At the end of April, the ANA held their annual Brand Activation Conference in Chicago. Throughout the conference, speakers from companies like Ford, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Southwest Airlines shared how they’ve launched strategically-driven activation campaigns to increase sales and drive higher brand sentiment. Several brands presented their successful strategies, and four key trends emerged: sponsorships, emotional appeal, data, and audience values.

Sponsorships are valuable tools…for both parties.

Ahead of the 2016—2017 National Football League (NFL) Football season, Ford increased the scope of its sponsorship with the NFL. After realizing a high affinity between their brands, Ford and NFL embarked on creating opportunities around the shared interests of their mutual fans. As an example, Ford sponsored the renovation of a firehouse in Dallas, TX, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Fox network produced a spot about the renovation and it aired during a Cowboys home game. Both Ford and the NFL experienced an exorbitant uptick in social engagement. Regarding the efficacy of sponsorships, Ryan Luckey, Assistant Vice President of Corporate Sponsorships at AT&T noted that sponsorships should always do three things: “elevate the brand, drive the business, and unify the company.”

Emotional appeal is a hot trend, but be authentic.

Of the 13 brands that presented, 9 of them talked about campaigns that were highly emotional. These campaigns were specifically designed to increase sales and increase overall brand sentiment. Sarah Landsman, Senior Director Brand Strategy and Eye Care Marketing at Lenscrafters, noted that their philosophy for their recent #seegooddaily campaign was, “Activation without emotion is merely price promotion. Emotion leads to action, whereas reason only leads to conclusion.” Yet, several brands echoed that the bottom line still needs to be the bottom line; a sentiment campaign alone is often times not effective, feels in-authentic, and fails to drive revenue.

Data is important, but don’t be creepy.

Big data has definitely piqued the interest of marketers, but it’s still followed by a healthy bit of skepticism. “Just because you have all the data, doesn’t mean you should use or disclose it,” said John Lim, CEO of Life in Mobile. Several other brands also referenced observing the potential for the “creepiness factor” when disclosing how much they know about people. That said, several speakers noted that brands are okay with using big data to figure out what kinds of things their audience cares about. Which leads us to our fourth point…

It is difficult to figure out what your audience cares about.

Figuring out what sorts of values and social issues your audience cares about is difficult. Helen Limpitlaw, Director of Brand Communications & Partnerships at Southwest Airlines, noted that they were able to discover that “our customers value traditional things like cost and convenience, but they also really, really care about authenticity.” In response to this, Southwest launched their “Transfarency” campaign, which has since become a tagline and company model. Questions were asked of several of the speakers about how to go about figuring out what kinds of things audiences care about, and Carrie Birth, Brand Manager at Proctor & Gamble, noted the easiest way to find out is to “ask them” through surveys, research, and plain ol’ trial & error.

As this handful of examples shows, it surely seems that money spent on brand activation is money well spent, as it not only sees returns on brand sentiment, but also on overall revenue. Particularly, campaigns centered around sponsorships, emotional appeal, data, and values are seeing success. Stand by for a subtle plug: we have a tool or two that can help you in each of those areas.