August 3, 2021 / Thought Leadership

10 Things to Know about Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

CP Analytics Team: Brian Kastelein, Director of Analytics, and Diane Zhou, Data Analyst 

It is estimated that nearly 30 million websites use Google Analytics (GA) so when Google decides to make a change to their methodology for website tracking, saying it’s a BIG deal is not hyperbole. Such a change happened at the end of 2020 with the official launch of Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

If you are just learning about GA4 or, like most organizations, are in the early stages of exploring what this new tool has to offer, here are ten things you should know.

1. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is a completely new version of Google Analytics

During the past 16 years, Google Analytics (GA) has undergone an evolutionary process from improving accuracy to expanding features to refining the user interface, culminating in the version of GA that most people are familiar with called Universal Analytics (UA). In late 2020, however, Google brought its newest version, GA4, out of beta. More than just a continued evolution of the UA environment, GA4 is a fundamentally new Google Analytics platform that heralds the cookie-less future.

2. GA4 is built on an event-based data model

The baseline unit of measurement in UA is a “hit.” A hit contains information about a user’s interaction with a web page. Hits are predefined in UA and consist of pageview hits, event hits, ecommerce hits, exception hits, user timing hits, and screen hits (apps) so opportunities to customize tracking of user behaviors is limited. UA consequently relies on cookies to store and recall user interactions and translate them into sessions, repeat visits, etc. By contrast, GA4’s event-based unit of measure represents a fundamental data model difference compared to UA. The event-based tracking in GA4 allows for greater flexibility and customization in measuring user interactions across an organization’s online properties. GA4 is also “smarter” in its use of machine learning so that it is not dependent upon cookies for tracking and reporting key metrics.

3. GA4 is more user-focused and provides a more holistic view of cross-device behavior

If you have a website and an app, congratulations – GA4 provides a more holistic customer view through its cross-device and cross-platform tracking abilities. Its event-based data model allows detailed tracking of user behaviors by appending custom parameters to each event. Here again, in the absence of cookies, machine learning plays a critical role in tracking and measuring user traffic, engagement, etc. Beyond just tracking user behaviors, GA4 will help to make predictions, identify segments most likely to convert, and optimize return.

4. GA4 generates more accurate measures of user engagement

There are many new dimensions and metrics in GA4, especially engagement metrics, to solve the inherent inaccuracies of hit-based tracking in UA. For instance, UA measures session length by next-page interactions with ‘hits’ or requests sent to the server. Single-page visits, therefore, record no time since there is no subsequent user action taken. This methodology results in some inaccuracies in metrics such as bounce rate, average time on page, and session duration. GA4’s methodology solves these inaccuracies. By way of an example, a 10-second session with no further action in UA would be considered a bounce. In GA4, that same behavior is defined as an engaged session and ultimately contributes to a new set of engagement metrics including engagement rate, engaged sessions, engaged sessions per user and average engagement time.

5. GA4 integrates event configuration within the analytics interface

With GA4, a single tag in Google Tag Manager (GTM) is used for initial configuration and then all other events can be set up in GA4 directly. When creating or modifying events, up to 25 parameters can be added to capture more details, such as item_name, item_category for eCommerce, and page_title, page_location, and page_referrer for views. While GA4 events have no notion of Category, Action, and Label, the standard convention that is used in UA, these descriptors can be used as GA4 event parameters if desired. Along with there being greater event tracking flexibility in GA4, there are also new challenges as organizations will need to develop a more disciplined approach to planning, implementing, and managing event tracking.

6. The basic setup of GA4 is relatively easy using the embedded Setup Assistant

If you already have a Universal Analytics property set up in GA, creating a new GA4 property is easily accomplished using the GA4 Setup Assistant that is now featured in the Property admin panel. The Setup Assistant provides a step-by-step guide to completing the basic configuration and deployment of the GA4 property. That said, more advanced event tracking, ecommerce configuration, account linking to Google Ads, Big Query, or other platforms within the Google ecosystem requires additional manual configuration once the basic property is deployed.

7. GA4 has no historical data and sets maximum data retention at 14 months 

Because GA4 uses a fundamentally different unit of measurement than UA, no historical data from an existing Google Analytics account is accessible in the GA4 property. Given that, data collection in the GA4 environment only begins once the property is launched, and as such, it is in an organization’s best interest to deploy GA4 as soon as possible so that a set of historical data can begin to accumulate. Additionally, it is worth noting that while UA had few restrictions on data retention, GA4 has a maximum data retention limit of 14 months.

8. GA4 is still evolving and rolling out new features

Since officially bringing GA4 out of beta in late 2020, it is now the default view for anyone setting up a new GA property. That said, Google has continued to evolve the functionality and features of the GA4 environment, offering deeper integrations to other platforms within the Google ecosystem and more robust functionality based on underlying machine learning capabilities (e.g., predictive audiences, attribution settings, etc.) The bottom line is that the GA4 product we see today is far from being a final version and ongoing improvements and enhancements can be expected (And you have one analytic team here at CP that is hoping to see one of our favorite UA features, Google Annotations, brought into the new GA4 environment!).

9. GA4 can (and should be) run in parallel to existing Universal Analytics properties

While the UA version of GA will likely be the primary source of truth for most organizations for the balance of 2021, GA4 should be set up and run in parallel to any existing UA property. As noted above, data in the GA4 environment is not retroactive so it’s advisable to begin building up a base of historical results. Additionally, running UA and GA4 in parallel will afford organizations an adjustment period during which the results between the two platforms can be monitored and compared. There is definitely a learning curve with GA4 and gaining familiarity with the environment, sooner rather than later, will help organizations anticipate likely impacts of fully migrating over to the GA4 environment sometime in 2022.

10. Organizations should launch their GA4 property as soon as possible

Excited, surprised, panicked, or suspicious, no matter how you feel about this completely new way of tracking website and app data, organizations using GA should launch their GA4 property today. As of now, UA will continue to be fully supported by Google, but with GA4 being the anticipated move to prepare for the cookie-less future, it is worth the time and effort to begin to get comfortable with the new way of tracking, the new interface, and the new functionality of the tool. The CP analytics team is actively helping organizations manage the setup, configuration, and comparative tracking of results between UA and GA4. Our services include:

  • Basic GA4 Property Set Up
  • Event and Conversion Configuration
  • Comparative Dashboard Deployment (side-by-side tracking of results between a UA and GA4 property)
  • Data Warehousing (ensuring data accessibility for multi-year trending and analysis)
  • Full GA4 Migration Project Planning

 

July 7, 2021 / Thought Leadership

Defiantly Human Insight Series

CP Strategy Team

Each month our strategy team dedicates their time to unearth new consumer trends to help our existing clients and intrigue potential prospects. This month we share four trends that, with the right lens, can create meaningful opportunities for brands to create deeper connections with their audiences. 

Check out why consumers are reflecting, laughing, fixating and celebrating new discoveries.


Consumer Behavior #1: 

The pandemic is accelerating pre-existing trends. One of them is retro love. Nostalgia. Looking back.

Times of trauma lead to times of nostalgia. Sometimes nostalgia is considered a kind of depression associated with the pain of wishing something could stay the same. The author Don DeLillo describes it as a “settling of grievances between the present and the past.” However, the designer of Burger King’s new retro logo would prefer that we think of the nostalgia involved as going inward instead of going backward. That’s baloney in a good way.

The pandemic has created an environment of opportunity for brands willing to celebrate comfort items from our pasts. This was a trend pre-pandemic, but has accelerated because of lockdowns and life under stress. Brands can remind people of the power of a good old fashioned handshake, someone knowing your name, rewarding hard work…the kind of actions and behaviors that we remember fondly.

 

Consumer Behavior #2: 

The power of laughter.

The pandemic set the stage for humor to play an even bigger role than usual. 

A study found even barely funny leaders are about 23% more respected and seem more competent and confident. As long as bosses aren’t outright inappropriate or aggressive, employees who rated them as having any sense of humor also reported being 15% more satisfied and engaged in their jobs. These leaders were also found to be 27% more motivating and admired. 

People want to laugh, and they appreciate people who make them laugh. The brands that make people smile are increasingly brands you will invite into your life. You don’t have to be a “funny brand,” but associating the brand with other brands (or people) who make people laugh could have a powerful residual effect/impact.

 

Consumer Behavior #3: 

Stop living with your head down.

The pandemic and lockdowns further accelerated our fixation and preoccupation with our devices – phones/tablets/screens. We have been increasingly living our lives with our heads down, and your brand could be the brand to remind people to lift your head up, see what’s around you, what’s going on, what you’re missing by being digitally preoccupied. The real conversations that can happen and the real manifestation of dreams as people build businesses. 

You can’t make your move with your head down. Live life head up. Just saying this might give your brand the positioning that would resonate with people.

 

Consumer Behavior #4: 

The pandemic was a period of discovery and the birth of new behaviors. Celebrate them.

During the pandemic, people got more in touch with their biophilia—the idea that humans are genetically drawn to and fulfilled by nature. People purposefully engaged in outdoor activities like never before and there was a soar in plant purchasing. 

People reinvented themselves, looked at changing the way they look at the world, their jobs, their priorities. Formerly decisions that we felt were set in stone were being re-looked at. The unimaginable took place. We became open to change. 

Sometimes it is difficult for consumers to consider change. But if companies are changing the way they ask their employees to come to work, can changing to something better be that hard?


Sources⏤Consumer Behavior #1:

Bradley et al. (2020). The great acceleration. Strategy & Corporate Finance Practice. McKinsey & Company.

Sabanoglu T. (2021, March 26). Global retail e-commerce sales 2014-2024. https://www.statista.com/statistics/379046/worldwide-retail-e-commerce-sales/

Frost, P. (2020). An accelerant to social change? The Spanish flu of 1918-19. International Political Anthropology, (13)2, 123-133. 

Galloway, S. (2020). Post corona: From crisis to opportunity. Platforma.

Moore, G. A. (1991). Crossing the chasm. Collins Business Essentials.

 

Sources⏤Consumer Behavior #2:

Aaker, J. & Bagdonas, N. (2021). Humor, seriously: Why humor is a secret weapon in business and life (And how anyone can harness it. Even you.). Penguin Random House.

Apte, M. L. (1985). Humor and laughter: An anthropological approach. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Bitterly, T. B. & Schweitzer, M. E. (2021). Humor and coping in a pandemic. HKUST Business School, 012.

Fayyad, S. (2020). The role of employee trust in the relationship between leaders’ aggressive humor and knowledge sharing. Journal of Association of Arab Universities for Tourism and Hospitality, 19(1), 143-157.

Hu, W. & Luo, J. (2020). Leader humor and employee creativity: A model integrating, pragmatic and affective roles. Asian Business & Management.

Xu et al. (2020). Language skills in business negotiation from the perspective of adaptation. International Journal of Multidisciplinary and Current Educational Research, 2(4), 181-187. 

Yang, C. et al. (2021). Linking leader humor to employee creativity: The roles of relational energy and traditionality. Journal of Managerial Psychology.

 

Sources⏤Consumer Behavior #3:

Alberts, I. (2014). Challenges of information system use by knowledge workers: The email productivity paradox. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 50(1). 

Mark et al. (2016). Email duration, batching and self-interruption: Patterns of email use on productivity and stress. CHI Proceedings, 1717-1728.

Newport, C. (2021). A world without email: Reimagining work in an age of communication overload. Portfolio.

Palmer, M. (2011). The end of email? Financial Times.

 

Sources⏤Consumer Behavior #4:

Crawford & Woodworth (2020). Biophilia and human health. New Design Ideas 4(2), 112-118.

Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do. Penguin Random House.

Edersheim, E. H. H. (2017). The definitive Drucker: Challenges for tomorrow’s executives—Final advice from the father of modern management. McGraw-Hill.

Kahenman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Madison, A. (2021). How the pandemic has changed the houseplant industry—and why. https://www.housebeautiful.com/lifestyle/a35966943/how-the-pandemic-has-changed-the-houseplant-industry/

Reis, S. et al. (2020). Pandemic, social isolation and the importance of people-plant interaction. Oram. Hort. 26(3).

Sullivan, E. (2021). Covid lockdowns turned buying plants into the next big pandemic trend—for good reason. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/covid-lockdowns-turned-buying-plants-next-big-pandemic-trend-good-ncna1256223

Wilson, E. O. (1984) Biophilia. Harvard University Press.

 

June 30, 2021 / Thought Leadership

Kayem for the Win

The 44th New England Emmy Awards took place this past Saturday and our client, Kayem, was nominated for an award in the “Best Commercial” category. And yes, you guessed it, we won! The spot, which came out earlier in the year, is titled “Bacon” and advertises just that: Kayem’s new, small batch, thick cut bacon. 

Be sure to check out our award-winning spot. (And the bacon too!)

June 11, 2021 / Thought Leadership

CP Recap: Williamsburg Tourism Council and CP Take to the ANA Stage

Steve Connelly, President and Copywriter & JoAnne Borselli, Group Brand Director

Did you miss our presentation at ANA’s Brand Management Committee meeting? Not to worry. Here are the Cliffs Notes version.

The team at Connelly Partners spoke at the ANA Brand Management Committee meeting to bring attendees through the Williamsburg Tourism Council case study and the importance of investing in your brand and maintaining ad spend during a downturn.

 Being Quiet Gets You Nowhere

Most travel brands and destinations were staying dark, watching and waiting to determine when to come back. WTC had the courage to keep investing because they knew that the best time to spend is when others are not. 

From an advertising perspective, we counsel clients to think hard before pulling out of the market. Why? According to Nielsen: “on average, it takes three to five years to recover equity lost because of halted advertising, and long-term revenue can take a 2% hit for every quarter a brand stops advertising.”  

The recovery period on the other side kills a lot of brands. Colorado tourism learned that the hard way back in the 90’s.

Value Anthropology as Much as Data 

Together with the client, we conducted a mix of quantitative, qualitative and observational human behavior research to better understand the perspective and concerns of our audience. But beyond the “traditional” research, we believe in digging deeper and observing people in their day to day lives. Watching them as much as asking them.  

We learned things that are obvious to us now, but weren’t back then. Life was feeling hectic is a way that was uncomfortable; people were anxious to fly; road trips took on a nostalgic feel and began to increase in frequency and distance; people missed being with family and friends; and were embracing outdoor activities like never before.

This Isn’t About You

The research helped us to better connect with our audience. Because the reality is, it’s about finding a way to fit into our customers lives, not the other way around. We heard what they were concerned about and what they felt comfortable doing. Since much of what the region offers was outdoors and easy to drive to, WTC would be a great choice for the first post pandemic vacation destination. We wanted to be first in line when the world started to open. 

While other destinations were focusing their messaging on soft-sells about being there when consumers were ready to getaway, Williamsburg Tourism Council to take a took a more direct approach about being there now for how consumers wanted to get away. The Life. At Your Pace. campaign was born.

It featured TV, Digital, Search and more. We also met our audience where they were as time on social media had increased. We knew they had safety concerns. Beyond inspiration, they needed validation when they were starting to make travel decisions. So we leaned in hard on Influencer Marketing as a big part of the awareness strategy and were third party ambassadors who could tell a genuine story and to show by example what the experience was really like, the safety protocols in place and to answer any questions from their own follower base. 

Things Will Go Wrong  

We knew from the start that we weren’t going to win on overnight stays. Occupancy was still in the tank, restaurants were sometimes empty. We had to drive awareness and manage stakeholder expectations. We had to be in this for the long-haul. This wasn’t just about 2020, it was about how we were going to recover over the long-term. 

Since June 2020 when the campaign launched, the work kept going. The launch itself was really only the beginning. On top of this campaign, we had to be constantly listening to the market and to our local businesses to anticipate and quickly respond to changes. It was all about trying new things–and knowing some would stick and others might not.

We created a local print and digital campaign that ran over the winter to encourage the local market to support restaurants and retail stores. We hosted a webinar for local businesses to educate and guide them on social and influencer marketing opportunities. We created a campaign “subset” to support families managing their kid’s education at home.

Data Is An Action, Not A Number

All of the work we did was rooted in data–from the research that led to the concept and to the media strategy. We had a measurement plan in place from the beginning and we are reviewing performance multiple times each month. 

But what is imperative is not just capturing the data (there’s always more than any marketer knows what to do with), and rather, using the data to ask “so what?”

What action will we take with this information? Is it going to drive a shift in targeting? Do we need to shift dollars from one market to another? Is it time to rotate out creative?

Data that’s not tied to action is useless. 

Results

Needless to say, it pays to invest during a downturn.

Williamsburg Tourism Council’s web traffic is up 78% from same time in 2019 (considered peak period for travel in recent years). 80% of that traffic is from first-time visitors to the site – opening up new opportunities.

With an ongoing advertising investment since June 2020, we’ve driven an 16% increase in awareness, 18% increase in positive perception and 157% increase in “likelihood to visit in the next 12 months”

 

June 7, 2021 / Thought Leadership

CP Insights: IAB 2021 NewFronts

Michelle Capasso, Director of Media Services, Mallory Bram, Media Director, Allie Umlah, Associate Media Director, Chris Corrado, Associate Media Director

CP attended this year’s IAB NewFronts – a week of programming and presentations from major partners in media and entertainment. Companies such as Amazon, TikTok, Twitter, Snap Inc., CondeNast took to the (virtual) stage to present their latest and greatest content line ups and what advertisers can expect in the coming year in terms of new programming, advanced targeting, and innovation. Below we share some of the insights from the week. 

1. Storytelling and the rise of content creators

Just as streaming services are leaning on exclusive content for differentiation, social short-form video platforms are leaning on creators.

Propelled by consumer behavior during the pandemic, platforms from TikTok to Snap to YouTube took a moment during their respective sessions to highlight the significant increases in time spent across their platforms last year and what those trends mean for the future of content creation and social platforms. 

Both Snap and Twitter touted over 30 percent year-over-year increases in time spent with their respective content lineups. As a result, both companies will be investing even more in developing partnerships that deliver high-quality, premium content on their platforms.

Meanwhile, TikTok continues to dominate the influencer landscape, signing high-profile creator partnerships with established and emerging talent. This year, TikTok focused on merging discovery and e-commerce by ramping up advertiser awareness of how to leverage its wide base of creators, highlighting user-driven trends like #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, a hashtag where people show off new purchases that were influenced by other users on the platform. 

Coming out of this year’s NewFronts, social platforms are betting big on high-profile creators and influencers to continue fine-tuning their storytelling capabilities and sharing entertaining content that attracts advertisers and drives user engagement and audience growth.

2. Video continue to take the lead

Video has been at the forefront of digital advertising over the last few years, but now more brands and partners are looking at video through the lens of scale + exclusivity. 

In addition to their Prime Video offering, Amazon has made giant strides into the content ownership space with their exclusive NFL Thursday Night Football agreement, original programming on IMDb TV, and more recently their acquisition of MGM. 

Other publishers, those you wouldn’t typically connect with video content creation, are entering the custom content space full-on. 

CondeNast, Tegna, Verizon/Yahoo, Snap, Inc., and Twitter are all shifting their offerings and partnerships to align with the growing video consumption trend, by offering live streaming, custom content, or video on demand options. 

Even further, as seen with a collaboration between KitchenAid and Hello Sunshine, with the help of Digitas – content partnerships and storytelling via digital video, create opportunities to showcase media-fueled creativity. 

“…audiences don’t watch platforms, they watch content” – Agnes Chu + Pamela Drucker Mann, CondeNast 

3. E-commerse everywhere

While retail and ecommerce habit shifts have been one of the biggest consumer stories over the past year or so, this year’s NewFronts mirrored an increasingly blurred line between “shopper” vs. “consumer.”   

The closed loop attribution value proposition that has long been the mainstay of the shopper marketing space has become even more compelling and desirable as 3rd party cookie-based attribution models have shifted, and as consumers lean into ecommmerce for convenience.

With this accountability, it’s no wonder that many NewFront presentations introduced shoppable integrations, from Verizon’s cooler screens in Kroger’s to Conde Nast’s shoppable video.

It’s incumbent upon media buyers to see beyond the walls of our shopper vs. consumer space, and embrace the opportunity to merge these two disciplines (and budgets!)  

April 7, 2021 / Thought Leadership

Balancing Data & Anthropology in Marketing: It’s Good For Business

Steve Connelly was a keynote at the 2020 Think Global Conference where he discussed balancing data and anthropology in marketing. In his session, Steve shares:

1. How data is powerful, but should inform better questions, not provide black and white answers in a business that’s grey.

2. Rational thinking doesn’t always determine purchase behavior because people are more emotional than logical, more right brain than left.

3. It’s human nature to have a gap between what we say and what we do, so create opportunities to better get at the heart of what people want.

4. “Why” is the biggest question that’s missing in marketing and the most valuable question to understand your audience.

5. In a world of immense polarization, don’t lose site of the things that make us all the same; celebrate those universal human truths.

6. Observing cultural and societal behaviors is far more valuable than solely listening to what people say.

7. It’s time to balance the surge in data with a commensurate surge in anthropology. When they work together, magic happens. It’s good for business.

You can watch the full key presentation below:

 

March 9, 2021 / Thought Leadership

Brands Should be Ritualizing Our Rising Indulgences

Paul Capobianco, Cultural Anthropologist

Sometimes in the morning my wife sashays across the kitchen, smiling as she proudly displays a tier of foamed milk atop a mug of coffee. She used to make coffee every few months with a strainer, like a cowhand in front of a campfire. Milk frother? We didn’t even know it was called that until about a month ago, shortly before a certain orange “Buy Now” button was pressed.

In retrospect, Dunkin’s pre-pandemic banner ad spookily foreshadowed the changes in many people’s contexts and behaviors: “Enjoy the Great Taste of Dunkin’ at Home/While You Endlessly ‘Add to Cart.’”

The reset of the pandemic elevates our basic needs as we reimagine them as indulgences.

New contexts mean new opportunities

New choices and habits surrounding indulgence are occuring around the world. Professor Nicholas Christakis of Yale University predicts that by 2024 we’ll experience a pent-up post-pandemic bellow of indulgent behavior and social interaction, rhyming with the Roaring Twenties that followed the 1918 pandemic. Most of our new habits won’t become meaningful, gratifying rituals, but brands have many opportunities to help.

Our adaptations to the pandemic change what we consider to be indulgences. By uprooting and shifting contexts, the pandemic forces us to imagine new reference points to orient fulfillment and a sense of control over our lives. That’s where the help comes in.

New opportunities mean new rituals

Opportunities for brands involve creating new contexts ripe for the development of rituals. At its best, fostering these contexts means helping people repeatedly choose to act on certain needs in mindful, fulfilling ways.

Intentionally putting effort into a habit transforms it into a routine. Creating a meaningful routine based on self-reflection transforms it into a ritual. Brands can be a part of these transformations. Some already are.

Rousing people to try something unfamiliar

TAZO Tea’s 2020 “Routine Reboot” initiative connected people with a wide variety of influencers, giving them a window into the daily routines of these inspiring individuals. This, in turn, invoked curiosity and the motivation for consumers to adopt these rituals as well. Invoking curiosity through what people respect and relate to gives them the motivation to adopt the kinds of routines that become rituals.

Planting the seeds of rituals no one’s heard of

Aeronaut Brewing Company hosts virtual open mic nights, trivia competitions, and “cat mixers,” where people meet each other’s cats and drink beer. Blending novelty with the familiar, in ways that make connections between people easy and special, can lay the ground for new rituals through newfound intimacy.

Reinvigorating rituals displaced by the pandemic

At Club Quarantine, DJ B-Nice virtually reinvigorates the ritual of dancing with friends in a vibrant sea of strangers. Recreating and serving seemingly lost needs invites people to ritualize their behavior anew in ways that now celebrate their resilience.

In all cases, repeatable, enjoyable gratification is made convenient and placed in a larger, more meaningful context. One of the most powerful ways to accomplish this is through collaborations and community building.

The creative possibilities are endless.

New rituals mean new selves

It’ll be a few more years before brands fully reap the benefits of helping people form new rituals. The brands that commit and innovate now will stand out as resources for the kind of mindful indulging that becomes a practice of resilience. We’ll remember them as the brands that were there with us as we struggled with self-reflection and growth.

That’s Defiantly Human.

February 23, 2021 / Thought Leadership

Meeting the Moment: Tips for a Successful Social Strategy in 2021

Michael Murphy, Social Media Supervisor

Between a global pandemic that brought the world to a screeching halt, nationwide civil unrest in the ongoing fight for racial justice, and a highly contentious presidential election⏤all fighting for dominance in our news cycles and social feeds, it goes without saying that 2020 was perhaps the most complicated year for marketers in recent memory. (OK, probably ever, if we’re being honest.)

But with its myriad challenges also came an invaluable learning experience — one that we definitely couldn’t have gotten in any college course or industry webinar before, and that radically changed the way brands were forced to approach their social media strategies.

As 2021 unfolds, many of those same challenges remain, albeit with a new glimmer of hope as the vaccine rollout makes headway and consumer confidence slowly rises from the ashes of a truly terrible year.

So, how do brands even begin to navigate this dizzying landscape? It really boils down to one concept: proactivity.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you plan out your social strategy in a year filled with uncertainty:

Expect the unexpected.

As cliche as that phrase sounds, it became the new norm in 2020 to anticipate bad things happening. (As “Debbie Downer” as that sounds). It’s important for social marketers to stay on top of what’s going on and make plans, and then make back-up plans for those plans, keeping every possible scenario in mind.

With this in mind, we recommended that our clients avoid posting any social content on Inauguration Day. This would allow for the free flow of information, should any violence occur, and also avoid appearing tone-deaf, with any pre-scheduled content going live during a potential national crisis.

Acknowledge and speak to the moment, but do so with intent.

Staying silent in the wake of events of national or international importance, like the ones we’ve seen in the past twelve months, can have seriously negative impacts on brand perception. 70% of consumers say it’s important for brands to take a stand on social and political issues, which is up from 66% in 2017 (source: Sprout Social). Audiences today want to know that the brands they love are in tune with the current climate and aren’t afraid to speak up. In fact, many will begin to support a company if it takes a position — or, conversely, withdraw support for not doing so. (Bonus Tip: save the non-specific blanket statements about “coming together” without addressing the issue at hand; consumers are savvier than ever before, and are able to see through vague attempts to placate without principle.)

In the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests, we advised that if our clients do want to make a statement, it must directly address the situation at-hand. We saw that brands using vague messaging (such as general calls for unity or the decidedly ambiguous “All Lives Matter” approach) were seeing significant blowback, which is indicative of the growing social savvy of consumers.

Find out how your business can fill a timely need and communicate that in your social content.

There are ways other than bold political stances that brands can show support. The onset of the pandemic in particular saw a rapid and persistent shift in consumer needs that required continuous monitoring in order to speak to the moment. It is important to research and lay out what consumers are feeling and needing and figure out how your brand can provide a solution to those needs, in a way that focuses on empathy rather than promotion alone.

In 2020, we saw that consumers were cooking at home more amid restaurant restrictions and generally negative sentiment toward gathering in indoor spaces. For our food CPG brands, we pivoted our messaging approach to acknowledge this and provide creative, gourmet mealtime solutions using the products that could temporarily fill the dining-out gap.

In short, 2020 taught us that consumers are watching brands’ social channels closely — and they’re relying on the brands they love to meet them exactly where they are. While it’s impossible at times to know what’s coming down the pike next, it’s imperative that brands plan proactively for how they will respond to the ever-changing world in which we live, and use their social channels to communicate their unique value propositions.

If hindsight is 2020, foresight is 2021.

February 16, 2021 / Thought Leadership

CP’s Takeaways: AdAge Next: Health & Wellness

Chelsea Carrasquillo, Brand Planner & Chris Corrado, Associate Media Director

CP attended this year’s AdAge Next: Health & Wellness conference – getting a glimpse inside what major advertisers are doing in a time of COVID. Brands such as Unilever, Bayer, Planet Fitness, Peloton and Lululemon shared their experiences and how they quickly pivoted operations and messaging to best serve customers in this new world. Below we share some of these key trends and takeaways for marketers…

Takeaway 1: Bringing Mental Health Awareness to the Forefront

COVID-19’s mental health toll is being called the second pandemic. Healthline has found that levels of anxiety and depression far exceeded normal rates throughout the past year; the driving factor wasn’t necessarily fear of the virus, but rather loneliness.

Laurie Dewan, VP of Consumer Insights for Healthline Media, and Erin Petersen, Editor-in-Chief of Healthline.com, reminded us that mental health is still a very personal topic, and as such, it’s essential to listen first to the audience and respond to them in a way that acknowledges their comfort level. For younger generations who are more vocal about mental health challenges, brands can respond by mirroring their language and extending beyond empathy to provide tools and drive impact. For older generations, who may face more of a stigma around mental health, the response might be to simply help them give a name to what they’re feeling, to think about mental health in less of a pathologized sense, and more in regards to the daily emotions and the effect they have.

An unexpected positive to come out of the last year has been the normalization of dialogue surrounding mental health. Shows like HBO’s Euphoria and Netflix’s The Crown, for example, have placed PSA bumpers and doctor commentaries across their programming.

As we continue to normalize this conversation, consumers are more likely to seek out information around wellness and look to brands to help them make small changes to improve their lives for the better. Healthline reminded us that struggling with mental wellness is not just pain, it’s highs and lows; the message should emphasize building resilience to ride the waves as they come — to appreciate the moments of joy and lean into the moments of happiness.

Takeaway 2: Meeting Customers Where They Are

A common message across the event was that barriers still exist in the minds of many consumers as they look to the wellness industry. This pointed to a mantra repeated in several sessions: brands need to meet people where they are.

Jeremy Tucker, CMO of Planet Fitness, pointed out that while historically many people have been intimidated by the fitness industry, and the gym in particular, the transition to digital fitness has allowed them to re-create their judgement-free zone, where people can explore fitness in the comfort of their home.

Sam Rogoway, Chief Product and Content Officer for Headspace, spoke of the brand’s new Netflix series, The Headspace Guide to Meditation, as a means of introducing people to meditation and mindfulness as a wellness tool. Rogoway said that a major initiative for them has been helping those who may be unfamiliar or unsure about meditation to understand it’s benefits in a way that removes intimidation.

“Meeting consumers where they are,” is an encompassing trend that includes both the physical media journey and the mental mindset of today’s consumer. That includes ensuring that brands are accessible and their messaging is both informative and reassuring, while avoiding the possibility of coming off as tone-deaf. It demands that brands make themselves more available for their customers, by offering products and services that provide immediate value, or by being a source of truthful and useful information. Brands that are prepared to help solve unique challenges such as work from home parenting hacks, or teleservices, such as telehealth or virtual estimates, are poised to be in a better position for success in the post-covid world.

Takeaway 3: Deep Human Listening & Action

Dewan and Peterson of Healthline repeatedly emphasized that empathy alone is not enough, brands need to find a way to provide real service for the communities they engage with. Dara Treseder, Senior VP and Head of Global Marketing and Communications at Peloton, said that their brand has worked hard to establish a “virtuous cycle” in which they take customer feedback and suggestions, and demonstrate the ways they’ve put it into action: “you said, we did.” Planet Fitness brought this to life with their decision to bring personal fitness to the consumer’s home. In response to the pandemic, rather than just putting forth a message of solidarity, Planet Fitness quickly paused membership fees, credited their current members, and made free personal training available online to anyone. Planet Fitness’ CMO, Jeremy Tucker, realized that they could provide their current and future customers with physical and mental wellness tools, free of charge, in a time where Americans needed it most. As Tucker succinctly put it, “doing good is good business.”

Takeaway 4: Personalized and Inclusive Messaging

The Ad Council, Publicis Health Media, DeepIntent, Healthline, and Peloton all echoed the importance of personalization in health and wellness marketing. We heard a resounding declaration that empathy is critical. While there’s been an emphasis on data in recent years, it should be viewed as merely a catalyst to understand larger behavioral trends. It is vital that brands go beyond data to understand the “why” behind these human behaviors so that they can tailor their messaging in response to those nuances. Connelly Partners makes this connection between data and human insights by bringing anthropology into the conversation to deliver empathetic advertising that reaches consumers on a deeper level.

With that said, a major challenge for brands, especially for something as broadly relevant as the COVID-19 vaccine, is establishing a universally-resonant, informative message, without neglecting the distinctions between different communities — whether demographic, ethnic, or socioeconomic.

Peloton’s Dara Treseder said that a big focus in their marketing strategy has been around increasing access to fitness (and thinking about access in a multidimensional way). For example, in Peloton’s partnerships with celebrities or influencers, they want to ensure diversity and make sure that communities who may have previously felt excluded by the wellness industry are represented, emphasizing that fitness and health is for everyone.

Headspace’s Rogoway said that contextual messaging was a major focus for them throughout the pandemic; they worked to speak to various points of stress that were affecting consumers and tailored the messaging to present meditation as a helpful tool to combat them. For example, ‘politics without panic’ was created to help address the stress related to the election and political division in the media.

Takeaway 5: Agility is Key

A reality that COVID has made abundantly clear is that agility is essential for survival — this has been true for all of us, as we’ve been forced to adapt to a new way of living, and it’s perhaps even more true for brands.

Sam McFadden, Head of U.S. Enterprise Marketing for Talkwalker, a social media monitoring platform, saw this represented in the online sentiment and conversations around fitness at the beginning of COVID. What began as frustrations around stay-at-home mandates quickly evolved as people sought out at-home workouts and alternative wellness opportunities.

Planet Fitness, previously an exclusively brick-and-mortar fitness chain, was forced to quickly pivot to the world of online workouts, and did so in a way that clearly prioritized the well-being of their customers: offering free fitness classes and pausing membership payments.

Peloton noticed the growing demand for new ways to stay healthy amid the ongoing pandemic. As a result, they quickly expanded their class offerings outside of their spin classes to provide in-home, personalized, full body workout classes.

In addition, Lululemon gained momentum throughout the pandemic by connecting with customers beyond their traditional e-commerce offering with their $500 million purchase of interactive home fitness startup, Mirror.

Heidi Arthur, Chief Campaign Development Officer at The Ad Council, and Andrea Palmer, President of Publicis Health Media, both shared similar thoughts in that collaboration is key, however it doesn’t have to be at the detriment of efficiency. We can use real time data and research to focus our direction and optimize results on a personal and empathetic level.

January 19, 2021 / Thought Leadership

Separating The Noise: Data to Actionable Insights

Brian Kastelein, Director of Data and Analytics, Connelly Partners

As customer touchpoints have proliferated and the cost of capturing, processing, and storing data has become increasingly efficient, the race for data has accelerated and fueled an often unspoken ethos among many marketers that the one with the most data wins. This unrelenting pursuit of ever-expanding volumes of data, however, is often dangerous to customer relationships, not to mention an expensive drain on corporate resources. More data often just means more “noise” and serves to distract from data that can be truly actionable in cultivating customer relationships in ways that drive positive business outcomes.

One way to avoid placing a premium on data for data’s sake is to focus on the collection and classification of data that are directly relevant to the customer journey. From creative concepting to media planning to customer activations, data should ideally serve a dual purpose of generating outputs that quantify and measure results, as well as an input, in the form of actionable insights, that inform and shape future planning.

If data is to fulfill this high calling, cross-team alignment on process is essential. At Connelly Partners, working within the context of clear customer objectives and corresponding campaign measurement plans, the collaboration that exists amongst the creative, media, and analytics teams to develop shared creative and placement naming conventions, as well as standardized campaign taxonomies and tracking specifications is fundamental to our approach.

These are the building blocks that enable more seamless integration of disparate campaign data sources (e.g., media platforms, websites, call centers, etc.), more automated aggregation of results, more powerful visualizations of trends, and more substantive and actionable insights for improving customer engagement and business outcomes.

That said, process alignment and cross-team collaboration alone will not ensure that data can be leveraged to its full potential. Leadership commitment to supporting the right team with the right skills, as well as a foundational set of tools and infrastructure, are corresponding critical success factors.

Yet here again, the emphasis and focus should be on leveraging data against the backdrop of improving the overall customer journey. Too many organizations over invest in tools or human resources to manage ever-expanding volumes of data that never contribute to improving customer relationships or business outcomes.

Best of breed tools and teams of highly credentialed data scientists come at a price. Organizations that see the accumulation of data as a goal in and of itself, will only see the expense side of this financial equation and consistently fall short of realizing a return on their investment.

To that end, our work at Connelly Partners is firmly rooted in a belief that data itself is not a competitive differentiator. Rather, it is how a company strategically combines process, people, and technology to make its data actionable against the customer journey that will determine its competitive advantage and ultimately drive positive business results.