The American Marketing Association National Conference 2013 in Review

Claudia_HeadShot_HighResBy  Claudia Kulaga

The American Marketing Association held its annual marketing conference during September 9-11, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. This was my first time attending the event, and I came to discover an interesting bit of history about both the AMA and the annual conference. While the AMA had held an annual event for many years, the event had historically been a market research conference.  In fact, many had considered it to be the premier market research conference in the U.S., even compared with similar events put on by for-profit companies. Based on conversations I had with attendees of past AMA national conferences, this year was the first time the conference was promoted as a marketing conference, inclusive of market research professionals and all job titles under the marketing umbrella alike.  The majority of the exhibitors that I observed were market research firms, so it will be interesting to see how the exhibitor pool evolves given this change of direction for the conference.

The conference kicked off on Monday evening with a networking cocktail hour where attendees got their first taste of the delicious cuisine that would be served throughout the conference. Tuesday after breakfast, the presentations started with an opening keynote by Jonah Berger, Marketing Professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Contagious, Why Things Catch. During his keynote he identified the 6 factors that drive people to pass things on: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories (STEPPS). He crafted his presentation around several of these factors, and provided fascinating and entertaining examples of products and businesses that have achieved remarkable success by leveraging those factors. All conference attendees received a copy of Professor Berger’s book delivered to their rooms, courtesy of AMA. Everyone with whom I spoke about the presentation during had very positive things to say.

The conference sessions were organized into several different tracks that focused on areas including branding and growth strategy, big data, digital and mobile marketing, connecting with customers, and career development. One of the most practical sessions in my opinion was entitled You Might Be Smart, ButTM…, and was presented by Karyl Innis, CEO, The Innis Company. Karyl identified the biggest career killers, with not knowing what you want topping the list.  She also outlined the different sets of factors that accelerate career growth in one’s early career (first 10-15 years) vs. the later phase.  Initial success sources include track record, charm, ambition, commitment, and brilliance in the sense that one is able to interpret information or produce intuitive insights in a way that others can’t.  As one progresses in one’s career, while those initial success factors are still important, the sources of career acceleration now become qualities such as persistence, resilience, impact, and having a sponsor in the organization.

Overall, the first day of the conference featured more sessions focused on topics related to branding, growth, and connecting with the customer.  In his session titled The Idea Insemination, Joe Talcott, Chief Creative Officer, CREATISM.IS, showed a series of 10 TV commercials that were winners at the Cannes Film Festival. Attendees, including myself, struggled to hold back tears during the Dove Real Beauty Sketches and the Coca-Cola Small-World Machines – Bringing India & Pakistan Together videos. Other clips were funny, such as BGH’s Big-Nose Campaign. No matter what the tone or objective of the individual ads, however, I echo the sentiment expressed by many attendees that this session reminded many of us why we set out to be marketers, no matter what our current role.

The second full day of the conference had more analytical, research oriented, and big data related presentations. Tom Anderson, Managing Partner, Anderson Analytics, discussed text analytics and presented a use case where they helped their client understand and address flaws in their existing customer satisfaction rating system by statistically analyzing the relationships of words that appeared in customer feedback. Another well attended and highly interactive second day session was that of Barry Silverman, VP Brand and Marketing Communications, Broadridge Financial Solutions and Adjunct Professor of Marketing at NYU. Silverman, in his engaging and entertaining presentation, articulated his theory that current global trends indicate a shrinking middle class and that if brands want to continue to be relevant to consumers, they need to choose whether they’re trying to be a high-end, luxury brand or a low-end, economy brand, but the surest path to failure is getting stuck in what he refers to as “the empty middle”.

Overall, I would give the AMA National Conference 2013 a big thumbs-up. The event was well organized, and I’m sure everyone appreciated the two 30-minute breaks daily so attendees could catch up on work without having to choose which session to miss. The track sessions I attended left me feeling informed, inspired, and motivated. The keynote presentations by Rebecca Messina, VP Global Marketing Capability & Integration, The Coca-Cola Company; Mary Garrett, VP Marketing & Communications, IBM Global Sales and Distribution; Matthew Jauchius, EVP and CMO, Nationwide; and Mark Viken, VP Brand Marketing, Sharp, offered attendees the perspectives of these successful marketing leaders on the evolving role of marketing. My only complaint is the number of miles I will have to run to work off all the tasty fried food I consumed outside of the conference while checking out the charming French Quarter of New Orleans, but that is of course my own fault.

Thanks to the AMA National Conference 2013 event planning team for putting on such a great event, and I look forward to attending again.