GSN-News-BrandSmart 2024 Replay by Barbara Rozgonyi - AMA ChicagoFresh from visiting the future of marketing at AMA Chicago’s BrandSmart 2024, your Growing Social Now Host Barbara Rozgonyi, dissects the revolutionary ideas and trends reshaping our industry. Expect to hear about the seismic shifts AI is causing in our field, not just in terms of efficiency but as a catalyst for creativity and connection.

We’ll reflect on the power of storytelling in brand identity, the evolution of B2B marketing, and the ways AI is reshaping the advertising landscape. This episode isn’t just a recap; it’s an invitation to be part of a bold new era where marketing is as much about innovation and audacity as it is about understanding and engaging with the stories we all share. At one hour, THE longest Growing Social Now News episode ever is power-packed with insights and takeaways to transport you to the future. Thanks for listening, subscribing, and sharing!

The longest-running brand marketing conference in the US, BrandSmart 2024, delivered a powerful dose of future-focused insights. Over 300 brand marketers from across industries converged in Chicago to explore the latest trends, tools, and stories shaping the world of marketing. As an attendee, I was blown away by the cutting-edge conversations and actionable strategies shared by industry pioneers. Let me take you through the key highlights and takeaways from this must-attend event.

As a Social Media Club Chicago founder and a seasoned marketing leader, I was excited to attend and get insights from innovators, thought leaders, and fellow professionals navigating the ever-evolving marketing universe. BrandSmart delivered a stellar showcase of TED Talk-style mainstage presentations and hot topic discussions on the latest strategies, tools and stories empowering brands to thrive.

Kicking off the day for us was Leslie Marshall Chief Marketing Officer, Mesmerise Group, former AMA Chicago President, an excellent #BrandSmart2024 Emcee; and Chris McGuire, AMA Chicago President, Director Of Client Growth and Engagement, McGuffin Creative Group, Inc., and an engaging game show host!!brandsmart-leslie-chris


BrandSmart 2024: Marketing The Future of Brand Experiences

Session 1: Staying Grounded While Launching an Out-of-this-World Brand


The opening session featured Sheila Hamilton from McDonald’s, who unveiled their new concept CosMc’s – a specialty beverage brand tapping into the $100 billion coffee market. Hamilton revealed the clandestine pre-launch strategy of keeping it completely under wraps until opening day, with signage shrouded and even in-house teams unaware. The launch focused on optimizing search visibility with limited paid social media.

CosMc’s Gen Z-inspired customer experience centers on “enjoyable chaos” with an order-ahead model and brandtainment to engage customers during pickups. The nostalgic name nods to McDonald’s iconic arches while evoking a sense of endless exploration. The menu leans into beverage novelty like the churro cold brew frappe.

Hamilton emphasized tapping into consumers’ desire for novelty, scarcity and FOMO – “the gravitational pull with the Golden Arches” and “desire to be a part of something.” While adhering to a limited marketing budget, techniques like the Texas drone light show aimed to spark buzz. A key takeaway? “A brand is not a static thing – make sure you have fans at the forefront of every decision.”

Session 2: Embracing AI and Maintaining the Human Touch


The role of AI in marketing was a hot topic, with 51% of marketers having used or experimented with generative AI models. Jennifer Polk from Feeding America addressed the two types of AI:

  1. Traditional AI for research, analysis and marketing automation
  2. Generative AI for creative and connective tasks like copy, design, and complex processes

Polk covered the opportunities AI offers (improved utility, productivity, scalability, creativity, and connectivity) and the risks (inherent bias, accuracy issues, sustainability concerns with a larger carbon footprint). 39% of marketers don’t think they can safely use AI yet, with 31% worried about accuracy, 20% lacking trust, 19% concerned about skills, and 18% fearing for their jobs.

Polk emphasized the need for guardrails to ensure human-centered AI application aligned with core values to mitigate risks like perpetuating societal biases. She advised evaluating organizational readiness and training teams on responsible AI use.

Dove showcased brand ethics in action with their bold stance to never use AI to represent real women in ads, as 1 in 3 women feel pressure to alter their appearance due to online imagery – a percentage likely to increase as AI proliferates. According to Europol, 90% of online content could be AI-generated by 2025.

The Innovation Panel: Engaging Locals and Fans


Local experts – Linden White (rEvolution), Lisa Nucci (Choose Chicago), and Dan Moriarty (Chicago Fire FC) – delved into connecting with local audiences and fandoms. Key insights included:

  • Measuring the right KPIs through before-and-after analysis like Chicago’s Mag Mile Lights Parade where global influencers live-streamed the experience to quantify impact.
  • Tapping into travel trends like the DestinationNEXT report for personalized local experiences that let visitors engage like locals.
  • Allowing fans to self-select customized benefits like Chicago Fire FC’s flexible options for families, businesses and superfans with behind-the-scenes access.
  • Being aware of inability to control every touchpoint in the experience journey (e.g. rideshare).

Nucci encouraged checking DestinationNEXT for the latest trends as “visitors and fans are using different tools to connect and want to experience destinations and events like locals do.” Moriarty noted Chicago Fire FC is looking at personalized benefits so “ticket holders self-select with options for families, business, and superfan behind the scenes access.”

Nucci reminded that Chicago has been named #1 City by Condé Nast for seven years running, is a welcoming LGBTQ+ destination, and is the birthplace of house music and skyscrapers. “How much do you know about Chicago?”

Session 3: Branding in the Narrative Economy Dr. Kristian A. Alomá


This session explored the psychology of consumer experiences and our “narrative economy” where “we exchange an experience for the ability to tell a story.” Alomá explained how brands help humans build structure, meaning and identity:

“A brand is any distinctive feature like a name, term, design or symbol that identifies goods or services.” – AMA Definition

Brands can evoke many positive, and negative, emotions: trusted, loved, loyal, satisfied, supported, passionate, longing, committed, addicted, and betrayed.

Brands become part of our identities. You can be defined by your five favorite brands.

In our narrative psychology, we make stories to make sense of our identities. Brands shape those identity narratives whether they choose to or not. Alomá advised:

  1. Understand your audience’s existing story – their heroic role, goals, struggles
  2. Find your brand’s role within that narrative
  3. Shape how your brand integrates to positively impact their identity

“If you don’t create your own stories, someone else will do it for you,” Nora Ephron. When the customer is the hero, the brand enables their transformation and rewarding journey.

Marketers should ask: “What stories will customers be able to tell themselves because of our brand? Are we proud of those stories?”

Alomá  asked marketers to recognize the impact of their storytelling on consumers’ mental health: “The greatest impact on people’s emotional and mental health comes from marketers’ decisions that influence people’s pockets and minds.”

The AMA (Ask Me Anything) Panel Moderated by Shannon Lee (Studio North and former AMA Chicago President), creative leaders – Lindsay Gash (Meta), Pepper Miller (The Hunter-Miller Group), and Andy Crestodina (Orbit Media Studios) – tackled pressing topics:


What’s the biggest B2B marketing mistake?

“Shorties don’t win,” said Crestodina, stressing that service pages need exhaustive content answering every potential question to improve navigation, segmentation and engagement.

What are the biggest marketing challenges today?

“Not investing in the inclusion lens of black and ethnic consumers. Dismantling inclusion is dismantling innovation,” stated Miller. “Lead with ethnic insights – understanding those needs can unlock universal opportunities.”

She also emphasized inclusive hiring, briefs, and ensuring diversity voices are brought to the table: “Rally around real versus invented inclusion.”

Will AI kill SEO and search?

Panelists predicted website traffic could drop as AI-powered searches rise. “Put a lot of content marketing on the internet – it will be the new AI PR,” said Crestodina. He cautioned, “AI has no POV or friends; the human’s job is to dig deeper than AI’s potential inaccuracies. AI might as well stand for Average Information.”

Gash added, “Assume AI is biased and incorrect initially.” Miller noted how the meaning of “woke” has been redefined over time, urging awareness of contextual bias.

Other insights:

  • The line between influencers and creators is blurring; creators are skilled storytellers and production experts.
  • For small teams, focus on consistency, taking strong POVs and embracing “lo-fi” content created with care.
  • AI is already augmenting creativity via brainstorming, storyboarding, language polishing; invest in quality models.

Innovation Spotlight: Claire’s Rebrand Meghan Hurley, Claire’s VP of Global Marketing


shared the brand’s bold 2023 rebrand with vibrancy and purpose like the Pierced by Claire’s line influenced by Lady Gaga’s collaborator, Nicola Formichetti. The highly-anticipated Paris store opening party during Fashion Week was one of the year’s top events.

Claire’s 2024 “Meet the MOST” campaign innovatively tapped Gen Alpha and Gen Z creators through an open call – not hiring professional models – to co-create product design and marketing. Other major initiatives included a Roblox metaverse experience selling virtual items alongside real-world product drops, and major partnerships like Hello Kitty’s 50th anniversary. Thanks to PR, Claire’s generated 11B impressions!

Session 4: Bronco Boost: Generative AI’s Marketing Journey

Joe Grigsby VML moderated a panel discussion with Jen Swanstrom Ford Motor Company, along with Christopher Scuro and David Chan of GTB.


The team talked about how they’re leveraging generative AI’s scalability, customization, and cost-effectiveness to create thousands of ad variations at low cost for the Bronco line. While AI couldn’t get basics like spelling “move” right initially, requiring continuous model training, Ford has seen promising results: higher click-through rates, time savings on creative development, and better overall engagement.

The team positioned AI as an “Ironman suit” augmenting creativity, not replacing human ingenuity. With AI handling mundane tasks, employees are freed for higher-value work like:

  • Producing multilingual videos for dealerships using AI narration
  • Customizing videos, photos and ad creative for regional dealership marketing
  • Allowing more strategic, insightful work on Alpha concepts

A generative AI Roadmap plotted future moments in the AI journey.

Closing Keynote: Architecting Your Future with Google’s Jennifer Wesley

In an inspiring closing keynote,

Wesley encapsulated the “change of eras” we’re experiencing driven by disruptions like COVID-19, postmodernism, and generative AI. She urged intentional career architecture through exercises like:

  • Reflecting on core values every 5 years using tools like a “values card sort”
  • Ideating “possible selves” through low-risk experiments like taking a class or shadowing someone
  • Continuously reinventing oneself as the skills needed for 60% of new jobs are only possessed by 20% of today’s workforce

“Change is inevitable, growth is intentional,” John Maxwell.

To change and grow, fostering an empowering mindset for thriving amidst perpetual evolution and reframing our mindset from the linear “chutes and ladders” career paradigm to an expansive “Dungeons and Dragons” model of multidirectional paths.

BrandSmart 2024 was a cosmic voyage into the future of brand marketing – an immersive experience exploring AI’s transformative rise, the psychology of modern consumers’ narrative economy, innovative engagement strategies for locals and fans, and the imperative of continuous personal growth and reinvention. As the cosmos of marketing expands, events like these ensure we marketing pioneers keep moving towards the future together.

Were you at Brandsmart?

Always love reconnecting with AMA Chicago friends like Bonnie Massa, Leslie Marshall and Mike Dwyer!

What were your top takeaways?




#BrandSmart2024 #barbararozgonyi #2024marketingtrends #b2bmarketing #b2cmarketing #dtcmarketing #fractionalcmo

AI Assisted in the copy editing. Notes taken by me, Barbara Rozgonyi, amounted to 15 pages. Apologies for any inaccuracies. Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing!