Q&A with Adara Bowen of the American Marketing Association
Adara is no stranger to brand transformation and change. Prior to the AMA, she worked across account management, brand strategy, business development and marketing at well-known branding agencies Landor and Kaleidoscope. In addition to playing pivotal roles in the rebrand of both organizations, Adara contributed to delivering and winning work for companies like Proctor & Gamble, Kraft Heinz, Kohler, Dow, ConAgra, Newell Brands, Elmer’s, Bell’s Brewery, Fairlife, Hospira, Delhaize America and others.
Side note…I also worked as an independent consultant for about a year. I worked with small to mid-size companies in the design and packaging industry on marketing strategy and communications. Also, I worked closely with Package Design Magazine (now BXP) consulting with and ghostwriting sponsored content for their sponsor partners across design firms, printers, and packaging vendors.
What are you responsible for at the AMA as the Director of Brand Experience and Marketing and how did your background prepare you for this role?
In the past year, I’ve championed the launch and rollout of the new AMA brand across its global support center, 70+ professional chapters, and 350+ collegiate chapters, while challenging the marketing team to innovate and reimagine its role within the organization. Our marketing team supports delivery of the AMA message and mission across its community of 445k+ marketers.
My background in the agency world prepared me immensely for this role. Agencies do a great job at “schooling” you on how to be a quick study, which reduces the learning curve you need to understand the context of a situation and a challenge. Much of what I did in the agency world involved setting the stage for the creative team by sifting through secondary research, conducting audits, and taking part in consumer research to pull out relevant insights. For many clients, there is a TON of information to sort through before you can pull out useable information. This requires knowing how to prioritize the information, so you don’t waste time, how to spot themes and synthesize what you are taking in. Having these skillsets has given me the confidence to quickly dive into business challenges on the “client” side and quickly form an initial hypothesis and point of view. This is especially important as the business world is expecting agility and quick pivots based on real-time data. Gone are the days of long lead times – get to market quickly, test and optimize in real time.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for a designer when they transition into a marketing role and which skills are transferable?
Problem-solving and empathy are the two skills that I think good designers can bring to a marketing role. It’s so easy for marketers to get caught up in the numbers and forget that they are dealing with real people who have real needs. Empathy for a customer’s challenges and a design-thinking approach to problem solving can be very valuable. On the other hand, the biggest challenge is often the complexity of the business. As far as I know, business classes aren’t a huge push for designers in school, so they are left to figuring that out on the job or finding mentors who can help them understand the implications or reality of the business issues at hand.
What do you think is the biggest challenge when designers and marketers collaborate on a project? How can that collaboration work seamlessly?
One of the biggest issues I’ve seen is lack of alignment of the problem at hand and the parameters. Marketers partner with designers because they need their expertise to solve a business challenge. This requires both an accurate definition of the challenge and visibility to the parameters that need to be considered as part of the solution. I can tell you first hand that many marketers don’t accurately define the challenge. Designers that can harness an understanding of the business can be very valuable when it comes to accurately framing the challenge. Where I see designers often get tripped up is a lack of consideration for the parameters, think budget, priority of communication, desired action from the audience, production requirements, brand guidelines etc. I do believe that designers have a right to challenge the parameters, but they can’t challenge those things until they fully understand them. Also, if they are going to challenge them, that is fine, but they should at a minimum consider options that meet those requirements. It can sometimes be difficult, especially for young designers, to put aside personal style and preferences and focus on designing in the style or voice of the brand, while also staying within set parameters.
The collaboration works seamlessly when both marketers and designers are in lock step about what they are trying to achieve. Also, they can work together to present those options with pros, cons, and implications to additional stakeholders. It’s irresponsible to present solutions as realistic options if they aren’t actually feasible. Designers and marketers have a responsibility to each other to poke holes in ideas in the spirit of making them better.
How did the design and marketing teams at the AMA collaborate on the AMA rebranding initiative?
The overall redesign stems from the strategic groundwork that was done in the months before thought was ever put into the visual brand. Having the strategic work in place helped zero in on the scope of exploration and gave the stakeholders in marketing a basis for reviewing the branding options. Once the identity was in place, there was a lot of effort that went into breaking down the association’s portfolio of services and making sure that we had templates in place for everything, which was no easy task.