Helen and I attended Brandemonium, the world’s premier branding and marketing conference last week. It took place in my hometown of Cincinnati, OH, the city where branding all began. It was the third year for the conference and was held for the first time at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, a national historic landmark featuring French Art Deco design.
Sociality Squared has been involved in the conference since its inception and we were happy to be back again. This year Helen presented on “The Content of Brand Character” alongside an all-star lineup of speakers including top marketers from brands like the NFL, Major League Soccer, Spotify, Home Depot, Taco Bell, and more. The two-day conference was filled with thought-provoking topics and insight.
Read on for my top takeaways from the conference.
Here at Sociality Squared we have seven core values that act as our guiding star. We care about our work and that it makes a positive impact on culture and people, and love working with value-aligned clients. At Brandemonium, we saw that we weren’t alone in our thinking.
“Winning with Purpose: The New Marketing Manifesto” was a panel put on by Newsy and Core Impact. Anne Oudersluys from Core Impact stressed that a purpose-driven company is really a company that is improving society beyond industry norms. One of her key points is that purpose needs to be part of core business practices. Purpose shouldn’t be ancillary as purely a corporate responsibility program. It’s also good for business and employee retention. Anne shared that Nielsen data shows a 14X higher growth rate for products with sustainability benefits vs. conventional products. Millennials who have a strong connection to the purpose of their organization are 5.3 times more likes to stay. Newsy shared how you can provide purpose through storytelling. Through their work, they tell stories that are authentic, relevant, simple, and credible.
Helen’s session “The Content of Brand Character” dove deep into how marketers can bridge the gap of good intentions with execution to make a positive impact. Reputation – or positioning – is how a brand is perceived by consumers whereas Brand Character is what the company actually is based on business practices. Brand integrity is when companies not only talk the talk of purpose-driven work and their values, but also walk the walk. Right now, there is a lot of hollow content from brands out there that may give warm and fuzzy feelings but the truth behind the companies themselves offer a different view. Purpose must be built into the fabric of the business and not an afterthought. In order to do this, companies need to re-orient their corporate structure around purpose, not solely profits.
Following Helen’s presentation was Heather Willems session “Clarity Through Creativity: Drawing out Your Visual Stories.” In order for businesses to reorient around values, people need to come together and brainstorm. In Heather’s interactive session, the audience saw how collaboration is key to move concepts into creation, whether that’s uncovering core values or how to implement them. Heather explained that creativity unlocks our brain’s greatest potential. To solve the problems facing businesses, we’re going to need creative solutions.
Purpose-driven marketing is more than a movement; it’s a cultural shift. One question “Winning with Purpose: The New Marketing Manifesto” left us with, which I’ll ask you, is: “How does purpose inform your brand’s marketing strategy?”
Youth Culture Leads the Way
It was evident that brands are keeping a close eye on youth culture to drive their business and marketing strategies.
The NFL is celebrating their 100th season this year and know they need to tap into younger audiences in order to keep the game growing. Tim Ellis, NFL Chief Marketing Officer, explained that they’ve focused on an influencer strategy to target younger football fans through the lens of fashion, music, lifestyle, and gaming. The NFL takes these influencers and grants them exclusive access and unique experiences in exchange for social and editorial promotion through the influencer’s own channels to reach young people. In an NFL commercial played, the audience saw all the usual NFL players but also Ninja, the professional gamer and YouTuber.
Major League Soccer will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year and has really embraced youth culture as an integral part of its brand. They have a diverse and progressive fanbase and let the fans take the lead and see the sport as a platform for expression. A great example that David Bruce, SVP of Brand for Major League Soccer, talked about what has happened in Atlanta where hip hop culture has seamlessly blended with soccer to create a unique experience for fans attending games.
Jey Van-Sharp and Winston Peters of MyÜberLife’s talk focused on the next generation with their “A Youth Quake is Coming” session. They stressed that these types of earthquakes are always happening so the establishment needs to always be measuring and ‘embrace the quake’ so they can bend and not break. Jey and Winston gave the audience some practical tips for working with youth. It comes down to truly conversing and listening to the youth culture, keeping a non-judgmental and open mind, mentoring the next generation, educating them, co-creating with them, and paying them.
The Great Gender Dismantling
Dipamjan Chatterjee, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester, previewed interesting and important research in his presentation titled “The Great Gender Dismantling.”
The old way of marketing “beauty products for women” is gone and change is here. He shared that 52% of millennials believe gender is a spectrum and 12% identify as trans or non-conforming. Some brands are listening. For example, United Airlines allows customers to select U (undisclosed) or X (unspecified) as the gender of choice when purchasing a ticket. However, some are not practicing what they preach. A sobering slide showed a variety of Pride posts from brands along with the amount of money they contributed to anti-gay politicians. Brands must walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to values.
The main point of his research boiled down to this statement: “Individuality is the future of marketing. Gender is its past.”
In general, we saw that throughout Brandemonium. Personalization and letting the consumer lead the way is more important than ever.
Are the Machines Taking Over?
Of course, there was plenty of discussion about technology and the role it plays in marketing at Brandemonium.
Pete Blackshaw, CEO of Cintrifuse, spoke on how consumer choice is moving to voice, which can provide both blind spots and opportunities for brands. When building voice strategy, Pete challenged the audience to think above the brand and grab bigger territory.
Lisa Destafano, VP Brand Marketing and Creative for The Home Depot, described that the company goes where the customer leads them in her keynote “Thriving Through Change.” When the customer is the boss, you need to adapt fast, have great content, and understand data. To do all of this, she broke it down simply: “Technology will free you.” Technology allows brands to dig deeper and reach customers in ways like never before.
One of the most interesting looks into technology came from Eric Solomon in his keynote “When the Math Men meet the Mad Men: Storytelling in the Machine Age.” Eric posed the question: “Are the machines taking over” that the audience wasn’t too sure how to answer. He then took us through an interesting example where he showed two separate commercials, one created by a human and the other by AI. The audience did not correctly guess which was created by which! He also showed machines beating humans in game.
However, it’s not yet time for the rise of robots over humans. Machines can do some things better than humans and humans can do some things better than machines. He sees a world where there is ‘collaborative intelligence,’ defined as: intelligence that emerges from humans and machines working together, where the sum is greater than its parts.
In the end, the exponential growth of technology is something both marketers and brands need to stay on top of. It seems, at least for now, the machines aren’t 100% taking over!
Brandemonium 2019 was a great opportunity to meet interesting people in the industry and hear from thought-leaders on the future of branding. I left the conference refreshed, inspired and am already looking forward to next year!