4 Big Themes From the ANA’s 2023 Digital and Social Media Conference

Chad Crowe is a Partner and Head of Operations at Acadia. 

The ANA Digital and Social Media Conference is one of the leading industry events dedicated to emerging themes, challenges, and trends for marketers of large brands. 

I was fortunate to speak at the event alongside our client, Scott Hargrove, CMO at California Pizza Kitchen. We shared with the audience how CPK is tapping into data to outflank the competition. In this post, I’ll share some key points from our presentation, as well as my top observations from the event. 

Scott Hargrove and Chad Crowe speaking at the ANA Digital and Social Media conference. Image Credit: Chad Musselman
Scott Hargrove and Chad Crowe speaking at the ANA Digital and Social Media conference. Image Credit: Chad Musselman

Theme #1: Internal company influencers

Meg Mitchell, Creative Director, Global Advertising and Social Media at  United Airlines shared a successful social media campaign that was built around  influencers who are also employees of the company. United found a way to piece these internal influencers together in a network, and drive some really extensive brand advocacy from within the company. 

This campaign had the effect of humanizing the brand and establishing a solid brand voice by partnering with people who can extend this voice effectively.

A lot of other case studies shared at the event also made reference to humanizing your brand, making sure that you have a solid brand voice and that you're partnering with people who can be an extension of that. This was one recurring theme - the importance of knowing who you are as a company and who you're willing to talk about you being in front of everybody.

Theme #2: Micro influencers

ESPN shared an inside look at the recently launched ESPN Creator Network. This was  a pilot program in which micro-influencers were given exclusive access to ESPN events. This strategy was beneficial for both the influencers and ESPN. Having smaller audiences and being earlier in their careers - the influencers were wildly enthusiastic about the opportunity and made a big deal of it. 

This enthusiasm helped ESPN to reach a younger generation of fans who consume media in an entirely different way (i.e. on their phones!). Fans of micro-influencers are  very loyal and engaged. The campaign drove great word-of-mouth results.

Theme #3: The risks of influencer marketing

Of course, there are risks that a brand runs in exchange for the “real and candid” nature of influencer marketing. By engaging influencers, you cannot control everything they are going to say or do. This creates potential liability for brands, contributing to a broader discussion around the complexities and challenges of influencer marketing. 

United’s Meg Mitchell summed this concept up quite memorably as: “Do cool sh##, don’t get sued.”

Side-bar note from me: As you can see, my top 3 themes were all tied to influencer marketing. It was surprising to me just how pervasive the discussions about this specific form of marketing was within the event’s programming, as well as the number of vendors in this space who attended the event. Influencer marketing had literally done a ‘takeover’ of the ANA conference itself!

I asked myself why that could be - why is influencer marketing such a big topic in 2023? From my discussions with brands at the event and also with our clients at Acadia, I believe it’s driven by brands seeking new top-of-funnel marketing strategies after saturating all lower-funnel sales opportunities with paid search and paid social. 

Theme #4: Using data to drive marketing decisions

This is my event recap so I’m allowed to be a little selfish and share a theme from my own presentation with Scott Hargrove from CPK titled, ‘HOW A CHALLENGER BRAND TAPS DATA TO OUTFLANK THE COMPETITION.’

California Pizza Kitchen, like any restaurant business that’s survived the past 3 years, was facing some headwinds. Guests were spending less, and there was less organic guest traffic due to an overall decline in shopping mall visits. CPK wanted to drive more visits from guests each year. 


To deliver on this goal, CPK embarked on a journey (proudly with our help at Acadia!) to re-write their playbook. Data was at the center of this initiative as we explored 4 pillars:

  1. Getting off the worn path (stopping default saturation of brand terms in search advertising; experimenting with different KPIs, creative assets, and audience segments).
  2. Let data show where to explore - re-considering radius targeting and discovering a more nuanced view of guest behavior based on different locations. 
  3. Experiment with promotional messages and ‘special moments’
  4. Don’t go on auto-pilot. Maintain a ‘test-and-learn agenda.’

It was a real treat for me to spend this time with Scott at CPK and share a tiny ‘slice’ of our work together. It was also illuminating to learn how much of a focus influencer marketing is garnering among larger brands. I’d even hesitate to call it a trend, given the internal resources and strategies being built within brands to capture more real and human voices among both passionate customers and employees. 

And to square with the other big themes of the event, we have proudly been building up our influencer marketing capabilities at Acadia over the past couple of years. Reach out to us if you’d like to learn more about how we work with brands with Influencer Marketing or Analytics & Insights

PS - if you would like to see the slides from our presentation, feel free to reach out to me at chad@acadia.io

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Chad Crowe