By Scott Sargent

Year six of The Gathering Marketing Summit kicked off on Wednesday, Feb. 19 in Banff, Alberta. For the uninitiated, The Gathering is organized by Cult Collective, and is described as “The annual coming together of the world’s most coveted brands to share secrets and learn from the courageous leaders and trailblazers who are reaping the benefits of unbreakable brand affinity and loyalty.”

Scott Sargent met up with IABC/Calgary’s finance director Shelly Nowroski at The Gathering.

While that is a lengthy description, it’s a setting for marketing and communications professionals to converge, network and absorb knowledge presented by a variety of C-Suite marketing professionals from big name brands. This year was my first time attending the coveted marketing conference, and over the three days it lasted, I was not disappointed.

Arriving at the Banff Conference Centre, I eagerly reviewed the schedule and speakers, and was impressed by the quality of brands represented. I was also quite curious if I would find a common thread within each presentation. The overarching theme asked the question: “What makes Cult-like brands?” And further, “Why do people feel such a strong connection to these brands?”

Several prominent themes emerged, which I have attempted to summarize in a mini two-part series.

Airbnb: Why We Work Determines How Well We Work.

Douglas Atkin, former global head of community for Airbnb, spoke of companies having a purpose and vision that guide the ship like a rudder. Without this (or losing touch with it), a company and its employees can quickly get lost.

When the company first started, they wanted to “create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.”

While a slightly more general statement, the one ‘big thing’ to remember (call it a mission, values, a guiding principle), was to fully declare it and own it so you’re accountable to it. This ‘big thing’ must come first and lead everything else. It must also be used and seen to be used by leaders. It should lead all the big decisions, especially those of a risky or existential nature. These choices can become truly meaningful moments for a brand.

Marvel: Do Cool S**t!

Having grown up reading comic books of every kind, I was thrilled to see Marvel’s senior VP of global partnerships and marketing, Mindy Hamilton. Referring to one of their mottos—do cool s**t–Mindy explained that it may seem a tad simplistic, yet there is far more that happens behind the scenes of this entertainment giant.

Mindy gave us a quick peek behind the curtain into the layers of planning and people that go behind every decision, partner or marketing campaign. The team at Marvel knows they aren’t there to block new ideas, but simply question, refine and then execute them. For us fans, she also teased that Marvel has a stable of over 8000 characters to draw from, and they’ve only just scratched the surface of storytelling.

YETI: Be Authentic and Humble.

Director of marketing Bill Neff shared YETI’s secret to growing the brand.

YETI is a brand I’ve personally come to know and love, and apparently my fellow marketers at The Gathering felt the same. Bill Neff, YETI’s director of marketing, received a Pinnacle award, which is voted on by Gathering attendees. His honest (and sometimes self-deprecating) approach about his past, his present and current lack of public speaking refinement was combined with a genuine humour that won the crowd over. This is also exactly how YETI approaches their customers.

Simply stated, the team at YETI observes their surroundings and then goes out and talks to people about their products. While YETI is known as an outdoor brand, Neff mentioned sailing wasn’t originally on their radar, but they noticed their products at competitions. The didn’t immediately “force themselves into every boat show,” but instead, set up a small presence, listened, observed and interacted with people there. This grassroots approach has proven invaluable. As they grow the brand, its roots get deeper.

Learn from the LA Lakers, Cheetos, and Tony Hawk in part two of The Gathering blog series. 

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