Facebook’s 2020 marketing conference: an inside look

Facebook marketing conference 2020

It’s impossible to overstate the influence Facebook has in the marketing industry. A pioneer in social media, Facebook’s approach to digital marketing paves the way for thousands of online companies hoping to achieve just a fraction of their success. On Friday 16th October, Facebook held their annual marketing conference as part of Digital Upfronts with IAB, with one big difference: the entire conference was remote. More than 5,000 people RSVPed to the event, allowing Facebook to reach more people than ever with this year’s theme of “acceleration”. In 2020, things are moving faster than ever; here’s how Facebook plans to keep up.

Acceleration across the globe

The conference was opened by Facebook’s Communications Planning Director, Ian Edwards. He introduced this year’s theme of “acceleration” and discussed how the recent lockdown caused the usage of Facebook’s platforms to jump to over 3.1 billion monthly users. Acceleration means a lot in the marketing industry; technology, usage trends, and consumer attitudes are changing faster than ever.

The more things change…

Les Binet, Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB, was the first guest speaker to take to the virtual stage. His central message was that while consumer patterns have changed in recent months, tried and tested marketing concepts are still as important as ever.

Binet points out that the recent shift in how consumers interact with media can cause some advertisers to focus entirely on activation, and feel like this is the right thing to do when they see a short-term jump in results. But, as lockdown eases and patterns shift again, the 60:40 rule of activation and brand building shouldn’t be pushed aside.

That said, Binet believes there’s an opportunity for companies to “think like a startup” as lockdown ends and things pick up again. There’s an opportunity to restart with high activation, but it’s essential to follow that up with long-term brand building. He points out that the fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed; marketing is about psychology and, no matter the situation, people are still the same.

“If you’re going to go digital first, you need brand building more than ever.”

Acceleration in action

So, what does acceleration look like in a company’s marketing actions? For Facebook, it means Facebook Watch. The platform’s new addition has been incredibly popular as consumers’ desire for short, easily digestible videos has increased. Facebook’s Entertainment Partnerships Lead Dan Biddle hosted a panel looking at what acceleration has meant for companies across the video industry, featuring Athena Witter from Fremantle, Jasmine Dawson from BBC Studios, and Colin Gottlieb from LADbible.

An interesting pattern appeared in this panel, showing that the key to success for these companies has not been solely about innovation and newness. Two points from Athena Witter summed it up perfectly: “Data is key to success”, and “We’re creating content based on what we’re seeing”. Each of these companies uses millions of data points to understand what their customers enjoy and respond to their needs accurately. For BBC Studios, that means reaching into their vaults of classic content as viewers yearn for authenticity. For LADbible, it means sticking to their classic short video format when other platforms have branched out into longer forms of content. All speakers agreed that live video would be a big trend in 2021, as consumers look for authentic connections with their content.

Unilever‘s EVP of Global Marketing and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Aline Santos later followed up on these sentiments in a separate video, adding that brand identities need to adapt alongside content. Brands have always repositioned themselves to mirror society’s needs, and in the current political climate, listening to customers’ expectations is more important than ever. There is a growing expectation of brands to publicly state their ethics, and to follow those statement with action. Whether the focus is mental health of environmental sustainability, consumers want brands actions to feel authentic, rather than like a PR exercise.

“The biggest period of business innovation in four generations.”

It’s a bold statement, but that’s how Ian Edwards described the marketing industry climate. This level of acceleration is truly unprecedented, and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Against this backdrop, Edwards unveiled Discovery Commerce, a system of digital tools that allows Facebook’s customers to discover the products they want. It’s a stark jump from traditional market segmenting, and aims to target customers based on their interests and lifestyle rather than their demographic. The key to Discovery Commerce is Facebook AI, which will give consumers virtual insights into what their homes can look like with the products they want. Described as “where machine learning meets human creativity”, Discovery Commerce is making the jump from meeting customer needs to predicting them.

Diversity, allyship, and advertising

The morning’s final panel was opened by Connection Planner at Facebook, Zehra Chatoo. Before beginning the panel, Chatoo spoke about the importance of diversity and inclusion, as well as the growing expectations of consumers in regards to corporate social responsibility. Chatoo acknowledged that Facebook has made mistakes in this space and is working on doing better, saying “good intentions aren’t good enough”.

The panel consisted of broadcaster June Sarpong, CEO of Media Trust Su-Mei Thompson, and President of the Advertising Association Keith Weed. There was a large focus on diversity within advertising, with the fact that only 7% of people in the UK feel represented in advertising being used to start the conversation. Weed cited a study conducted by the UN Unstereotype Alliance which found that only 4% of ads showed women in leadership positions, 3% showed women as smart, and 2% showed women as funny. The panel discussed the representation issues regarding women and people of colour, with Chatoo saying “We have to be comfortable being uncomfortable in this space”.

Unlike many discussions about diversity, the panel did more than just outline the problems- they also outlined actionable solutions. “Real allyship does not happen overnight,” said Thompson, explaining that consumers notice when “bandwagon brands” release messages without any supporting action, or stay silent altogether. She argued that brands must integrate these issues into their ethos and champion them consistently, not just when it’s convenient. Weed added that the key to change is training, and that companies can’t change their culture unless the problems are understood by those at the very top.

Capturing the moment

In line with its theme of acceleration, Facebook’s 2020 Digital Upfront captured a feeling of unparalleled change in trends, actions, and outlooks. The conference’s remote setting allowed it to reach thousands of people who would have never had the chance to attend their traditional physical event, myself included. Its discussions of fast-changing strategies and reactions to the political landscape felt timely and sincere, but who can say if Facebook will make up for their past blunders? Regardless, Facebook is a tool for thousands of companies to connect with customers, and the insights this conference provided will influence further acceleration in the marketing industry.


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