Fast Observations from AD’s eCommerce & Marketing Summit

Focusing on eCommerce in past years, AD's Dec. 5-7 event brought in the marketing side for the first time. Mike Hockett shares his biggest takeaways from attending.
AD eCommerce Marketing Summit

I spent Dec. 5-7 in San Diego at AD’s 2022 eCommerce & Marketing Summit, where the meeting theme of “What’s Next?” had distributor and AD partner attendees looking forward to their initiatives and priorities for 2023.

It was a great event to bookend a busy year of travel for me attending industry conferences after COVID-19 wiped out all in-person events in 2020 and the schedule for them was still light throughout 2021. San Diego is an excellent location for any event, and I’ll take any opportunity to escape Wisconsin once the calendar reaches December.

AD’s August 2021 eCommerce Summit — which I also attended — focused primarily on eCommerce and was AD’s first conference coming out of the pandemic. So, it was nice to see the 2022 rendition scaled up by bringing in the marketing side of things for the first time, as distributors’ eCommerce and marketing efforts have so much natural overlap. AD Vice President of eCommerce Solutions, Caroline Ernst, said approximately 30% of attendees were involved or responsible for marketing at their company.

With the marketing influx and industry travel back in full swing, the 2022 AD eCommerce & Marketing Summit had nearly 500 attendees, compared with 270 at the 2021 event. 

Ernst added that for half of this year’s attendees, it was their first AD meeting, illustrating how the contractor and industrial products wholesale buying group is reaching new audiences within the AD community.

I plan to recap a handful of sessions I attended at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina in the weeks ahead, but here are just a couple of takeaways I had top-of-mind as I flew home to chilly Madison, Wisconsin.

Distributor Case Studies are Gold

AD did a great job of compiling case study presentations from a handful of distributors that shared their digital transformation, marketing evolution or other initiatives they’ve completed in the past few years. They included breakout sessions by Werner Electric Supply, E.B. Horsman, Van Meter, Purvis Industries and APR Supply, while panel discussions with other distributor representatives shared insights in a Q&A format. I find case studies to be the most valuable asset that industry events can provide, as attendees want to hear from their peers (and competitors) about what they’ve done right, wrong and what they’ve learned amid various initiatives.

Non-Industry Examples Also Have Value

While distribution-specific case studies are optimal, I’ve seen conference speakers effectively utilize examples of innovation and change management from companies outside of distribution, and this AD summit did as well. In his day 2 keynote presentation, UnleashWD Founder and Dirk Beveridge emphatically recapped how a dairy farm in Iowa utilized automation and robotics in its barns to free up its family staff and allow them to tend to bigger and better things than hand-milking cows and pushing feed around. In another session, AD Chief Marketing Officer Marty McLaughlin used Starbucks as an example of a company that has differentiated itself in an extremely crowded market that — like distributors — relies on the sale of a commodity product as its core business. But it’s everything else that Starbucks does (ingredients quality, sustainability efforts, cafe atmosphere) that leads customers to choose it over its many competitors.

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