Author and New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell addresses the crowd at The Art of Marketing Conference in Montreal.

Author and New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell addresses the crowd at The Art of Marketing Conference in Montreal.

The Art of Marketing conference series touched down in Montreal earlier this week, and with it came a broad speaker lineup, with business leaders, journalists and entrepreneurs each taking a generous 45-minutes to share their ideas about the art and science of marketing.

Here are three lessons we took away from the event.

How loyal is your brand?

For a business conference using the hashtag, #TheArtof, there was an awful lot of talk about data. Much of that talk circled around the very human idea that brand marketers need to focus less on devising ways to get customers to like them, and more on how to give back.

During the afternoon panel discussion, John Boynton, CMO at Aimia, used an offline analogy, telling the audience that just like the corner store guy who remembers your name and gives you a deal now and then, “you have to visibly go out there and demonstrate why you’re worthy of people’s loyalty in some demonstrative way.”

Jackie Huba, author of Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics, used examples from Lady Gaga’s marketing rulebook to show just how powerful demonstrative acts of loyalty can be.

She says it’s up to marketers to discover the “one percenters” – those people who have an “irrational love for a brand” – and then nurture that love by building a community and injecting it with content and ideas they can consume, just as Lady Gaga did with her “Reddit meets Pinterest” social network, LittleMonsters.

Hundreds of business professionals gathered at Montreal's Palais des congrès to attend the Art of Marketing conference.

Hundreds of business professionals gathered at Montreal’s Palais des congrès for the Art of Marketing conference.

The attitude advantage

During his talk, New Yorker columnist and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell used his flair for storytelling to contest that resources, technologies and skills tend to be less important than attitude. Or as he put it, “The crucial part of transformation begins with the mind.”

His central hypothesis is that innovators tend to be conscientious, open to new ideas, and disagreeable. He paid homage to the famously ill-tempered Steve Jobs, but it was the unlikely story of Malcolm McLean that drove Gladwell’s point home.

After building his transport truck empire, McLean, who knew next to nothing about the business of transatlantic freight shipping, made it his mission to do what many before him had tried and failed: To transform the transportation industry by drastically reducing the time and cost of overseas shipping.

In 1956 he achieved that goal with the invention of the shipping container. The moral of the story: “It’s not enough to be capable of coming up with a bold new idea, the wherewithal and focus to put it into practice, you also have to not mind that the rest of the world will stand up and call you an idiot.”

Being disagreeable can also work for brands. Jackie Huba used the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to show how brands benefit by sticking to their principles, even when that means standing up to their own customers:

There’s a purpose to marketing

Over the course of the event a push and pull materialized between the value of insights-driven marketing that relies on hard data, and the value of marketing from the heart.

Purpose-driven marketing isn’t a breakthrough idea, but what is new is just how mainstream the practice has become. And for good reason. As Jackie Huba said in reference to Lady Gaga’s commitment to LGBTQ advocacy, “connecting with values is a really good business strategy.”

Connecting with values is a really good business strategy.

Eric Ryan, co-founder of Method, an earth-friendly cleaning products company, thinks that in an era when brands don’t have fixed characteristics, it’s best for companies to lead with values by “branding from the inside out.”

That way, even if the product or other tangible elements of a business change, people can still relate to the brand.

The sweet spot, though, is when brands use data-driven insights to deliver on their promises. Charles Duhigg, a New York Times reporter and author of the bestseller, The Power of Habit, showed how Starbucks managed to do just that when it used customer intelligence to create its LATTE method to help its largely adolescent workforce improve the customer experience: Listen to the customer, Acknowledge the problem, Take action, Thank the customer and Encourage them to return.

The last speaker of the day was fashion designer Marc Ecko. He also had the final word on the subject. When it comes down to it, what matters most is for marketers to elevate their craft by creating “wealth that matters.”

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