group chief customer officer at Qantas); Lisa Allan (head of marketing, The Smith Family); Carli Johnston (co-founder & head of product at Virtual Method); Mim Haysom (CMO/EGM brand & marketing at Suncorp Group); Douglas Nicol (strategy partner, The Works); Steve Brennen (chief marketing officer at ZIP); Jason Juma-Ross (director, telco, tech and entertainment at Meta ANZ); Andrew Brain (director, audience intelligence at Seven West Media); Simon McDonald (VP of sales, ANZ at Optimizely); Joe Millward (innovation manager at TAFE NSW) and Andrea Martens (chief executive officer at ADMA).

Karina Carvalho

Hosted by ABC News presenter Karina Carvalho, the forum is designed to inform and connect marketing and advertising industry folk.

The focus of this year’s event was to discuss these three main questions:

  • How can you best use data-driven marketing to thrive in a complex, ever-changing environment?
  • How can you equip yourself to deliver for the consumers of today and tomorrow?
  • How can you prepare for the unexpected and the unavoidable?

Mark Webber and Dr Catherine Ball

Opening night kicked off on Tuesday, with nine-time Formula 1 race winner Mark Webber quizzed on stage by associate professor at the ANU, Dr Catherine Ball. Motorsports and data nerds would have been in their element. Sadly, I was unable to attend this and missed out on the drinks and canapes. In reality, I was out with industry people getting exposed to COVID and unwittingly became a close contact.

Billy Joel would have loved Day Two, as it was all about a matter of trust.

My trip in to the ICC Sydney was marred by an email from one industry colleague telling me they had returned a positive RAT for COVID and that I should get tested immediately. I doubled back home, took a test (negative) and regrettably had to watch the event virtually. But, trust is everything, and I wasn’t prepared to infect a room full of industry people just to get a front-row view of proceedings.

Andrea Martens, chief executive officer at ADMA, opened the event and spoke on the uncertainty surrounding the industry because of the pandemic, but gave these seven tips for brands and team to help build trust with customers:

  • Know where to play
  • Say what you’ll do, do as you say
  • Own it, mistakes and all
  • Protect and respect data/consumer confidences
  • Do what’s right, always
  • Create safe spaces
  • Give the benefit of the doubt first – treat every customer with respect

This led well into the first keynote speaker of the day…

Dr Catherine Ball

Dr Catherine Ball burst onto the stage, ramping up the audience, who must have felt relieved to be gathered together in-person again for the first time in what seems like an eternity.

Ball’s session, “how data and human-centric technologies can make marketing personal and meaningful again”, was thoroughly enlightening – and a wee bit scary.

Ball cleverly broke down the best learnings from the field of systems engineering using pop culture references, such as nods to Tom Cruise’s Minority Report and arguably the best Bond film ever made, No Time To Die.

“Trust is everything. Data doesn’t necessarily equal trust, and neither does technology,” Ball said.

Ball made some huge calls, the biggest of which was “mobile phones will not exist in 10 years’ time”. She said implantable devices will be the norm in 5-10 years: “Bionic marketing might seem far off, but wearables will be under the skin.”

Ball encouraged marketers and advertisers to understand we are still humans first and users of technology second, and the new world is about convergence of all these technologies.

She said 90% of the world’s data has been produced in last two years and this “data tsunami” means we are running out of server space. Businesses that invest in sovereign server farms and cybersecurity will be best placed for the future.

Gary Vaynerchuk live from New York; interviewed by Kathryn Carter

Next up was best-selling author and tech entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk AKA Gary Vee.

His session “essential ingredients for skills and success” was beamed live from New York on the big screen, interviewed by Kathryn Carter, general manager APAC at Snap Inc. It was delivered with energy and was well received by the audience.

The key takeaways from Vaynerchuk’s included:

  • When dealing with people, deliver KIND candour  – be empathetic – “give sugar with the medicine”
  • Most agencies say “We have a no asshole policy” (unless that asshole is bringing in money) – “nobody brings in more money than me”
  • 23% of my meetings are HR meetings – they are HR-driven, because we’re selling people

Vaynerchuk candidly mused, “the industry is no longer a creative industry – it was bought by bankers.”

He announced he was there to “start a movement” and challenged people in the industry: “if an account person and a creative person is out there and wants to build something and never sell to a holding company, say ‘fuck it’ and build something consumer-centric.”

He said what clients don’t do is due diligence on the consumer level, saying he was “always willing to put in the work.”

Vaynerchuk also singled out Budweiser and Pepsi who were both doing NFTs right.

He called out the industry for “lacking humility”, then spoke of how he “wanted to build the greatest communications machine of all time”.

Douglas Nicol and Lisa Allan

It was always going to be a tough act to follow for The Smith Family’s head of marketing, Lisa Allan and The Works agency’s strategy partner, Douglas Nicol, but their session, “Accelerating Your Journey: How a Culture of Experimentation Can Lift Your Results” provided useful information and offered great data for the industry.

They delivered a crash course in using testing to deliver bigger results and priceless insights.

Oh, and they taught me a new word: “flearning”, meaning failed learning. And if you’ve heard that before, well, good on you.

Brett Armstrong, Melissa Hopkins, Andrew Brain and Simon McDonald

Next up, the Mim Haysom (Suncorp)-hosted panel on Mastering the New World, featuring Brett Armstrong, Melissa Hopkins, Simon McDonald and Andrew Brain, discussed their strategies and plans for delivering growth and customer engagement in times of economic and political uncertainty. It was a lively discussion and really drilled down on some of the key points raised in the GaryVee session.

The quick-fire answers to what big challenge is facing the industry at the moment came in on time and under budget:

  • McDonald: “Too much data, we need to be customer-centric”
  • Brain: “Consent, it’s a big tech battleground”
  • Hopkins: “Anxiety, coming out of COVID”
  • Armstrong: “For brands to be real and connect”

Stephanie Tully

“Navigating uncertain skies: the grounding and renaissance of an Aussie icon” was next, as Qantas’ group chief customer officer Stephanie Tully shared how the airline has managed the brand and its customers through the biggest crisis the airline has faced in its 101 year history.

Tully was proud they had kept the magazine going, sending it digitally to platinum members, and by selling pyjamas and bar carts, it kept the brand alive.

She said Qantas’ marketing budget was “pretty non-existent” – Qantas had lost $20 billion in revenue and it was in recovery mode. The Morrison Government’s snap decision to close international borders came with little warning and deeply affected their bottom line.

“It’s complicated. It’s unique,” Tully began her self-proclaimed “therapy session”.

“We had so many interesting customer complexities and unforeseen issues to deal with. Now it’s over 10 million bookings cancelled, changed, credited; we’ve had a lot of refunds. In that first few months of the pandemic, we were really focused as a management team on keeping the business liquid,” Tully said.

“When you’re in crisis mode, you do go back to basics.”

“The voice of the customer was the heart of the crisis for us. We were staying as close as we could to our customers.”

Tully added: “We had a mantra to really come back better. There’s definitely teething issues with restart. Many of you probably waited for too long on the phone, we need to fix our call centres and we’re doing that. There’s definitely issues with skills shortages and labour in this country and around the world that have impacted us, and we’re sorry where we’ve let our customers down. Really sorry.”

Jason Juma-Ross, Carli Johnston, Joe Millward & Steve Brennen

The “Demystifying the MetaVerse” panel, starring Jason Juma-Ross, Joe Millward, Carli Johnston and Steve Brennen, was always going to be a hard sell.

How can you trumpet the benefits of a space and a technology that is in its infancy? But the session was deep and revelatory.

“Nothing will replace in-person – this is for all the times that you can’t,” director, telco, tech and entertainment at Meta ANZ, Juma-Ross said.

The panel did answer my question too: “Will the Metaverse humanise us, or de-humanise us?”

The answer was, a bit of both.

Juma-Ross said: “In the long arc of computing history, things become more natural and human as we go on.”

The panel agreed, it’s a metaverse worth fighting for and we do need to bring humanity to it.

Adam Jacobs

Finally, Adam Jacobs spoke about why solid foundations of customer-centricity should still be the number one focus on a data-driven marketer’s agenda in 2022. He was the only one to reference the Chris Rock/Will Smith incident by asking the audience, “please don’t slap me”.

Jacobs used examples from The Iconic and Hatch to highlight his sales-oriented leadership, and standing for something real and meaningful as a brand.

Jacobs also offered some great recruiting tips to help stave off the Great Resignation and find people who are the best fit for your team.

  • Ask them what they are good at – look at their abilities, potential strengths and transferrable skills
  • Discover their stylistic preferences: how do they like to work? How would they fit in?
  • What is their motivation? What are their values? What excites them?

And with that, the Global Forum wrapped up for this year.

The Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) is the leading industry body for data-driven marketing and advertising. ADMA is also the authority and go-to resource for effective and creative data-driven marketing across all channels and platforms, providing insight, ideas and innovation for today’s marketing industry.

The largest marketing and advertising association in Australia, ADMA has over 350 corporate members including major financial institutions, telecommunications companies, energy providers, leading media companies, travel service companies, airlines, major charities, statutory corporations, educational institutions and specialist suppliers to the industry including advertising agencies, software and internet companies.


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