An interview with Hifazat Ahmad, President of Dx3
The world of marketing (and the world itself) has changed immensely over the past couple of years and the threat of looming recession and tightening budgets has made the role of Marketers everywhere more challenging. How do we creatively problem-solve more effectively? How can we better adapt our plans in real-time? And how can we foster better collaboration between teams?
These are questions we asked ourselves when creating our ThinkShop professional development team training at The Garden and also the questions we're asking some of the leading minds in marketing over the coming months for our new interview series.
Our first interviewee is Hifazat 'Faz' Ahmad who has organized over 300 events in 20 countries – and counting. Currently as Dx3’s President he’s busy prepping the upcoming event in Toronto for this March 1st-2nd, featuring an amazing lineup of thought leaders at the nexus of retail, technology and marketing.
We sat down with Ahmad to learn more about the changes occurring in retail and marketing, why action is imperative, and why he believes keeping a pulse on your competition isn’t a necessity.
Tell me a little bit about Dx3 and what sort of people should be attending.
Dx3 creates a platform that brings together people who are in the retail industry and looking for either solving problems or trying to understand what's the next iteration of their industry. And on the other side, we want to bring in people who can offer them some solutions. By extension, we also focus on marketing through the lens of technological transformation or change through technology.
Those attending Dx3 are interested in understanding how retail is being transformed, how it’ll change in the coming years, and learning about solutions that can help them stay ahead of their competitors.
How do you think retail and marketing has changed in the past year?
Deciding to be brick and mortar or online is a redundant conversation now. If you're still having that conversation you are not really in that industry and your future isn't looking great from my perspective. The other part that's happening is that it is actually starting to go the other way – businesses that started online now wanting to have a physical presence. You can never take away the experiential element of retail. People need to smell the perfume, try on the shirt. That will always be there.
In what ways do you feel teams have changed over the past year? How do you ensure collaboration and connection with your team and amongst your team?
I think that in the last 24 months we've kind of taken two 180° swings. During 2021 and post-vaccinations working from home became a choice and people chose that they wanted to work from home. People didn’t want to have to go into the office every single day. What that meant for businesses was that they now [with a virtual work environment] had the ability to pick up talent from all over the world even when there were talent shortages locally.
This opportunity didn’t come without its drawbacks though. I had a conversation with the person who runs the creative team for LEGO, and he said parts of the job of the creatives actually suffered from not being in the same space. If you’re in a role where you are required to come up with ideas, suggestions and solutions, being in the same space as your co-workers makes more sense in those scenarios because you get a better flow of ideas and can bounce ideas off of one another. There are certain things you can’t replicate over Zoom or online, so I know of many who manage large teams structuring in-office days for the whole team so informal information can also be shared.
From your POV, what are some of the biggest challenges senior marketers face today?
I mean to me it seems like the challenge for retail is Customer Acquisition and Retention. I think it’s always been the case, but I just think that there's so much noise in the market right now and it’s so crowded. The only way to win is to identify your customer and build off of that. Do you actually know who your customer is and do you have an image of that person in your head? If you don’t, it’s going to result in a lot of effort and hoping, but not achieve the results you’re looking for.
What are some tips you have to get fresh ideas and avoid stale thinking?
First of all, I don’t think anyone has been stale for the last 44 months because we have just been thrown into situations we never imagined. Now we can finally take a breath and slow down a bit.
I think some people spend too much time looking at their competitors. For me, I want to know what's happening, but I don't want to see exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it because it leaves a mark in your mind and then you're in a competition mode instead of trying to build something new. I want to keep my mind fresh on things that I want to do. I’d rather have a failed project than be a copycat.
What do you feel is most difficult for organizations and why:
Coming up with new ideas
Iterating and prioritizing ideas
Actioning on ideas
Ideas are flowing. There are always so many ideas out there you simply cannot focus on all of them. It’s all about prioritizing and then the most important part of ideation is actioning because an idea without action is just a fleeting thought.
How important do you feel creativity is as a soft skill?
It’ll always be valued. I come from the mindset that if you're a creative enough person and someone tries to copy your ideas, it’s not a big deal because you will come up with 10 more and you'll improve upon them very easily. Creativity will always have a place and will always trump so many other things. Creative people have a different type of personality, so it’s also about making sure you can manage that creativity and channel that creativity.
What are you most excited about for 2023?
To be honest I’m excited about the fact that Dx3 is back in-person. We have not done that for years and I am excited about the fact that we will get a chance to meet everyone from customers to suppliers I have never met in-person before.
I'm also excited about the fact that a transformation in the retail industry that would have taken 10 to 15 years, happened within a single year from 2020 to 2021. For the industry, it’s an incredibly exciting time.
Look out for more interviews in the future from our 'Talking with Creative Leaders' sessions coming in the future including with some of the leading minds in marketing headlining the upcoming Dx3 event.