Create Meaningful Brand Experiences: an Interview with Sally Parrott (VP Marketing, Aritzia)

Why do companies so often forget that marketing and ecommerce should simply be an extension of...

March 20, 2024

Author: Arpy Dragffy

Why do companies so often forget that marketing and ecommerce should simply be an extension of what customers love about a brand’s in-person experience?

Sally Parrott is the Vice President of Marketing at Aritzia, and has made a career from helping top organizations create brand experiences that are customer-centric. Over her 20 year career, the definition of that term has changed, and with today’s move towards data-driven organizations there’s a risk of moving too far away from understanding how and why consumers interact with brands.

“Often in today’s landscape, marketing can become very focused on “the funnel” – and we are losing sight of who our customer is and how to have a long-term meaningful interaction with them.”

She believes that Digital empowers organizations to better engage clients and to grow organically without the use of traditional advertising. That a well executed brand experience across social, can actually give the perception of a business that is much larger than it actually is.

On May 23rd she will be a featured speaker at the BCAMA Thought Leadership event: Brand Experiences that Change People’s Lives.

Alongside leadership from world-renowned agencies —Briteweb, Critical Mass, and Engine Digital— you’ll learn how to build brands that engage in a meaningful way across marketing, product, and retail experiences. There are a limited amount of tickets for this rare evening event, we recommend you reserve your seat now.

Sally Parrott (VP Marketing, Aritzia): 35 years of Putting the Client First

As VP Marketing for Aritzia, I’m sure there are many things to be proud of. What is one quality about the Aritzia brand you’re personally most proud of?

Sally: I’m proud of the quality and the attention to detail in what we put into everything that we do. How we think about the brand and how we bring it to life. We’ve always attempted to think of our client first, and consider what we want their experience to be.  

You’re one of four thought leaders presenting at the next BCAMA event: “Brand Experiences that Change People’s Lives.” And your topic is “A successful brand can be built on no advertising at all.” Which brands do you believe have been most successfully built without any advertising at all?

Sally: The Aritzia brand, for over 30 years, has grown organically almost entirely through word of mouth and the expansion of our physical presence in market. The focus on customer experience is the key driver to generating that WOM. What’s exciting today is that there are so many other avenues to elevate that experience and engage the customer. For example, I see thought leaders, like Michelle Obama or Ryan Holmes, creating their own brands built on meaningful digital and IRL interactions. Digitally native brands like Everlane and Glossier are also doing exciting things in the digital space right now. Interestingly, a few of those brands are just starting to do more traditional advertising – but their growth first came through social mediums and word-of-mouth.   In BC, I’ve also done some work with Cactus Club, who have also really grown organically over the years without the use of much traditional advertising.

Do you believe digital has helped or hindered your ability to engage with consumers in a more meaningful way – and to become a more pertinent part of people’s lives?

Sally: Digital has helped in a lot of ways because it has forced us as marketers to consider what the customer really wants from us, and how they want to engage. The feedback we get on whether or not we are successful on that front is clear and immediate. I think Digital is forcing a more meaningful two-way dialogue than what we’ve had before. The challenge, though, is that our brands risk becoming fragmented with so many messages going out literally on a daily basis. It actually gets very difficult to ensure that you are speaking cohesively and meaningfully. It’s also a ton of work. Gone are the days of creating a single campaign and sending it out into the universe.

As a fashion brand, your product may be worn for years and impact people’s lives personally. How does that change how you view the Aritzia brand experience over time?

Sally: When aritzia was first founded a number of years ago, our strongest client base was actually a 15-25 year old. As the company has grown and matured, our client has also grown and matured, and now we are finding we are connecting with women well into their 30’s, 40’s and beyond. So the customer’s lifetime interaction with us is meaningful – it’s upwards of over 20, sometimes even 30 years. Some of these clients are very loyal and their purchase frequency is incredible. The challenge is in considering how we continue to engage them at different stages of their lives; how do we make sure we are speaking in a way that will connect to a woman when she’s 23 and right out of school, while also being able to connect with her when she’s 38 and in a different life stage.  

Right now there’s a lot of talk about retail brands that have failed (Toys“R”Us and Sears) how do you think they could have innovated their brand experience?

Sally: I came from Procter & Gamble, and we used to talk a ton about the customer and were highly customer-centric. But with the massive explosion of digital and social, the sheer volume of channels we have access to has accelerated to such a degree that it’s easy to spend time just trying to stay on top of the latest new social channel, and lose sight of that connection to the customer. Now, it almost feels as though we’re returning to some very foundational marketing and customer basics. I think some of those big brands that have failed as of late were not considering a meaningful customer proposition. At a very basic level, if the product itself is not delivering there is no marketing in the world that will save it. In the case of a number of retail brands that are failing it’s a combination of their product lacking distinction and the customer experience falling flat. In particular within the retail environment. As retailers, we have to determine why a client would even come into our stores now. Frankly, people can go on Amazon and buy anything Toys“R”Us has to offer, so they really needed to tighten up the customer experience to have a reason to be.

Do you think brands, particularly in other industries, need to start thinking more about what their brand means years after the purchase was made?

Sally: I think we are all wise to really consider how the customer first engages with us and then carry that through to their experience of our product or service over time.  Sometimes we forget that she/he continues to experience our brand and who we are through the lifetime of the product they’re using (whatever that may be). The product must ultimately deliver on the brand promise. If it doesn’t, we lose her.  Customer acquisition is critical – but if you are losing as many people as you are gaining, because the product failed them two years later, you will always be on the acquisition treadmill. Not to mention on the wrong side of the word-of-mouth.  

Sally Parrott is the Vice President of Marketing at Aritzia, an innovative design house and fashion boutique. Sally began her career in Beauty Care at Proctor and Gamble where she worked in Brand Management on global brands like Olay. She began with Aritzia in 2004, and after almost 8 years of building the Aritzia brand into to what it is today, Sally left to go out on her own as an

Independent Brand Strategist where she worked primarily with new, high growth and developing brands. After 4 successful years as an independent, Sally returned to Aritzia this past October. She went from being a marketing team of 1 back at Aritzia in 2004, to now leading a team of 60 amazingly talented individuals!

Sally Parrott

Vice President of Marketing


For nearly two decades Arpy has been working with startups and corporations creating strategies to innovate their customer experiences. His strategies have validated and launched startups, enabled corporations to launch into new markets, and enabled governments to identify how to innovate their experiences. He’s worked with BC Ministry of Health, Alberta Gaming and Lottery, Hootsuite, VANTEC Angel Network, Sage Software, Agropur, Red Bull, Blueprint.

Since founding PH1 Research in 2015 he’s led a team of researchers and UX strategists to help organizations improve their digital customer products and services.

Arpy Dragffy

Founder, Director of Strategy

PH1 Research