On Wednesday, inside the appropriately-named Celebrate event space that’s nestled between Urban Axes and Monument City Brewing off of Haven St., 200 professionals from across the region hunkered down for Baltimore Magazine’s inaugural Made in Maryland Brand Summit. The full-day event celebrated some of Baltimore’s most brilliant and influential industry leaders, featuring dynamic speakers, panel discussions, Q&As, and breakfast/lunch from Copper Kitchen.
Throughout the day, visionaries took the stage to discuss topics including brand narrative, crafting meaningful connections through social media marketing, the benefits of community engagement and bringing a brand to life through experiential marketing.
The speakers hailed from Laureate, Atlas Restaurant Group, Coca-Cola, Monument Brewing, Michele’s Granola, and the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, among others.
While the event was infinitely quotable and chock-full of helpful information that any marketing professional would appreciate, here are 6 quick takeaways that resonated for me.
“There’s 1M+ square feet of production space in Baltimore.” —Greg Cangialosi
The relevance of that fact can be found in the title of the event itself: Made in Maryland. This area is filled with makers. Greg Cangialosi, cofounder of Betamore, illustrated that point by pointing out that a recent Made in Baltimore study found 142 businesses in the region categorize themselves as makers. Collectively, they create more than 1,500 jobs, $26M+ in annual revenue.
Even more importantly, the survey showed that 70% of entrepreneurs are women, and 44% are minorities.
Cangialosi stressed “growth and tenacity” as being two important themes in common with area brands.
“We’re all in this together; everyone from Baltimore, from Maryland, has the opportunity to get involved, work together, and redefine the perception of the area into a City of Makers.”
“Modernizing a brand doesn’t mean throwing away its legacy.” —Kierra Hynninen, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School
During the talks, leaders from two local, high-profile brands took the stage to discuss the careful efforts they took to evolve as a brand. Nabila Chami, director of brand strategy at the National Aquarium, and Kiera Hynninen, associate dean of global marketing and communications for the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, presented case studies and the careful steps they took to “not throw the baby out with the bathwater” when it came to refocusing and relaunching their respective brand personas.
Each speaker detailed the different extents to which they employed transparency and purpose throughout their rebrands, respecting and gathering feedback from internal (employees of the entities) and external (clients, partners, students, visitors, etc.) perspectives on the brand.
Hynninen, with the gravitas and history of the Johns Hopkins brand behind her, spoke to how important it was to maintain what’s expected from the Carey Business School while pushing toward better-emphasizing optimism, and its tie to the greater community.
“Hug your haters.” —Bari Rosenstein, Honest Tea/Zico Water
While we’re on the subject of community, the best line of the event has to go toward Bari Rosenstein, social media manager for Coca-Cola’s Honest Tea and Zico Water brands. Rosenstein, along with Lauren Shafer from Michele’s Granola, Alexandra Seward of Atlas Restaurant Group, Phyllis Langley from Ceremony Coffee Roasters, and Shelby Silver of McCormick & Co., took part in a panel moderated by Lorann Cocca of Baltimore Magazine. Rosenstein spoke about how brands have an opportunity to connect with fans through social media marketing.
Social media can be a wasteland of trolls, spam, bots, especially in trying political times, but ultimately, the expectations are increasingly being placed on brands and companies to meet their customers where they are; whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or yes, even TikTok.
Each of the women on the panel, speaking as representatives of consumer packaged goods brands, talked through the steps they’ve gone through connecting and trying to smooth over some of the less-than-stellar perceptions that come across their desks.
Hence the “Hug your haters” line above, which Rosenstein often employs in order to quell hurt-feelings, negative sentiment, and the occasional troll. Providing an opportunity for customers – across the sentiment spectrum – an opportunity to be heard is a great way brands can grow loyalty, naturally.
“Be caught doing good, instead of telling others about it.” —Flynn Burch, Under Armour
One of the most interesting panels of the event featured Burch along with Alissa Ganser of Business Volunteers Maryland moderating, with Adam Smith of Laureate, Melissa Cheek of T. Rowe Price, and Chichi Nyagah-Nash, director of the Baltimore City Department of General Services.
They outlined the importance of fostering a civic leadership and accountability practice through a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program; essentially, brands and companies taking responsibility for the communities and causes their employees are apart of in order to foster a better internal culture.
The panelists spoke to the fact that businesses have to be purposeful about giving back, tying natively to the company’s values. A lot of these efforts may have been mandated previously – company golf outings perhaps? – which could lead to a mismatch of culture and values for employees. Aligning what your company does with what your employees care about is the best way to provide a true community impact, they said.
“Give them something to take a picture of.” —Erin Cermak, Revolution Event & Design Production
It’s often cited that millennials, and to some extent Gen Z, want an experience more than they want “stuff.” And who better to speak on that than Erin Cermak, Founder of Revolution Event Design & Production, who also helped organize the event with Baltimore Magazine and shared examples from her experiential marketing company’s work.
“Companies need to understand that your brand is much more than a logo,” said Cermak. “It extends to the aesthetics of your lobby, a booth, and especially an event.”
Cermak has been creating dynamic environments and compelling moments to provide unforgettably strong brand experiences, whether that be through a wall of grannies knitting socks, to even an activation at the White House to promote drinking water. Throughout the examples she provided, one thing became clear: If brands and businesses can provide customers with a way to get involved, to “take a picture,” or choose how they interact with the brand, you’ll have made a fan for life.
“Be okay with the notion that everyone can’t be your customer.” —James Maravetz, Flying Dog Brewery
The last panel of the day also brought authenticity.
On the stage were founders of some of the largest craft brewers in the area —Spike Owen representing Key Brewing, Ken Praay of Monument City, James Maravetz of Flying Dog Brewing, and Justin Bonner of Jailbreak Brewing —all who, immediately after the event, headed to Monument City Brewing’s taproom to swap stories and try each other’s seasonal offerings. They seemed relieved, mostly due to the fact that the era of convincing beer drinkers to drink and support craft beer is over. Now, that all that matters is making sure they get their fair share of the pie.
All touched on some of the other lessons that wove through the event:
- The importance of building a brand that’s human
- Social media is a great way to convert customers into fans
- Tapping into a sense of community as a way to grow brand affinity
- Providing an accessible and inclusive experience
But the most powerful thing that was said about what is written above: be okay with the fact that everyone can’t be your customer.
It’s an issue a lot of brands and companies face: How do I grow my pool of customers without upsetting the apple cart? How far do I push things before we’re no longer who our brand is, chasing the fringes of a market?
And while some on the panel admitted it wasn’t what their partners or bosses wanted to hear, they all recognized that making that stand, and being alright with the size of your slice of the pie, is going to help you sleep easier at night.
Something they couldn’t all agree on, however, was whether Untappd was good or not for the industry.
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