Culture and Brand — Takeaways from The Gathering 2018

The Gathering is a brand and marketing conference that takes place in Banff, Alberta, every year in February. It's an incredible event where brand builders and marketers from around the world come together to bring new ideas, insights, and innovations to the table. The Gathering is a fantastic opportunity to learn from some of the world's greatest brands in a beautiful setting at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.



This was my third time attending The Gathering, and each year there always seems to be a few common themes that emerge from the conference and that are woven through each speaker's presentation. Given that we are in a fast changing, sometimes seemingly tumultuous world, where movements are regularly arising to demand more from our politicians and leaders, it is fitting that this year's primary theme seemed to center on the idea of people and culture.


Where brands and culture meet depends on who's presenting the topic, but unquestioningly I think we can all agree that consumers are demanding more from brands; consumers expect brands to take a stand. In 2017, the common theme at The Gathering, and among brand strategists in general, focused on brands with purpose, and yet the idea of brands and culture seems to take last year’s idea of a purpose-driven brand even deeper. It asks brands to look outside their organization to what's happening in the world around them, to look to their consumer and strive to fulfill their needs, and not in terms of the type of products they need, but for where they can help support the consumer socially, culturally, and at times politically.


I think one of the best examples of a brand and culture meeting is Beats By Dre. Jason White, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Marketing for Beats By Dre, gave a fantastic talk about the brand they’re building and some of the incredible opportunities they've had to engage with both celebrity types and their consumer during pivotal cultural moments. Jason showcased the space where the brand exists -- in music, fashion, athletics, and arts -- creative industries that live in culture. Rather than showing up in a commercial, advertising way, Beats By Dre is showing up in communities supporting change.



A secondary theme that jumped out for me at this year’s conference centered on (no surprise) creating experiences for your consumers. Most of the “branding in 2018” literature I’ve read focuses on the importance of brand experience. As differentiating your brand and standing out in the sea of branded messages becomes harder, experiential branding is increasingly a core strategy for brands to use. More marketers are shifting budgets from traditional advertising and marketing to experience creation.


A great example of this that came from The Gathering this year was Omaze. These guys are an organization based in the U.S. and their entire business is focused on creating amazing experiences for people who donate to important causes. By helping fundraise, they enable nonprofits to concentrate on doing what they do best, rather than having to worry about the economic struggles of being a nonprofit. They generate brand alignment to social impact in an authentic way for the celebrities and charities they work with. Not only has Omaze found a way to take experiences to the next level, they’ve also managed to pair it with purpose. As Co-Founder, Ryan Cummins said: “Today’s market demands a win-win approach for the company, consumer, and the world.”


These are only a couple examples of the incredible content and insight available at The Gathering this year. If you’d like to learn more, please reach out through, or visit


As we dive deeper into 2018 and experience more of the fast-paced change our world is facing, I’m curious to see which brands jump head first into these movements, and how they choose to show up. I can’t say I have ever felt more excited and optimistic with a side of apprehension over where branding is going this year. With so much technological and social change, it’s an exciting time to be a brand who is serious about evolving.


- Carina


PS: You can watch many of the presentations from The Gathering on their website. They usually share them a few months after the conference.