Last month, top marketing leaders joined together for Forbes CMO Summit at the picturesque Ritz Carlton in Dana Point, California. On everyone’s agenda? How diversity and authenticity can help build better brands. Obviously, we were very on board.

Three days of conversation and presentations on the new frontiers of marketing, advertising, and brand-building did not disappoint. Designed to inspire attendees to move from talk to action in an era of CMO accountability for authenticity, trust, purpose, cultural dialogue, human connection, technological innovation, and business growth, the conference left marketing professionals buzzing with inspiration to take back to their organizations. Take a look at some of our favorite sessions below!

Diversity in everything

Unlike previous years, the Summit agenda didn’t include a specific session on diversity and inclusion. Instead, summit organizers made it clear from the beginning that diversity isn’t one topic to check off your list—it’s a theme that’s woven into everything you do. And so, every. single. session. at Summit involved discussions about the themes of diversity and inclusion. We heard from a variety of incredible speakers, including Alicia Tillman, CMO of SAP; Chris Brandt, CMO of Chipotle; Ann Lewnes, CMO of Adobe; and Tariq Hassan, CMO of Petco.

We also grabbed front-row seats to see our very own Amelia Dunlop, Chief Experience Officer of Deloitte Digital, speak with Ronalee Zarate-Bayani, CMO of the Los Angeles Rams, about setting a new standard for sports and entertainment. Located at Hollywood Park in the heart of LA, the Rams’ new home was designed to embrace the diversity of the local LA community in a meaningful way while also creating a modern entertainment experience. So, when developing their brand identity and fan experience they made it a priority to highlight the many great things about LA and celebrate the shared values of being an Angeleno in an authentic way “Win or lose on the field, we want fans to walk away with a sense of community,” Ronalee said.

amelia dunlop at forbes cmo summit

Amelia Dunlop, Chief Experience Officer of Deloitte Digital, and Ronalee Zarate-Bayani, CMO of the Los Angeles Rams, speak about the importance of creating an authentic experience.

The importance of being yourself (yes, even at work!)

Many brands today are, or at least appear to be, less “buttoned up” than brands of the past. With channels like Instagram, brands can communicate with their consumers every day in a casual setting rather than creating just one big, one-way TV commercial per quarter, like with the advertising of the past. With features like behind-the-scenes stories, or seemingly un-staged photos, many consumers are drawn into the perceived authenticity of a brand in contrast to the touched-up, glossy images that used to be everywhere.

So when we heard from Brandice Daniel, founder of a platform for designers of color, about how being her authentic self led to her success in the business world, we were all ears. She says she’s always made it a priority to walk into every meeting as herself, a strategy that paid off big time when her team pitched a new shoe design to a massive footwear company. She proudly said, “Either they buy us as we are, or not at all.” The company agreed, and her team’s sneakers sold out in under five minutes.

Then we heard from Debbie Sterling, founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, and fell in love with her story. When she was first trying to get funding on Kickstarter, she called in every favor she had to produce the perfect video. She borrowed expensive video equipment, used a fancy studio, had her hair and makeup done, and spent weeks writing her script. When she finally saw the completed video, she realized it didn’t represent her authentic self or the mission she wanted to portray. With just three days until her launch, she ditched the professional-quality video and reshot a whole new video on her living room floor, to booming success.

The theme of authenticity wasn’t reserved for just for the speaker stages—it carried us into the night, too. At the Deloitte Digital salon dinner, “The Case for Diversity and Inclusion: How Casting Choices Can Impact the Bottom Line,” we had the chance to connect with speakers from earlier in the day in a more informal setting. And in between delicious courses and socializing, Maggie Gross, Head of Strategy at Heat, shared her findings from the “Heat Test.” The results of this comprehensive study showed that diversity in advertisement is good for the bottom lines of the top 50 brands that were studied. But it’s not just about ticking the box of women, minorities, LGBTQ people, etc. in your ads, but about really showing these people as the three-dimensional humans they are. By showing people being their authentic selves in advertising, rather than a stereotype of what we think certain people should be, companies are not only doing the right thing ethically, but they’re also doing the right thing for business.

Maggie Gross

Maggie Gross, Head of Strategy at Heat, shared her findings from the “Heat Test” at the Deloitte Digital salon dinner.

And so concludes an inspiring three days learning about diversity and authenticity. See you next year, Forbes CMO Summit!

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