5 Key Takeaways from Last Pre-Pandemic Marketing Conference

Thought Leadership

I attended DX3, a retail marketing conference in Toronto, on March 9, 2020, just before a covid-19-related case precipitated the shut down of day 2, and changed our world as we know it.

It is increasingly seeming to be one of the last retail marketing conferences in Canada for some time, and will definitely be engrained in my memory as the last public event I attended pre-crisis.

As I reflect on the world state, as we all have since then, I feel compelled to share the insights I gleaned. It somehow doesn’t feel right to keep it to myself knowing that the spring conference lineup has disappeared. Some of these takeaways are not new, but good reminders of the fundamentals we need to ensure we keep at the forefront as consumers and our markets rapidly evolve.

1. Customers don’t always want what you might think.

Loblaws thought customers would like self checkout because lineups are a pain point. As it turned out, they found customers like interacting with the cashiers. In a similar vein, during a winter pilot project, Porsche expected higher demand for SUV’s which would make logical sense because of the perception of a safer drive, but instead the 911 sports car was the most popular.

Key Takeaways: Ask customers what they want. It’s good to have a hypothesis but it’s risky to assume you know without validating.

Look to the data for insights. Keep in mind that every customer is different so be sure to go beyond averages. Remember there can be nuggets of insight in the margins.

2. Stay close to your customer.

Marketing Director at Toys R Us sends her staff in-store on Black Friday to help with the ship from store peak. It keeps her staff close to customers and front-line staff.

Key Takeaway: Talk directly to customers. Observe the customers and staff. Be a customer of your own brand online.

3. Adopt an MVP mindset.

AGI, a billion dollar agricultural equipment manufacturer: we often expect an MVP (minimum viable product) to have commercial success. Instead, think of minimum viable prototype.

Key Takeaway: The point is to learn. Test a few use cases. Fail fast. Iterate.

4. Operate with a renegade spirit.

Elf Beauty harnessed what customers loved about the brand, reframed what they heard into "elf-isms". They paid attention to customers using their own language to describe their experience with the brand, then figured out the dimension they could unlock and unleash that in a way that’s right for the platform. They set a 1 billion-views goal for a Tik Tok campaign with no idea how they were going to do it. They crossed that in 6 days and set a Tik Tok record for the most viral branded campaign, topping 4 billion views.

Key Takeaway: Dream big. Don’t let the how get you hung up in the early stages.

5. Start with a customer experience mindset.

The Porsche Passport pilot program broke new ground, taking them out of the traditional automotive buy/lease scenario and into the subscription model – with unlimited flips. That’s right, change your vehicle as often as you like. The opportunity – and the challenge – is delivering an exceptional customer experience over and over again.

Key Takeaway: A brand’s value proposition goes far beyond the product.Start with the end in mind – let the emotional connection be the fuel to the experience you design, and make sure it can be repeated at scale.

I took many things for granted pre-covid – hair cuts, dinner with friends, conferences. And now 7 weeks into confinement, I cherish the idea of being among peers again, exchanging ideas and positive energy. The takeaways from DX3 are foundational, and now with a pandemic lens, these principles will take on even greater importance as consumer evolve - understanding how their purchasing decisions are changing, what their priorities are, where they look to for advice, how they’re feeling. Staying close to our customers has taken on a whole new meaning.

A big thank you to all the brands that shared their experiences, successes and learnings with us at DX3. Until next time, be well and stay safe.

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