Last week, more than 3,000 senior marketers descended upon Orlando for four days of smart sessions, immersive experiences – and as expected, some fun mixed into the equation.  This year’s theme of “Driving Growth” was a bit of a misnomer as the topic of growth had little to do with sales or revenue but more about change and understanding. Here are the three key areas that stood out as recurring themes during the event:

We’re all human.  Despite endless, stressful days spent analyzing data and forcing the next out-of-the-box campaign, marketers are still human. And low and behold, we’re also consumers.  We live, breath, eat, sleep and shop like everyone else. And surprise, surprise, we have emotions. So when Disney’s tale of the daydreaming duckling or Google’s ad for John’s Crazy Socks played on the stadium-sized megascreens, there was not a dry eye in the house.  Brands today are playing more and more to the emotional needs of consumers. With 95% of purchases happening emotionally, the human experience is winning hearts and wallets…

It’s time to play nice in the sandbox. While it may be a tad blasé for Fiat Chrysler’s CMO Olivier Francois to share his success stories of working with some of the biggest global celebs including Jeremy Renner, Bebe Rexa, and more, he’s not off-base when it comes to uniting marketers (from start-ups to Fortune 500 brands) with the common goal of taking a new approach in a stale industry. In Olivier's case, he's leveraging the creativity behind music to give consumers a way to feel and hear the driving experience. While brands like Target are launching dozens of new, smaller brands (within their own brand) to offer more product personalization. While P&G is playing with the concept of “constructive disruption” and sending leadership to Silicon Valley to learn from the start-up culture. In both cases the dusty, dated Marketing 101 textbooks are being thrown out the window in favor of creative, raw, gritty, start-up style marketing – where “failing fast” is the norm no matter how big or small you are.  

Last, but not least, is the recurring theme of authenticity. Case studies are usually shared chronologically – you start with the challenge, then goals, the plan and then the results. This year’s ANA felt a shift, as if brands came to an epiphany. The path from the challenge to the result is not always a straight line – and sometimes along the way, you can look tone-deaf. The example from Target was shared when Rick Gomez, Executive VP and Chief Marketing & Digital Officer talked about local campaign efforts where they tried to “be the community” versus “listen to the community” – resulting is a campaign in NYC that received a major backlash from locals. Target shared what they learned by re-evaluating and restarting their campaign efforts and bringing in the community in first the second time around.

Overall, these themes do show that the industry is taking strides to not just reach the average Joe/Jane but to truly understand the uniqueness that is the world we as humans live in today. With the fatal combination of brandless loyalty and the ease of social sharing, brands can no longer hide when they make a mistake and are finally realizing they’re just human, too.