Marketing tips and insights I learned at AMA Chicago Connex networking event

I’m relatively new to American Marketing Association – Chicago, having joined just this year. I decided a good way to get started would be to attend the American Marketing Association Chicago’s Connex event at the Catalyst Ranch.

I expected to meet new people and maybe make a professional LinkedIn connection, but actually I got much more. From each expert who I talked to I walked away with at least one pertinent marketing tip or insight that will make me a better marketer.

Marketing professionals gathered at Catalyst Ranch for the September Connex event.

Part social gathering and part educational opportunity, Connex attracts marketers from all over the map in terms of their career progression. Some are just starting out while others are veterans who are looking to make new connections or at least to learn new marketing tips. I’m more in the middle with about five years under my belt, so I’m still learning, but at the same time I’ve some solid skills that I feel confident about right now.

The set up worked like this: A marketing expert sat at one of five tables with a sign atop a stanchion that announced to the roughly 40 attendees what each expert’s topic was for the evening. In 20-minute rotations, the experts gave presentations and answered questions for those who sat at their tables.

What’s your brand DNA?

For my first 20-minute spin, I sat at the table of Shanita Akintonde, who is a professor at Columbia College Chicago whose topic was “What’s Your Brand DNA?”

Since branding is a marketing topic I’m interested in learning more, I wanted to learn more about it, so I picked this table first.

Shanita came with great credentials to address this particular topic. Prior to joining Columbia, she worked as an executive for top advertising and PR agencies, including Burrell, BBDO, DDB and Porter Novelli, where she created branding campaigns for McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble.


Columbia College Professor Shanita Akintonde (in green shirt) at Connex.

She told those of us who sat at her table that a company’s brand could be thought of as a spine. It’s unseen, but it holds everything about your company together.

She then added that branding is 80 percent about how people feel about what you do.

“Look at McDonald’s. It’s not voted as No.1 for taste, but McDonald’s is on top,” she said. “That’s because it’s best in branding. Why? It’s convenience and consistency. That’s its brand. That’s what it’s known for.”

But McDonald’s sometimes adds a twist to some of its products, such as including different toys in its Happy Meals, she said.

“Your brand is in your control,” she said. “Trust can be a brand. But once you know your brand DNA, you can get creative.”

After just 20 minutes at the Brand DNA table, I heard the announcement that we all had to move to another table.

Content Marketing: Challenges, Trends and Opportunities

I headed to the next table where I met Cindy Bond, Principal and Founder of Bond Digital, a branding and integrated marketing company that she founded 25 years ago. She’s also a past president of the American Marketing Association – Chicago.

Her topic was “Content Marketing: Challenges, Trends, Opportunities.”

She started off talking about how some of her clients struggle with creating content, especially video. In particular, these clients worry about producing high quality videos, which can take a lot of time and money. But there’s great value in doing quick videos that may not be at the highest quality but are authentic, which is what customers want, she said.

“Many of my clients are afraid their videos won’t be high quality enough, but I say do a quick video and make the most out of it. Low production videos can have a great impact.”

I never thought of it that way, even though I’ve seen great Instagram stories that I watch all the time yet those aren’t necessarily high quality, but they are entertaining and informative to me.


Cindy Bond, Principal and Founder of Bond Digital (far left in black jacket and glasses) at Connex.

She added that many content marketers struggle with producing enough content in a timely fashion. The solution here is finding a way to find multiple uses for content instead of reinventing content all the time, she said.

“Try thinking about how you can create multiple blog posts from that white paper you’ve just written,” she said. “Ask yourself how many blog posts can I realistically produce. It’s called repurposing content.”

Once again, we were alerted that our 20 minutes were up, so I moved to the next table.

Social Media: The Power of Comments

I headed toward Lauren Ramsey, Chief Engagement Officer of Betsy Bash whose topic was “Social Media: The Power of Comments.”

For the last nine years, Lauren has run Betsy Bash, a social media and digital marketing agency, and she’s also the AMA Chicago Associate Director of Social Media.

She started out with her top tip on how to increase engagement, which I’d never considered before, but it seemed so obvious after she told us about it at the table.

“In a social post, leave one small piece of information out, so that followers will ask a question,” she said.

She added that social media is really no different from a verbal conversation. If someone says something to you in person and you don’t respond, it’d be taken as rudeness. The same applies for social media because followers want a real person on the other end, she said.


Lauren Ramsey, Betsy Bash Chief Engagement Office at Connex.

Another great tip she offered was to never use the same response when commenting back to followers.

“Create different types of responses to say thank you,” she said. “Don’t give the exact same answer because you want a personal connection.”

Then, she gave us an interesting statistic. She said that social media is usually people’s third choice when reaching out to companies. Most people will phone first and then email. If that doesn’t work, they will resort to social media. That’s why it’s so important to respond quickly to customers online. Not only is social media more immediate in general, but by the time customers contact you with an urgent matter, they’re probably already frustrated because they didn’t get answers from the other two preferred methods.

“People want answers immediately or at least within 24 hours,” she said.

Then, the night was over. I wasn’t able to get to all the tables, but I’d certainly learned a lot from those that I did.

Next Connex

AMA Chicago schedules Connex events on the second Wednesday of every other month. I’m looking forward to the next Connex at 5:30 – 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the Catalyst Ranch. To attend, you need to register with AMA Chicago. It’s free to AMA Chicago members, and just $20 for non-members.

Kristian Alomá, Threadline Founder and CEO will be talking about “Emotional Branding” and Thom Duncan, Marketing Director of the American Board of Medical Specialities will tackle the topic called “Marketing Team of One.”

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