Embracing the changing brandscape: Key moments from BrandSmart 2019


May 2019

Dana Anderson

“Last year was the least amount of change you’re ever going to experience.”

Dana Anderson, Chief Transformation Officer at MediaLink, during the opening keynote at BrandSmart 2019

How do you get ahead of change in a world that never stops moving?

Unfortunately, there’s no wand you can wave, but there is BrandSmart—the Midwest’s largest branding conference, where hundreds of marketers converged on May 9 to share insights, inspiration, innovation and takeaways.

In a recent Twitter poll, 60% of BrandSmart 2019 attendees said they were most interested to learn about how to keep up with changing trends. And the conference did not disappoint.

As a platinum sponsor of BrandSmart 2019, StudioNorth invited me (and seven other team members) to host a sponsor table and attend keynote and breakout speaking sessions throughout the day. Between the eight of us, we soaked up as much marketing wisdom as possible and left BrandSmart 2019 feeling inspired, smarter and, um, full of cheese.

Here are my highlights, along with peak moments from the rest of the team.

From “traditional and familiar” to “unique, decadent and sophisticated”

Two years ago, Wisconsin Cheese faced a difficult reality. Their talented artisan cheesemakers were crafting unique, decadent and sophisticated cheeses, but when they asked audiences what they thought of when they heard “Wisconsin Cheese,” they heard replies like “traditional,” “familiar” or “ordinary.”

Suzanne FanningAs the Chief Marketing Officer, Suzanne Fanning knew traditional, familiar and ordinary weren’t going to cut it. In her presentation, “Rind-Blowing Word-of-Mouth Marketing with Wisconsin Cheese,” she shared how building unique experiences tailored to what mattered to consumers closed the perception gap and helped her brand become the French wine of cheese.

She created Cheeselandia, a micro-influencer program that sent ambassadors in 49 states boxes of Wisconsin Cheese to host their own parties and events. Over the next few months, the ambassadors hosted more than 300 parties, posting most of them to social media using Wisconsin Cheese hashtags and branding elements. Word quickly spread that Wisconsin Cheese was THE cheese—and not just in Wisconsin.

But that wasn’t all! Wisconsin Cheese headed to South by Southwest (SXSW) to dominate the scene—and, eventually, the news—with their giant pop-up cheeseboard station. Suzanne called it her proudest career moment, and hearing about it was one of my favorite moments at BrandSmart 2019. (That, and the happy hour sponsored by Wisconsin Cheese featuring some of their most popular blends. Is being cheese-drunk a thing? If so, I was).


We live in a world where word of mouth is our ally. We need to create better workplaces and engaging experiences so we all feel part of the community. Geno Church’s “A Shared Ship” presentation gave some great examples of how to inspire your “crew” to be evangelists for your brand.

Christian Campos

Associate Creative Director, StudioNorth

In her session, “Marketing: The Memory Making Business,” Ameritest Vice President Emily Higgins showed how three distinct types of memory systems play a role in creating lasting brand experiences. And that’s really what brands are—all our perceptions and opinions of brands are built on collections of memories we have about our experiences with them.

Dan Gutknecht

Content Director, StudioNorth

Being intelligent about influencers

“After Fyre Festival, we all thought influencer marketing would be dead. But it was an indication of just how well it can work. In fact, it worked a little too well,” commented Ted Otte, Content Strategist at Twitter, during the panel called “Under the Influence: Why Influencers Have Become Critical to Brand Success.”

On the same panel, Jeana Anderson Cohen, CEO and founder of aSweatLife.com, described how influencers actually apply to (and are vetted by) aSweatLife based on how closely their content aligns with the brand’s values and beliefs. From there, the relationship between aSweatLife and their influencers is nurtured and trust is built. “Influencers prefer to work with brands they have a long-term partnership with,” Jeana noted.

Ryan Rasmussen, VP of Social Listening and Intelligence at Wells Fargo, said, “Research what the influencer cares about, and make sure it’s relevant to your campaign.” Influencer marketing goes beyond paying to play. It’s about establishing meaningful connections with people you believe will represent your brand as authentically as possible—and that doesn’t always mean someone with the biggest following.


It’s important to look beyond influencers’ followers number and study their content. Is it getting engagement from an audience that you’d want to attract? Is the content creative and compelling? They know their audiences, and they understand what works. Brands need to set guidelines, sure—but they also need to trust in each influencer’s creative capacity.

Shannon Lee

Vice President of Creative, StudioNorth

Steve Keller and Colleen Fahey’s session, “Finding Your Voice in an Age of Audio Disruption,” was insightful and entertaining—but also freaking terrifying. If half of all web searches will soon be done without a screen, it means we have to rethink every facet of screen-based marketing for audio-first consumption. (Just one tiny example: How do you mark up a podcast?) It’ll be like the transition from desktop to mobile, but exponentially more disruptive. Audio logos? Fine. Audio everything? Help!

Jeff Segal

Senior Copywriter, StudioNorth

Serving up deep dish authenticity

During the networking lunch and keynote presentation, Lou Malnati’s Chief Strategy Officer and Interim President Heather Stege talked about how the restaurants manage to stay human and true to their brand after almost 50 years in business.

One memorable example: After Jon Stewart called Chicago deep dish pizza “tomato soup in a bread bowl” on The Daily Show (I know! I was as offended as you are!), Lou Malnati’s could have just fired off a snarky social media response. Instead, owner Marc Malnati took a red-eye flight to New York and offered to make Jon a freshly baked Chicago deep dish. Stewart received the message and welcomed Malnati onto his show, where he tried a bite of Lou Malnati’s deep dish…and loved it.

Lou Malnati’s stays true to their core values of hospitality, tradition and family. Stege said, “This enables us to grow faster and still be ‘us’—to hold our culture to be able to connect with customers how we have for the last 48 years.”


It was really refreshing to see a company who really follows their brand values and the role they play in the industry, with customers, and in the community. [Lou Malnati’s] also encourages a great deal of individuality in their stores while still keeping the products consistent.

Mark Schneider

Senior Creative Director, StudioNorth

Andy Crestodina was such an enthusiastic presenter and had easy takeaways. His session, “The 1% Content Strategy,” reminded me that things are more complex today than they were 15 years ago, so it’s important to differentiate your brand from all the rest. I definitely walked away feeling ready to push to become that top 1%!

Chloe Hurckes

Project Coordinator, StudioNorth

In Leslie Marshall’s session, “New Realities: Using AR and VR to Create Unforgettable Branded Experiences,” it was eye-opening to see a financial company incorporating AR technology into their printed marketing materials. AR is not just a marketing gimmick anymore, but can be used thoughtfully as a useful interactive training tool.

Julie Beard

Senior Art Director, StudioNorth

Your favorite BrandSmart 2019 moment?

The world will never stop changing—especially not the world of marketing. So what’s the best way to get ahead? Change the game before it changes you. Or, as Dana Anderson says, “Be a little reckless.” You never know how your next campaign might shake the “brandscape” as we know it.

BrandSmart 2019 was an awesome event filled with opportunities to connect with fellow marketers, hear some incredible success stories from industry experts, and make moments that mattered. If you also attended BrandSmart this year, please leave a comment and share your favorite moment!

Molly Kipnis

Molly Kipnis

Social Media Manager

Molly is the Social Media Manager at StudioNorth and the only currently employed redhead. Things Molly likes: theatre, dogs, french fries, and the color pink. Things Molly doesn't like: birds (especially pigeons), the cold, and writing in the third person.

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