Facebook x Digital Upfronts: 5 things we learnt

Posted on Friday 15 October 2021 | IAB UK

From value-led brands to immersive virtual experiences, recap on the key takeouts from Facebook’s 2021 Digital Upfront

Bringing brands closer to their consumers was the overarching theme of Facebook’s Digital Upfront. As Ian Edwards, Global Connection Planning Director, summed up, “personalised discovery and personalised experience” are fundamental in allowing brands to build stronger connections with people - particularly as we move ever closer to a fully connected, immersive metaverse. Here are the things we learnt…

1. We’re shifting from mobile to metaverse 

“We need to be thinking of a future that extends beyond what fits in your hand”, said Nicola Mendelsohn, VP for EMEA at Facebook. If history shows us that a new computing platform emerges every 15 years - with the last being the launch of the iPhone in 2007 - we’re soon due for a shift. According to Mendelsohn, the emerging metaverse is where brands should be looking for opportunities: “The brands that will thrive will be the ones that are more connected and provide richer, deeper, more personalised experiences for their customers.

Facebook is investing heavily in building tech and products that build a full sense of presence for consumers, with the platform aiming to shift from a social media company to a metaverse company in the next five years. From AR glasses to wristband technology, it has 10,000 people working on virtual reality, with Mendelsohn pointing to brand examples from MADE.com, Charlotte Tilbury and RayBan to show how brands are already harnessing immersive tech. 

2. Privacy & personalisation aren’t at odds 

The role of personalisation was a prominent theme throughout Facebook’s Upfront, with James Bennett, Head of Business Product Marketing in Northern Europe, saying that Facebook believes the two are not at odds and the company is “focused on building privacy-safe products that meet the balance”.  With Facebook first and foremost a discovery platform with a global audience of 3 billion people, effective discovery for brands is all about getting “personalised prediction” right. 

As Bennett put it: “Moments of discovery are not serendipitous… they are highly engineered and powered by the data that is fed into them.” In order to master the careful balance between personalisation and privacy, brands need to be deeply focused on utilising privacy-safe products. 

3. From me, me, me to we, we, we

Brand values and the communities brands are building formed the basis of a brilliant panel debate where Facebook’s Zehra Chatoo was joined by retail expert and TV personality Mary Portas, Nubian Skin’s Ade Hassan and Gymshark’s Noel Mack. Portas said that we have evolved from a world of rampant consumerism to our current reality where people are more value-led and want brands to be looking after people and the planet. As she put it, “it’s gone from me, me, me to we, we, we” and, as a result, big brands are having to unlearn what they have done before to keep pace with value-led newcomers to the market.

Giving us insight into how Gymshark was formed, Mack described the company as built by “19-year-old kids that created a product that represented an underrepresented community”. On the subject of marketing, he said: “We’re not good marketers, we’re good listeners… when you open your ears, the correct marketing decisions really aren’t hard to make.”

Similarly, Nubian Skin was created to serve an underrepresented community when Hassan couldn’t find nude underwear that matched her skin tone: “I didn’t even work in fashion or know anything about marketing strategy, but this was a community that I was part of and I wanted to reach out to that community and let them know that they were seen.” It was that community that then took to social media to help spread the word and build her brand, she explained. 

4. Our agility ability remains essential

With the pandemic having accelerated change in so many areas, marketers’ ability to remain agile and adapt is crucial, according to The Marketing Society’s CEO Sophie Devonshire. Part of this relies on looking at what is happening outside of your specific sector because consumers are constantly comparing brands across categories: “The smartest marketers are the ones that have peripheral vision… look up and around because our consumers and our customers are comparing everything cross-category.” A great example is Gregg’s, who looked beyond baking competitors to Apple for inspiration when launching the vegan sausage roll. 

However, despite changing trends and structures, the core elements of marketing hold true. Central to this is the need to balance technological understanding with human understanding. As Devonshire explained, “brands that are open to [new technology] and set up to take advantage of that will discover whole new opportunities”, but human understanding must continue to underpin and inform our marketing decisions. 

5. We’re on the cusp of a creative explosion 

The ability of social media to unite people - particularly over the past 18 months - was summed up by James Kirkham, Chief Business Officer at Defected Records, who said that Facebook has been a way of “bringing people together and lifting spirits in an isolated time”. Embodying this spirit of virtual togetherness, Defected Virtual Festival was an idea born via a WhatsApp chat before rapidly becoming a Facebook Live event that delivered a cross-generational clubbing experience on a global scale, reaching 120 countries. 

Kirkham also spoke to DJ and Producer Carl Cox, who underlined the vital role that Facebook and Instagram played in allowing him to stay connected to fans and followers in lockdown via watch parties: “We can get online right now and show people who we are… the embodiment of the industry and the DJ culture.” He believes that “we’re on the cusp of another creative explosion because of what we’ve all been through… now is the perfect time to be creative”. 

This Digital Upfront is available to watch back here.

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