February 21, 2024

AMA CEO Shares Vision for the Future of Marketing During CEO at Smith

l-r: Roland Rust, Distinguished University Professor and David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing; Bennie F. Johnson, CEO of the American Marketing Association; Progyan Basu, Clinical Professor of Accounting; and Smith School Dean Prabhudev Konana
Bennie F. Johnson, CEO of the American Marketing Association, shares industry insights at the CEO at Smith event.

There’s no crystal ball that can predict exactly what’s to come for the marketing industry, but Bennie F. Johnson has a few good guesses.

Johnson, CEO of the American Marketing Association (AMA), the world’s largest community-based marketing professional collective, offered his expertise on the industry’s direction and insights for students during the CEO at Smith event held at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

The Smith School’s Roland Rust – Distinguished University Professor, David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing and executive director of the Center for Excellence in Service – served as moderator for the event. Rust is also the AMA’s vice president of publications in charge of policy and editor selections for its five journals.

During the hour-and-a-half discussion, Johnson spoke candidly with Rust and entertained audience questions on topics ranging from AI’s impact on marketing to combating impostor syndrome.

CEO at Smith event covers AI's future, evolving data privacy concerns, demand for versatile marketers, personal branding strategies, and overcoming self-doubt in professional growth.

Here are five predictions and observations about the state of the marketing industry, as shared by Johnson during the event:

AI still needs people to shape it. What people should realize as they plan their careers is that “the AI you see today, at a technical level, is the ‘dumbest’ AI that you’ll ever see,” said Johnson. As AI advances, it will require practitioners to determine what it means for the marketing profession and the world. There are ethical and privacy concerns and massive potential for workflow efficiencies. However, according to Johnson, human imagination, creativity, touch and nuance will remain valuable. “AI is not going to take your job; it’s someone who knows how to harness its power that will. AI can help in the process, but it still needs human strategic impact to drive design productivity,” he said.

Data privacy does matter to everyone. How people thought about their data ten years ago is drastically different than how they think about it today, and it will be even more different 10 years from now, Johnson said. Consideration of data privacy also varies based on each generation’s relationship with technology. One primary example is online banking. “Two generations ago, no one would ever think about doing financial transactions online, but now it’s all my 13-year-old daughter knows,” he said. What’s important is that consumers, policymakers and businesses unite to shape privacy rules. However, “don’t expect that whatever rule gets locked in will stay; it'll evolve as we evolve.”

Well-rounded marketers are in demand. Today’s professionals are tasked with balancing the technical and analytical aspects of marketing with creative strategy and impact. Johnson succinctly believes the field combines “art, science and magic.” Brands are looking for marketing leaders who possess a diverse portfolio of skills. They want strategic thinkers, creative designers and innovative data analysts, he said. “You have an opportunity to show that it’s not just about creating pictures and cool colors. That’s not what design has ever truly represented. Look for opportunities and brands that will give you a chance to grow in all those spaces.”

Nurture personal brands, too. Building a LinkedIn presence and acting accordingly online for desired jobs or industries continues to be sound advice, but much more goes into crafting a personal brand. What applies to corporate marketing also applies to individual branding. “Your brand is what people say when you’re not in the room. You want to find lanes that are authentic to you and then build on that,” said Johnson. “Think about the proof points. If you believe you’re a leader, you shouldn’t have to say that. People will say that about you.” Once those proof points are established, Johnson recommends using other tools and platforms to grow that brand.

“Never doubt and never flinch.” Young professionals experiencing self-doubt must continue showing up and owning the notion that they belong. They must also believe that they “deserve to win the future,” Johnson said. Everyone has moments where they question whether they belong or deserve a seat at the table. Instead, recognize that “you have the right to be you in that space,” and keep moving forward. “When you’re in your career, that tension you feel is because you’re laddering up. If you’ve always felt safe in that space, are you really challenging yourself, and are you really growing?”

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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