Guest Host: Matt Chong, President, American Marketing Association

Matt Chong is also Vice President, strategic development and partnerships at Notable Life, an online digital that connects young professional millennials. As well, he is the founder of e-commerce startup Chong Tea Co. He and Michelle Flynn talk about the challenges associations and non-profits such as the AMA in connecting with their membership.

Marketing To Branding - Telephone



Michelle: Hello and welcome to Vyoo’s podcast. I’m Michelle Flynn, strategic planner here at Vyoo Brand + Content. As you know, we often do podcasts with guest hosts who have an opportunity to ask us their burning questions related to brand storytelling and anything marketing-related. My guest-host today is Matt Chong who is the VP of Strategic Development and Partnerships at Notable Life and the current president of the American Marketing Association. Welcome Matt! Thanks for coming. [READ MORE]

Matt: Thanks, Michelle. I’m glad to be here.

Michelle: We’re going to learn a lot about the American Marketing Association today and specifically about their brand story and how we can tell it better. Matt, just so that everybody is on the same page, how about you give us a little bit of background about the Association itself.

Matt: Absolutely. The American Marketing Association is North America’s largest and oldest running association for marketers. There’s about 70 chapters across North America, with two of them being in Canada, so Toronto and Vancouver. Our primary goal is really twofold: one is to connect marketers with other marketers, whether they’re at the peer level or at the senior level through networking opportunities. And the second piece is around education. Education focused on all areas of marketing, from academic to more specialized topics, things like technology, start ups, or even cannabis. And really, the way to do it here in Toronto is by creating events and programmes tailored to junior, mid-level and senior marketers in this area.

Michelle: Amazing! So let’s hop to it. What are the burning questions that you have?

Matt: Absolutely. I’m kind of excited to be in this seat asking the questions because I always get asked the hard questions. So Michelle, as strategic planner and President-Elect of the AMA here in Toronto, I’d love to get your thoughts on our organization.

Michelle: Ok. I’ve been a member of the American Marketing Association for about two and a half years. I started as a member and then volunteered for committees, which gave me the opportunity to meet new people and that’s actually how I got elected as President for next year. The American Marketing Association has been a very powerful tool for me in terms of business development and networking. It’s focused on the individual marketer. It encourages people to come out to events that are themed in different topics to learn more. It allows you access to a wide variety of chapters and organizations across North America and it’s been a really good area for me to network, to learn more about the business as a whole and to have fun.

Matt: Definitely. You kind of resonate something for me, just in terms of the connection piece. I moved to Toronto about 3 years ago and I remember when I first moved here, I joined the AMA because I was involved in the Vancouver chapter and I just remember that in 3 years I met so many people. It was such a great opportunity and it still is a great opportunity to connect with other marketers and just build my network here in the city.

Michelle: Absolutely.

Matt: Congratulations on your incoming. We’re really excited to have you as part of the leadership team and obviously one of the burning questions that I have for you is what are some of your goals and your visions for our chapter?

Michelle: Great question! We would like to continue to focus on the individual marketer. Primarily we’re looking to engage our senior membership. After a while they tend to know a lot about the industry itself so what can we bring them that will excite them and engage them? Give them new pieces of information to learn and focus on trends that matter to them. We are looking to grow our membership as a whole, bring new people to the table from all levels of the industry itself and we want to continue to have fun networking events for people and also improve the type of resources that we can provide to help further people’s careers.

Matt: That all sounds great and obviously I’m excited stepping down next year to see where things go after that. You touched on something else as well in terms of developing branded content and events and things like that. Toronto is a weird city. It’s highly competitive in terms of the association and event space. With so many similar marketing organizations such as the Canadian Marketing Association or the Institute For Communication Agencies, how is the AMA different?

Michelle: The American Marketing Association focuses primarily on the individual marketer. We want them to come in at early development stages of their career and grow with us until they retire. That is a key focus of what we do. We tailor our events to certain segments, which differentiates us from other chapters. I’ve found that other Canadian chapters will either focus on a particular area, such as tech or AI or whatever those specifics groups are. Our events are more catered to everything to do with marketing as a whole. So it doesn’t matter where you are in your career of what type of information you’re looking to learn or get access to or people or companies, we can provide that for you. And that makes us a little bit different. The other thing that makes us different is although we are part of an American association, it allows us the connection because a lot of our companies in Canada do business in the US and vice-versa as well. So we’re not limited to a small network of people. We can open our doors a little bit.

Matt: That makes complete sense. So from what I see at Vyoo, and just so you know I’m a huge fan of what you guys do, helping companies tell their stories. So how can we better tell our story at the American Marketing Association?

Michelle: Telling a story is key. What you’re looking to do is create a connection or resonate with the individual or the market or the segment that you’re looking to talk to. Why is that so important? Because right now, what’s happening is there’s a lot of noise out in the market and it used to be that you could throw up a brochure or put up a website and say a couple of things or the old school way of sending out a piece of direct mail and that would really help you to tell your story and grow your brand. That’s not the case these days. People are in much more of a hurry, their time is much more valuable and their time is limited. So you want to tell a story that’s going to resonate with them, that they’re going to care about. Almost like you’re giving them the idea that they came to you first rather than you seeking them out.

Matt: For sure. So it sounds like what you’re saying is defining a story is key.

Michelle: Absolutely. Defining your story so that if people understand what you do and what you stand for, it provides self selection to be part of the organization. What I mean by that is for example, if we’re telling a story as the American Marketing Association that really resonates with our members, they will come out to events, they will become personal ambassadors for us, tell their friends about it, they’ll be proud to encourage other people to get involved, they’ll get involved themselves and volunteer and also be loyal. And what I mean by brand loyalty is really achieved by storytelling, it’s a very valuable thing to have with your market. Let’s say, for example, the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) and the AMA have an event the same night. They’re both the same price, they could be a similar topic. But if the American Marketing Association resonates more with me, I’m going to choose that event naturally over the other one. So defining your story is key and it also ensures that you’re talking to the right market. What defining a story does is it really allows you, not only to target any customer but to target your ideal customer. Once you understand who that person is, how they receive information and what their the emotional triggers are, then you can communicate with them in a way they want to be communicated with which creates a better relationship for both of you.

Matt: For sure, and you touched on something earlier that kind of resonated with me here, which is that as an international organization, and so many Canadian businesses doing business south of the border. With a CMA event or an AMA event, I think there’s a lot to be learned at an AMA event when we’re looking really international.

Michelle: Absolutely.

Matt: So on the topics of international and global, I’m sure a lot of other global brands have a local presence running to this. We’re the Toronto chapter of a larger organization, one that actually is called the American Marketing Association. How do we find out own brand voice considering we’re Canadian and part of a larger entity?

Michelle: One of the best things about Toronto is how diverse it is. What we’re finding and what we know is that we are doing business on either side of the border. From the Canadian perspective, we are looking to get our products and services into the US. It’s a much bigger market. From the south of border side, the American side, they are starting to set up headquarters in Toronto, but the key thing to remember there is the conversation and the way you talk to the audience in each area can be very different. So it’s important to us, as a Toronto chapter, to not only understand how Torontonians communicate but also how Canadians communicate, what type of marketing issues are we facing? What type of things are we excited about? What’s up and coming? What’s new? An example of what’s different in Canada, a topic that we would talk about is the entire cannabis industry. It’s recently become legalized in Canada, it’s not yet there in the US and the rules and regulations can be different. So having a Toronto chapter really provides us with a voice and allows our members to feel like they belong to something without actually having to be disconnected. The other thing is it allows different viewpoints. Sometimes when you’re part of an organization that’s only Canadian, you miss out on other perspectives, you miss out on a global perspective. Canadians doing business in Canada is going to be very different than Canadians doing business in the US. It’s a good way to understand it. It also builds camaraderie. You still get access to a big network but you’re able to resonate with the Toronto chapter itself, but we also have a chapter in BC so often times we share information that way as well.

Matt: Sure. And it terms of the diversity in a city like Toronto, it’s interesting because markets here and even the way which we do business is very different and I think regionalizing that voice is going to be imperative moving forward. Building on that, what are some of the challenges that the AMA is facing?

Michelle: Well, one of our biggest challenges come with exchange rates. Right now we do pay membership fees in American Dollars, which can often be a little bit tricky because you feel like you should be paying the same amount, however, it is different. What it’s really done is it’s allowed the Toronto chapter to go to Chicago, which is where the headquarters are, and start having a dialogue about what does that mean for both of our countries. How can we improve membership fees for Canadians, so we started to have that conversation. Competition, as you mentioned before, there are not only organizations or associations that focus just on marketing, they focus on everything. That could be niche markets that we want to tackle, all the way to different areas of learning. Both education-based programs specifically for marketing and not, just general networking things as well, is a challenge for us. And I would say another one is continuously staying relevant. We really have to be an organization that has their finger on the pulse and keeping up to date with what’s going on. I think we’re doing a really good job of that but it’s constantly a challenge because we are a volunteer organization, so life happens. People join the organization, they get new jobs or they might be in transition when they join and then they get really busy or they move away. So these are all challenges we’re facing but it’s important for us to prove our membership value so that we can eliminate some of these challenges.

marketing to branding - abstract



Matt: For sure. And kind of a follow-up question, out of the blue here. In terms of the fact that we are an American association, do you ever get push back from individuals saying “I only want to be part of the Canadian Marketing Association or the Canadian-focused ones because I only do business in Canada”? [READ MORE]

Michelle: It’s a good perspective. Yes and no. I feel like people focus more on who their ideal client is. Again, it goes back to that brand story that you’re telling. If you’re in an association, usually, what I’m seeing is they’ll take business from anywhere. They might not necessarily want to set up in the US, they might not want to have a headquarter or an office there but they might do business with them. I don’t get usually that I only want to do business in Canada because they would not come out to our events I feel if that was the case.

Matt: That makes perfect sense. As a non-profit volunteer organization, what is the best way to get people behind the mission and be motivated to jump in? I know you mentioned that piece of being a volunteer and life happens, so how do we keep people motivated?

Michelle: Well, one of the best ways to motivate people is first of all, make sure they understand what the vision and mission is, first of your chapter and then of the organization as a whole. So one of the first things we do is not only build loyalty within the Toronto chapter but also, a lot of our members and people who attend our events understand why being part of an association North America wide is of value to them. The other thing is we often encourage people to volunteer. When you volunteer on a committee, it really builds relationships and opens doors to opportunities that I don’t think you would have otherwise. It’s also focused on personal growth. Because we focus on the individual marketer, what we’re doing is we can help bring somebody in at the early stages of their career and help them all the way up with networking and learning opportunities until they choose to retire. The other thing that we’ve done to engage people is we have introduced specific programmes that speak to different segments. For example, we have our mentor exchange program that focuses on aligning senior marketers together so that they can help grow and we also recently launched what we call a career accelerator program, which helps people that are just entering marketing be aligned with a mentor who maybe has five years’ experience, that mid-manager, to help guide them. That’s very valuable because those people become brand ambassadors for us. They’re very valuable members. And also it engages them. And I’ve seen people join the organization, we have members that have been in it for 9, 10, 11 years and they still have some of these relationships they developed when they first got in there. So it’s a really good way to engage people. Also our events are really fun and it’s a good way to give people the face-to-face interaction that some people need in order to stay engaged itself.

Matt: Definitely. And I love how holistic our environment is in terms of having something for the junior and mid-level and senior-level marketer and I feel like one of the things that you talk about a lot is creating more programming for senior marketers just knowing that in events where you might see a ton of mid-level people is not necessarily going to be appealing from a networking perspective but having more events that are focused on senior marketer to senior marketer is a lot more peer driven.

Michelle: Absolutely. And that’s also developed out of listening to the feedback we’re getting from our membership itself.

Matt: Tell me more about that.

Michelle: When we’re telling the American Marketing Association story, it’s started to resonate with people in different segments and we started to get feedback from them by reaching out, doing surveys, engaging our members, and we were hearing a lot about the need to engage different levels so by introducing programming that helps to not only focus on those groups but provide them with quality information. That’s the beauty of content because when you create content that resonates with people, whether it be what your panel guests are discussing at an event or publications your sending out for them to read – when you’re a member of the the American Marketing Association you also get access to resources like a magazine – it really allows you to understand the individual marketer. That individual marketer then becomes your ideal client, if you’re a brand or a business, and helps you redefine your story or resonate with them directly.

Matt: For sure. I think we’re running out of time here so my last question for you is what do you have to look forward to in the upcoming year being involved with the AMA Toronto chapter?

Michelle: We’re doing a lot of really exciting stuff. We are launching a new marketing certificate with the Schulich School of Business. That we’re all really excited about. We’re also developing a special interests group that focuses primarily on cannabis. This is a huge thing for us, especially now with all the new laws being passed in Canada, it’s become a hot topic. We’re also continuing to strengthen our mentorship programs. We found that mentorship, not only in business but in life, is a key way to build those relationships and engage your audience and it’s a really valuable way to tell your brand story and continue to tell your brand story. And finally we’re also improving out events. Our events have changed a lot actually over the last few years and now we are starting to offer different types of events rather then just like a learning panel opportunity, there’s different kinds, again focused on that individual marketer and what they’re looking to do.

Matt: For sure. Thanks, Michelle. This has been really insightful. I’ve learned a lot in terms of this discussion and about the brand story. I’m really excited to see where things ahead in the next year.

Michelle: Awesome! Hope to have you back again soon.

Matt: I hope so.

Michelle: Bye.