Changing With the Times Part 2


The only thing that is constant in this world is change – a common phrase, however this is one that many people fail to consider in real life. While the status quo may be nice, it does not last; if you are not adapting to the world around you, you will be left behind. In last week’s post, I discussed some of the challenges Sears Canada has faced and how its failure to respond to their evolving core audience has now brought them to the brink of closure. While Sears has done many things wrong in an effort to stem its losses, its main competitor, The Bay, provides an excellent contrasting example of what it looks like to do the right things in the face of change.

As The World Turns

When Wal-Mart entered the Canadian market in 1994, they shook up the retail scene across the country. Wal-Mart`s game-changing supply management allowed them to offer a very wide selection of merchandise at low prices. While their foray into Canada had an immediate impact on its closest competitors (Kmart and Zellers), there was a trickle-down effect as middle class consumers were seeing a much more favourable price vs quality ratio at Wal-Mart than they were seeing at department stores such as Eaton`s, Sears, and the Bay. Eaton`s fared the worst out of the big three and within 5 years went bankrupt.  Sears and the Bay survived, but were mere shadows of their former selves, as their core audience was increasingly turning to Wal-Mart for its purchases.

In 2008, when The Bay was purchased by NRDC Equity Partners, Canada’s oldest retailer was in perhaps even worse shape than Sears.  However, today the company is seeing a big resurgence in popularity while Sears has floundered. So what did the Bay do differently? Precisely what Sears did not, and that was that they recognized the winds of change in the air, and changed their brand perception to leverage the assets that made them unique.

As I stated in my previous article, the arrival of Wal-Mart created an immense shift in retail across Canada by providing products for middle-class consumers at prices that had not been seen before. As a result, middle-class consumers were able to make many purchases via Wal-Mart, and the resulting spending money left over could be used to purchase higher-end luxuries that these consumers would not have previously been able to afford. The two-tiered purchasing decisions being made by middle-class consumers, coupled with the hollowing out of the middle-class altogether, has allowed low- and high-end retailers to thrive, while the middle-end retailers have suffered.

Recognize and Adapt To Your Surroundings

The Bay, having recognized the change in the air, and recognizing that Wal-Mart was going to continue to be a force to be reckoned with, proceeded to rid itself of 900 underperforming brands, and added 330 new, higher end brands such as Burberry and Hugo Boss in an effort to position itself towards the higher-end of the retail scale, without being too far out of reach for the remaining middle-class customers.

The Bay’s realignment alone would not have been enough to reverse their fortunes, as the retailer had suffered a long period of stagnation and had lost a great deal of goodwill in the customer’s eyes. The Bay however, had an underused gem in its back pocket: its immense history as the oldest surviving company in North America, one of the oldest in the world in fact, with a history in trading fur, thereby linking the Bay to the history of the Canada and its people. Luxury brands thrive on their story-telling to help emphasize their quality based on tradition, in order help justify their positioning- but they would all pale in comparison to the tradition and history that The Bay has. To take advantage of this, as part of their repositioning in the market The Bay changed its name to Hudson’s Bay, and reverted back to using its original emblem as the company logo, in an effort to capitalize on its rich history and tradition, thereby justifying its move into a higher-end retail category.


The Bay’s strategic repositioning within the market, based on both what the customers were looking for and leverage of one of its core assets has allowed this iconic Canadian brand to thrive once again as one of the nation’s top retailers. Understanding what makes you unique, and leveraging that differentiator to satisfy a customer need is what makes a company successful.  While Sears failed to recognize what makes them unique and position it to satisfy what their core audience was looking for, The Bay did – and now are well on their way to recapturing their place as an iconic retailer that is returning to relevance again as one of Canada’s top retailers.


Changing With the Times



As many Canadians have noticed, Sears Canada is free-falling into oblivion. In the last 6 months, Sears Canada has closed many of its prime urban retail locations as they retreat towards the suburbs (where they first started out), layed off many employees, they have had to deal with employees making racist remarks (among many other customer service issues), and they are in the midst of suffering a long and painful decline in revenues.

Once upon a time, Sears was a major player in retail – a one-stop shop where one could purchase almost everything they need at a reasonable price. Now, walking into a Sears is one of the most depressing retail experiences imaginable. In an effort to ‘clean up’ their stores for a more enjoyable experience, they simplified their in-store displays for a less cluttered look.  However the reality is that while removing a lot of merchandise from the floor, they forgot to repaint the walls, replace the 1970’s era flooring (and staff) and just generally clean up the place. It was a half-assed attempt at trying to revitalize their image, and that lack of care for the little things does not inspire consumers to shop there. It looks like they know the end is near, and are just waiting to be put out to pasture.

Even though Sears has clearly thrown in the towel and continue to do many things wrong, there is a fatal flaw that precipitated this collapse: their failure to recognize the changing dynamics of their core audience – the middle class.

Middle Child Syndrome

As a middle child myself, I like to think of myself as an expert in all things middle-child-related, and the big thing that people point about middle children is that they yearn to stand out as they are neither the baby of the family, nor are they the prodigal first child. The same can be said of today’s middle-class. In the digital age, consumers are exposed to a multitude of options, and they are becoming more informed about what is potentially available to them. The result is that the middle-class doesn’t want to have a whole array of middle-of-the-road items.  The middle class would rather enjoy the cost savings of purchasing the bulk of their items at discount retailers, in order to afford a few luxury, high-end items, with luxury retailers developing new lines of “accessible luxury” to tempt them. Don’t believe me? Walk into any Wal-Mart and count how many people perusing the aisles are carrying around Louis Vuitton bags. The whole idea of the middle-class consumer has become completely muddied as a result, and it is no longer appropriate to simply bucket customers based on their incomes. In the past, Sears thrived on this middle-income demographic, mainly because discount retailers had not yet achieved the prominence that they have today, and the lack of internet provided less opportunity for the middle class to learn about luxury items that appeared unattainable.  But today, this is no longer the case.

As the World Turns

A second and perhaps more concerning change to the core audience of Sears which failed to spur this retailer into action, is the altogether hollowing out of the middle-class.  This creates a division between the lower end of the spectrum and the higher end of the class spectrum.  The ensuing consumer gap leads consumers to perceive that they are either at the bottom end of the two-tiered divide (and thus are making most of their purchases at discount retailers), or they are at the other end of the class spectrum and are spending their cash at higher end retailers, in an effort to keep up with the Joneses. This hollowing out and changing self-perception of the middle class has resulted in a declining potential customer base for Sears, with diminishing opportunities for growth, let alone halting their decline.


Sears has not done itself any favours by the way they have treated customers of late, for by the state of their retail locations.  However the issue that precipitated their demise was their inaction in the face of a shrinking customer base that has evolved in terms of how they make their purchases. Sadly, even if Sears made the appropriate personnel and retail design changes, their brand equity has suffered immensely and their core customers have probably already moved on.



I’ve Got Nothing But Love For You

“Apple is the best!” is a phrase I hear very often, especially from one of my very good friends who shall remain nameless, and it amazes me every time I hear it at how Apple has been able to cultivate such a loyal fan base. To those of you who are not Apple users, this devout loyalty towards a brand may seem incredibly annoying, with various myths surrounding the brand being rather inaccurate (I remember one devotee telling me that Apple’s are so superior to the competition that it is impossible for an Apple computer to get a virus). It’s funny because whenever I hear an Apple user profess their love for their Apple products all I hear is this song in my head:



But one simply cannot deny that the brand has struck a chord with a large group of people around the world, establishing itself as possibly the pre-eminent Lifestyle Brand. So, what exactly is a Lifestyle Brand and how did Apple develop such strong brand loyalty?


The word “lifestyle” is often thrown around quite liberally today in a product sense. Many companies will often use the term believing that by selling a range of products, their line automatically constitutes a ‘lifestyle’. Just because a company sells shoes, clothing, and fragrances with a similar stylistic code, does not make this a lifestyle brand. Neither does a brand of alcohol, such as Grey Goose, that is consumed in situations that may help showcase how you live your life, constitute a lifestyle brand. In reality, a lifestyle brand must do more than offer a collection of items that can help demonstrate a look, or be a product you use as you live your life – it must shape your life, and offer a point of view on the world that you adhere to. More specifically:

“Lifestyle Brands describe who we are, what we believe, what tribe we belong to. They communicate our status and our aspirations. They indicate the way we deal with our life and sometimes reflect our own conscience.”[i]

Therefore, a lifestyle brand does not merely take part in how you choose to live your life, it helps define how you live your life, and offers solutions for the life you wish to lead.

In Apple’s case, its rallying cry has been to “Think Different” and it has called out to those who yearn for a different experience with different products that allow Apple followers to be different and be able to express ourselves through our products (at the time this call was created, Apple was only beginning to venture out of the personal computer market where it had less than 5% market share). In calling for the customers to “Think Different” Apple then proceeded to demonstrate how they envision to “be different” by changing the way technology brands communicate with their customers.

Prior to 2001, tech companies advertised their products by touting their technological power, and flaunted their superior or different specifications – “Now with a Pentium Duo-Core processor”. The problem was that to the average customer, this message didn’t explain how our lives could be improved by these technological advances.

Apple changed all that by not talking about the specifications at all, instead focusing on what their products could do for us, the consumer, and help us more easily express ourselves. Whenever Apple came out with a new product, Steve Jobs would have a presentation where he would explain how our lives would now be improved because of his new product. By utilizing this approach, customers could easily understand how Apple products can help us express our uniqueness; all while the competition struggled to identify with its audience, despite potential technological superiority.

Once Apple had succeeded in developing their identity as a brand that would enable us to “Think Different”, they developed more products that could help us live this mantra in other areas of life, providing its customers with a new vision of the world centered around the ethos that Apple represents. This new world that Apple provided even went beyond the products that it offered, towards an in-store experience that has completely changed the way customers look at retail stores.

The resultant integration and newfound importance that Apple products plays in one’s life, and the success with which its products and services have contributed towards allowing its customers to do more to express themselves, be different and think differently. This desire to be unique, I believe is something that appeals to most of us, and Apple delivered on its promise by being leaders for many years in making new innovative products easier for us to use, making it easier for us to express our individuality with these products, thereby capturing the hearts and minds of many around the world, personalizing the experiences they had with their Apple products and forging a relationship with Apple that has gone from being solely utilitarian towards something deeper. It is no wonder that people like my friend are so ready to defend Apple and the quality of its products – because Apple has done more than just provide technological products for them, it has provided a way of life that they believe in and any attack on Apple is an attack on their way of life.


As further proof, I leave you with the latest Apple Christmas ad which showcases exactly what I am talking about – namely that Apple helps people who are inherently different, to be able to express themselves in a creative and unique way to the ones they love. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!




[i] Marazza, Antonio; Stefania Saviolo. “Lifestyle Brands: A Guide To Aspirational Marketing”. Palgrave MacMillan. 2013. Pg. 60.


How Much Is Too Much?

You may have seen the recent headline that hockey broadcasting is soon to change now that Rogers Media has purchased the national rights to NHL games for the next 12 years, and is promising more hockey content. To most Canadians, I would imagine that this is a big deal as the hockey content had mainly been provided by TSN (Bell Media) and CBC, and the promise of even more hockey I am sure is exciting for many. Maybe I am an anomaly in this country, but I am already tired of getting NHL hockey rammed down my throat anytime I try to watch sports, and Rogers Media’s promise of more hockey content makes me shudder. TSN seemed to have this stereotypical vision (perhaps correctly?) that hockey is like heroin to Canadians who need a constant fix.  Already an inordinate amount of their sports programming is focused solely on hockey, and Rogers Media seems to have the same idea. I don’t have access to their analytics, so perhaps they are correct in thinking that Canadians have an addiction to all things hockey and only hockey.  But it got me thinking about brands in general, and whether there is a point when a brand is being overexposed, for example with media companies and their hockey product in Canada. As a brand manager, how does one get the right amount of exposure without hurting the brand? By striking the right balance of advertising frequency and medium, while considering your target audience.

Flying Too Far Under the Radar

The key to your brand’s success is the ability to be the first brand that comes to mind whenever customers have a problem that your product/service can fix, because then your brand will be the first one customers will try.  To be first in customers’ minds, your brand needs your potential clients to know what your brand is, what your brand represents, and what problems your brand can solve. Without a plan to communicate with your customers, they simply will not know who you are, thereby making the awesomeness of your product a total waste. At the same time, too much advertising will dilute your brand and customers will deem you annoying. They know what your brand is, but will be reluctant to try it out as they don’t want to be associated with your annoying brand.  Personally, although I am a fan of NHL hockey (Go Flames!), the amount of coverage, analysis, and mindless discussion about hockey has turned me off from watching it altogether.

Advertising and promotion are critical components to any business strategy, and a large part of developing this strategy is understanding the right frequency of communication necessary to attract the customers you want. Getting the frequency of your communication right has a lot to do with who your customers are and how they would like their relationships with their brands to be.

Ways to Communicate With the Consumer

Social Media has really added another level of complexity towards showcasing your brand to your audience. Traditional media such as TV, radio, billboards, magazines, etc. involve a one-way dialogue where customers do not have an opportunity to continue the conversation with the brand, and getting your brand’s message across involves simply stating, over your core customer’s desired medium, what it is your brand has to offer. The advent of social media has created a two-way dialogue between customers and the brand, thereby adding another layer of complexity to communicating with your brand’s customers – namely that they can now reply to your brand’s statement, thereby allowing for more insights to be had from the two-way conversation.  Excitement over the possibilities that exist with social media for marketers has resulted in a flooding of the market, so to speak, of brands trying to get their message across over social media, in an effort to increase the touchpoints with the customer, gain insights on what they like, and grow their business.

Luxury brands, which have been notorious in the past for their desire to not be known by the masses, have been sucked into this social media excitement, and are also reaching out to wider audiences to maximise their exposure. I find instead that brands are bombarding customers with information in an effort to attract customers, without really taking a hard look at what the customers want.

An example of this can be seen with Jennifer Lopez, about 7-8 years ago when she was everywhere with her singing, acting, product lines, and was even all over tabloids with the men she was dating. At first, everyone was fascinated because she was new, exciting, and very attractive. Eventually it became too much: she was viewed as annoying, her movies were terrible, her songs weren’t much better, and her relationships became boring (while still being physically attractive). The point is, the content was lacking, she was promoting herself to everyone and people had had enough.

If a brand needs to showcase itself to its audience in order to win the battle of customers’ minds, but flooding the market with your brand only dilutes your brand equity, how does one deliver the right amount of exposure without going too far?

What Does Your Target Audience Want

When a product or service is important to someone, they generally want to hear more about it, so the key is finding out from where your core audience likes to get their information, and promote your product there. Promoting your product designed for 70 year olds through youtube commercials will not only be a waste of advertising dollars, but will annoy everyone else.

Secondly, different audiences require different amounts of penetration in order to get your message across. Some audiences like to have their favorite brands speak to them regularly, while other customers prefer a more hands off approach. Understanding what your customer’s penetration preferences are important for avoiding having a great match between brand and customer go sour (kind of like when the girl who seemed really amazing but then started calling too much and didn’t seem so amazing anymore).

The advantage of social media to marketers is that it allows brands to communicate with an audience that does not like to be spoken to, but rather spoken with. It allows for the ability to develop brand recognition and loyalty among customer segments that shun traditional media. Therefore, hammering your message through annoying promotional ads on Facebook will only serve to further alienate the very customers you are trying to reach. Like a shy deer, leave some crumbs and let them come to you.


Advertising your brand is critical towards developing awareness for your product or service and attracting the right customers, however overexposing yourself will result in your brand becoming commoditised, diluted, and annoying. While great attention has traditionally been paid to the means of communication and the message itself, attention to the frequency of interaction is also key to making everyone happy. With the ability that both Rogers and Bell have to integrate their many online and offline media platforms, I hope that by more hockey content they mean in terms of the form of media I choose to watch hockey when I want, as opposed to a bombardment of hockey on a sports (not hockey) network. Either way, it is exciting times for hockey fans in Canada.


Editors Note: It seems as though the arrival of à la carte cable pricing will allow for a customization of their cable packages giving people who want hockey all day everyday exactly what they want


The Van Damme Effect

Unless you have been hiding in a cave somewhere, you may have noticed that Jean-Claude Van Damme recently made a triumphant return to the world with this epic gem, bringing the Volvo brand along with him:



I have often wondered what ever happened to him since the 90’s when he was kicking the crap out of people in new and innovative ways.  Apparently, at least some of that time has been spent trying to recreate the ice-cold refreshment of a Coors light, or doing the splits to motivate small businesses to work harder:




Looking at all of Van Damme’s recent advertising spots, we see that a) Jean-Claude cannot keeps his legs closed, and b) the new Volvo ad’s view count on youtube reached 33 million in 6 days (probably is higher now), while the other Van Damme ads have failed to reach 100 thousand in much longer timeframes. The examination of these ads poses two questions: 1) why bother using celebrity endorsements if one cannot guarantee at least a 50% shot at success (only 1/3 of JCVD endorsed commercials succeeded), and 2) What did Volvo do differently to make their video go viral?

Why Use Celebrity Endorsements?

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, there are two main reasons to use celebrities to endorse your brand.  The first and most obvious reason is brand exposure. Brands will often use popular celebrities because they easily get noticed, and therefore by linking up with the celebrity, the brand can tag along for the popularity ride, thereby increasing both brand awareness and exposure.

What is interesting in Volvo’s case is that JCVD has seemingly been hiding for well over 10 years and hasn’t been talked about until now. So why would they choose someone like JCVD? It all has to do with the second and perhaps more important reason to use celebrity endorsements: the ability to link your brand’s attributes to those of the celebrity.

For as long as I can remember, the Volvo brand has represented all things boring, bland, and safe. One would never mention Volvo in the same breath with Mercedes, Ferrari or Bugatti. The ‘wow’ factor that Volvo has never been associated with was also reflected in their sales, which had been sluggish for a long time. JCVD has also had his share of bumpy roads, and he states that very clearly right at the beginning of the ad. Undeniably, however, is that JCVD has always been in incredible shape (which he also points out in the ad), and Volvo wants you to know that their cars have always been in incredible shape too. You see, in this ad, Volvo is JCVD and JCVD is Volvo, and the amazement of him doing the splits in between two trucks that are reversing is equally matched by the smoothness with which those trucks are reversing and moving! This ad displays a symbiotic relationship between the celebrity and the brand, and by highlighting the attributes that JCVD represents, they are strengthening their association with those exact same attributes.  By joining forces and creating this video together, I think it is safe to say that JCVD will be brought back to relevance (even if temporarily) and supply the ‘wow’ that Volvo has always been missing.

By contrast, looking at the Coors light ad and the GoDaddy ad, their use of JCVD was completely wasted. Coors light wanted to promote how refreshing their beer is – an attribute that has nothing to do with JCVD.  Coors has JCVD look like he’s been trying to recreate this refreshing feeling since the 90’s, in an effort to explain his absence from pop culture – an ad that could have been recreated by any celebrity that has fallen from stardom – and as a result, does not serve to capitalize on JCVD’s endorsement. Meanwhile GoDaddy had JCVD doing the splits in an effort to motivate small business owners to work harder.  I do not understand how JCVD doing the splits serves to accentuate the message of working harder, nor do I understand what this has to do with GoDaddy as a brand!

How to Make a Video Go Viral?

In all three ads, JCVD is the celebrity endorser however only one of the three went viral. Where did Coors and GoDaddy go wrong?

In another earlier blog post, I examined how to make videos funny, and I believe that some of the same rules apply in terms of creating a viral video and that is in displaying a benign violation in order to peak someone’s curiosity. A benign violation needs to be a violation of what is deemed normal while at the same time not being harmful to the viewer.


At the same time, each person has their own tolerance level of what is benign and what is a violation and therefore striking the right balance can be tricky. In my opinion, the Coors ad was too benign to be entertaining, while the GoDaddy commercial was in fact too weird along with being too benign. Meanwhile, the Volvo ad hit the sweet spot of being entertaining, as there was a perceived risk that JCVD might fall, while at the same time being something that one has probably never seen before, and having a song (Enya – Only Time) that serves to enhance emotive connectivity. According to the “Arousal Hierarchy” developed by social psychology professor Dr. Rosanna Guadagno, a video that creates the feeling of awe or humour has a higher likelihood of being forwarded. The Volvo ad managed to provide a sense of awe, and while the Coors and GoDaddy ads tried to be funny, they failed. .

Not to be forgotten are the critical roles execution and promotion play in helping a video go viral. I discovered the Volvo video from a marketing blog about a week ago, and then rediscovered it about 6 times that day on various marketing blogs where they all discussed the quality of the ad. It would appear as though Volvo tapped into marketing influencers to help spread the word, and due to the quality of the video it continued to be shared until I saw it on mainstream news outlets a few days later. I would imagine the Coors and GoDaddy videos also went to influential bloggers to help spread the word.  But because of inferior ad quality, those videos failed to gain momentum.  Tapping into influencers can be key to making a video go viral, if the content is there to back up the hype.


Content is king.  The informative nature of the Volvo ad, coupled with superior emotive connectivity, makes it one of the best ads I have ever seen.  In my opinion, the choice of celebrity was perfect for Volvo, and the message they hoped to deliver.  The content informed me about their dynamic steering capabilities while at the same time certainly had that ‘wow’ factor.  As soon as this ad was put up on youtube, it was suddenly found everywhere I looked. While Jean-Claude Van Damme’s split was certainly epic, the promotion and execution of the advertisement as a whole was undeniably epic in itself.  This Volvo ad has provided a great example of how to use celebrity endorsements to deliver your message through a viral video. Why do you think this Volvo ad went viral while the others failed to launch? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.



Good Ol’ Fashion Story-Telling

As children growing up, there was nothing like a good ol’ fashion story to entertain us, influence our moods, and teach us new and exciting things. One of my favorites, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” taught me a great deal about the value of having honest friends, the power of collective ignorance, and the pitfalls of being vain. These lessons, along with making sure my pants zipper is always up, have stuck with me throughout my life and have played a part in shaping who I am today.

As adults, we also like great stories, and companies capitalize on this in order to foster that emotive connectivity to their brand, and strengthen the positive associations that the company is trying to convey. Premium and luxury brands in particular are often excellent story tellers, as they are not merely selling products, but lifestyles, and they use the uniqueness and sophistication of this story as part of their justification of a higher price point.

So how do companies tell a great story and use it to strengthen their brand?

Developing Your Story

The story itself is obviously critical as it is the fundamental message you want to tell your audience.  Crafting this story, however, is not as easy as it appears. The story needs to provide information that will identify what we have in common with the brand, in order to develop a shared identity. More specifically, the story needs to have the following features:

Explanation: An explanation of what life is presently like without the product/brand of interest, a setting in which a conflict exists. These could be societal issues, common personal issues, physical issues, etc.

Meaning: Helping your audience gain an understanding of who they are or aspire to be, that will resolve the conflict. For example, who would you like to be? How would you like your problem resolved? What do you want to do?

Message: A narrative that underlines the lessons being learned. How will your issues and concerns be resolved? (Hint, using the brand)

Ritual: A means to address the lessons being learned in the audience’s lives.  For instance, by being a user of this brand, you become part of an association of enlightened customers, and by telling others the story you can help enlighten other like-minded souls as to how their problems can be resolved.

Growing up in Canada, and having an affinity for fashion, I find it natural to feel a sense of pride in Canada Goose’s growth trajectory over the last few years, much of it owing to the story that they tell with their advertisements. Over the last year or so, their message has been “Ask Anyone Who Knows”, and it has been an incredibly successful campaign which has helped attract aspiring luxury outdoorsmen and women, and more, all across the globe.



The story behind this campaign is as follows:

Explanation: It gets really cold out sometimes

Meaning: You are an important person, and your life should not have to slow down because it is cold out.

Message: People have been going about their lives for many years living life and getting things done. They do this by wearing Canada Goose jackets.

Ritual: If you wear a Canada Goose jacket, you too will be able to live life and get things done. People will look to you for inspiration in solving this cold weather problem, as you have to the people before you.

Identify Who The Hero Is

Many stories have a victim who is saved by the hero, and in the past, consumers were always the ones with the problem and the brand being presented to them were the heroes. Those stories utilized their functional benefits in order to satisfy our needs. In reality however, increasing brand loyalty requires companies to tap into our emotional and self-expressive needs, and a common human desire is to be the hero. Nowadays, companies are becoming more and more aware of this and are repositioning their audience as the hero, with their product as the mighty sword enabling the consumer’s success.

Canada Goose is a prime example of a brand that has succeed in doing this. By wearing a Canada Goose jacket, now you are an expert in dealing with cold weather and you can inspire others to do the same (thereby further increasing their sales). This has the double benefit for Canada Goose of having the customer also be the advertisement, maximizing the return on investment of their ads and increasing overall profit margins; something which is common among all luxury brands, and good for any company.

Back Up Your Story

Telling a powerful story will only translate into success if your brand actually lives up to the message you are trying to convey. As a result, your employees need to buy into the culture of the company and believe in the solutions the company hopes to provide to its customers.  One considerable advantage of developing a story to go along with your brand promise is that the story can motivate your employees to work towards the company vision, thereby satisfying the customer need that your brand’s story aspires to resolve.

For 60 years, Canada Goose has targeted its message towards research teams in the Antarctic,  oil riggers, police officers, and other people who are required to spend considerable amounts of time in the cold. By securing the endorsements of the “cold experts”, the brand can now lay claim to the fact that if you ask anyone who knows, they will indeed recommend a Canada Goose jacket.

Furthermore, Canada Goose has not succumbed to the pressure of keeping costs low and manufacturing in Asia, since doing so would result in a loss of legitimacy as a brand, and render useless the goodwill that their name provides. By staying in Canada, Canada Goose is able to position itself as a truly Canadian company, leveraging the idea that most people have of Canadians living in igloos.


Telling an effective story enhances your brand recognition and loyalty, allowing your audience to connect with your brand on a deeper and more sustainable level. Canada Goose has been effective at this, and has seen incredible growth over the last few years as a result. I hope you have enjoyed my story about stories – I am now going to put on my Canada Goose jacket and head home to my igloo.


[i] Sachs, Jonas. “4 Steps to Build Brand Awareness Through Storytelling”. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonah-sachs/4-steps-to-build-brand-aw_b_3997738.html September 26, 2013.


[ii] Margolis, Michael. “Brand Storytelling 101”. Get Storied. http://www.getstoried.com/brand-storytelling-101/


Not so fancy anymore: Why Luxury Brands Are Becoming More Accessible

I recently read an article about the new Mercedes CLA sedan and its affordability as being a part of Mercedes plans to  become more accessible to a  lower economic status, which got me thinking about how luxury brands, in general, have become more visible and seemingly accessible over the past few years. Either I am either making more money than I used to, or luxury brands have begun to move towards offering versions of their brand at a lower price point to capture more sales volume – and my bank statement suggest it’s the latter. So the question then is, why are luxury brands doing this, and more importantly is it a good idea?

Why move from riches to rags?

The Luxury good category has gone through a bit of an upheaval over the last few years, as more people are accumulating wealth from new parts of the world.  In addition, non-traditional luxury consumers are entering this marketplace, looking to mix and match their non-luxury goods with a statement piece to differentiate themselves (i.e. the 40 year old guy living in a bungalow with his parents who also happens to drive a Ferrari).  The traditional luxury goods customer strives to be unique, opulent, and exclusive; and the mere thought of commoners owning the same goods disgusts them.  In an effort to satisfy their core customers, while at the same time attracting the nouveau riche and the mix and match customer, luxury brands have extended their lines into lower ends and created new super high ends in an effort to satisfy this growing demand, without simultaneously alienating their core customers. [i]

Different strokes for different folks

Social Media and The Web, spaces where much of the communication between brands and consumers takes place nowadays, have also played a large role in shaping the luxury goods segment, as these mediums have invariably increased accessibility and transparency of products however that is precisely what luxury brands typically try to avoid.[ii] As a result, the need to communicate with luxury customers has opened the floodgates, where everyone now knows about the brands, and it becomes increasingly difficult to provide exclusivity for those traditional luxury goods customers. As a result, luxury brands have developed accessible luxury goods in order to provide precisely what the masses want (access to their products), while at the same time providing an opportunity to develop a supreme luxury segment (and charge even more!) to those who are squeamish of even being remotely associated with the common folk.

How available do you want to be?

So it seems as though luxury brands have in a way been forced to adapt to an evolving audience and the medium required for speaking to them; however, is extending these luxury brands to a wider audience a good idea? Well, the answer to that lies in terms of how this strategy is executed. The risk of extending the brand downstream is that it can erode the aura of exclusivity and caché that the brand has painstainkingly built. Coach, the handbag manufacturer, was hurt by this strategy when they decided to lower its average handbag price by 10% in 2008[iii]. As a result, they lost their higher end customer base and were subsequently attacked in their new segment by Michael Kors and saw a decline in revenues in the North American market for a few years. While the attack by Michael Kors was unfortunate, they would not have had to sacrifice their core audience if they had set up a brand architecture for different sub-brands to serve different customer groups. In contrast, Giorgio Armani has had consistently strong growth for over 20 years: a part of his strategy has involved the launch of sub brands in order to attract new audiences while preserving his core customer base. At one end of the spectrum is the Armani Privé line that services supreme luxury customers, while the Armani Exchange line at the other end of the spectrum services the masses.


Returning to Mercedes’ strategy of launching a lower priced vehicle in order to become more accessible, – I have mixed feelings about this move. On one hand, Mercedes is a strong and clearly defined brand that represents luxury and fine craftsmanship.The ability to offer those attributes to a larger demographic that could not normally afford a Mercedes vehicle will definitely attract growth to customers in this segment. On the other hand, I find that while the Mercedes brand is very recognizable, I cannot off the top of my head distinguish which Mercedes models are more or less expensive, nor who their intended audience is, since their naming conventions are too similar and confusing (C class, CL class, CLA class, CLS class, etc.).  As a result, I see that if Mercedes is not careful, the CLA model may run the risk of eroding the aura of its other similarly named models, and therefore, potentially the Mercedes brand as a whole, to its traditional luxury customers.

The move to attract a new audience can be difficult to manoeuvre if one does not have strong brand recognition and an architecture in place to segment their various audiences, but is a risk that many Luxury brands seem to be willing to take in order to expand their growth opportunities in a largely stagnant western market. The rewards however may prove to be very fruitful if executed properly.

[i] Corbellini, Erica; Saviolo, Stefania. (2009) Managing Fashion and Luxury Companies. Etas.

[ii] Ortved, John. (2011) Is Digital Killing the Luxury Brand?. http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/digital-killing-luxury-brand-134773?page=1.

[iii] GoldenGirlFinance. (2011) What Happened to Coach?. http://www.goldengirlfinance.com/inspiration/?post_id=145


No Longer Your Grandmother’s Birks

Luxury brands do an exemplary job of showcasing their own history of excellence. A big part of the reason why luxury brands have been able to sustain success over such a long period of time is due to their ability to adapt with the times, while maintaining the essence of what made them so great in the first place. The Birks Group has been in operation for 135 years, and is one example of a luxury brand that has been a staple of elegance as the world has changed around it; due, in large part, to its ability to stay relevant.

Recently Birks & Mayor underwent a makeover to clean up its tired image and in-store experience, and I believe that the following changes will help it to continue to succeed for the foreseeable future as it commences its expansion into China.

Name Change

As a part of this makeover, Birks Group has changed their retail name to “Maison Birks” in order to closely align itself with other luxury houses such as Chanel and Dior, that also employ the use of the word “Maison”.  Personally, I like the change of name because to those who may not be familiar with the Birks name, this change further signifies luxuriousness for the brand  – a distinction that will be important as it makes its foray into China and potential future markets. Since the word “Maison” itself is also elegant and fluid sounding (even if one does not know what it means), those same attributes will be subconsciously associated with the brand in the customer’s mind, thereby softening the original “Birks” name which sounds choppy and rough.


Celebration of History and Origins

Having a long history in itself is an asset for a company, as customers tend to believe that being around for a long time reflects a track record of success. At the same time, it is a point of differentiation that cannot be copied, since newcomers need time to develop their own history. As a result, if your company has a long and storied history, it only makes sense to exploit it to the fullest, which can help communicate the positive attributes of success, reliability, and quality to your customers. It is for this reason that I think it just makes sense for Maison Birks to also add its year of commencement to its logo, in order to help communicate such positive attributes that are especially important in the high-end jewelry industry.

Another nice touch that Maison Birks is adding is the subtle ode to its Canadian origins, with dark wood paneling and red carpeting to represent the Canadian fall, a chandelier to symbolize icicles, and the blue and white colours of the logo representing the lakes and mountain tops. I am not suggesting when someone walks into the store they will be instantly reminded of Maison Birks’ Canadian origins, but the thought process demonstrates a level of detail that can be appreciated, giving an indication of how meticulously they run their business.


Store Layout

In the past, walking into a Birks has always felt like it was a place for old, stuffy people, with an aura of elitism to it, where sales staff would serve you from behind a counter along the side walls. The service has always been spectacular, but the store layout and design did not feel inviting or friendly. Clearly I was not alone in this feeling, as the store layout is also undergoing a makeover in order to become more inviting, friendly, younger, and less formal.  The stores aim to be much brighter places, with display cases throughout the store (as opposed to along the wall) and magnifying glasses built into them in an effort to encourage the customer to interact with the products. I think this is a great approach as it encourages a more inviting experience, where the customer has more of an opportunity to participate with the brand and what it has to offer.


Maison Birks has been a successful luxury brand throughout North America for over a century, and a part of that success has been as a result of recognizing when changes need to be made before it’s too late. What the brand represents has always remained the same, however customer trends, and what customers come to expect from a brand, has changed. I am reminded of a famous quote by Heraclitus: “the only thing that is constant is change”.  While it is important to remain true to your values, the market you are operating in is always changing, and it is important to adapt with these changes. Maison Birks’ makeover is exactly what the brand needed, and coupled with its planned expansion into China, the company should remain on a successful path for many years to come.

What are your opinions on the old feel of Birks and the new Maison Birks?


Started from the Bottom (of the NBA)

Recent big news coming out of Toronto is that rap star Drake has become the global ambassador of the Toronto Raptors NBA basketball team, and a lot of people are wondering: what does this mean? and is this a good idea?

Well, for starters, the idea is similar to how Coca-Cola, Pepsi or any beauty care company signs someone famous to be the face of their brand, and that is to cash in on this person’s popularity.



The Toronto Raptors organization is a business, just like Maybelline, and having Drake as a spokesperson for the franchise will increase exposure and awareness to potential customers around the world.

I’ve seen people commenting online wondering what Drake has to do with a basketball franchise, what the point of all this is.  The answer is: so that the Toronto Raptors can benefit from Drake’s personal brand identity and help improve the franchise’s image in the media, and to its fans.  Right now, Drake is one of the most famous artists in the world, and on the surface, his mere association with the franchise should improve retail merchandise sales. More than that, however, Drake is actually a very hard working, driven individual who is intelligent, successful, and loves the city of Toronto. I believe that the attributes that Drake possesses act as a guide to the players on the team, to develop a similar work ethic and drive for success, and send a message to players throughout the league that this team stands for these values. While this may not directly translate into attracting new talent to the team, the culture that I hope Drake’s association can bring to the organization may indirectly attract players that have the same mindset (just as how every Starbucks drinker with a creative mindset wishes to work for Apple).

The downside to this agreement, as is the case of all celebrity sponsorship deals, is that Drake will not be at the top of his craft forever, and while the agreement may only last a few years, an artist’s popularity can change rapidly, either through the evolution of the industry, or from the negative attributes that the celebrity possesses . Only 2-3 years ago, Justin Bieber was the singer that all teens loved, but recently has been known more for his dumb behaviour than his singing.



Because the Toronto Raptors do not own the Drake brand, it is difficult for them to have any control over or adhere to the image they wish to present, which is a risk that every brand that uses celebrity endorsement must live with. At present, however, it would appear as though the Toronto Raptors do not have much to worry about, as Drake has so far remained gaffe-free.

Importantly, having Drake as an ambassador, and the work that he may put into this effort will not be enough to turn around the fortunes of this team on its own. Celebrity endorsements are great at increasing exposure for the brand and developing positive associations to the brand itself.  The value proposition, however, remains the same, and if the company does not deliver on its promise to customers, all the glitzy press releases in the world will be of no help. An example of this can be seen through Blackberry’s announcement of having Alicia Keys as the company’s Global Creative Director prior to the launch of their Blackberry 10 operating system. As recent news has shown, the company lost $934 million due to unsold phones post the Alicia Keys announcement showing that her presence wasn’t able to prevent Blackberry’s demise.

The association with Drake should help improve the Raptors’ image and the franchise’s culture, but at the end of the day it will all be for naught if the team does not deliver deliver on its purpose of existence – winning basketball games. Hopefully this marks the beginning of a new era for this franchise, because I am tired of watching them lose!


Who Are You?

Since I created this blog page, many different people have suggested that I should do a piece on personal branding, as it is a topic that is obviously near and dear to everyone.  It is also extremely important in all aspects of life, from establishing one’s career path, to developing a business, to finding the right partner in life. Creating one’s personal brand can be difficult, as it requires deep personal reflection, and it often times takes the help of one’s close friends and family to figure it out.  Yet, once you understand who you are, what you represent, and what your goals are, making critical life decisions becomes a lot easier because the direction becomes clear. There are many different bloggers out there who offer a variety of tips on how to present yourself to your audience, and proclaim this as personal branding.  However, I find that they do not address the core issue – who are you, and how do you let people see who you are? The approach I have taken for myself is very similar to how I try and determine a business’ brand identity.  My roadmap starts with David Aaker’s Brand Identity Planning Model:

More specifically, I perform a strategic brand analysis of myself, identify my core and extended identities in order to develop a value proposition that I can then execute. The goal is to identify the core characteristics that make you unique and define who you are, combine them with traits and qualities that you do well, and deliver value to whomever your target audience may be (boss, client, interviewer, cute girl having a coffee at Starbucks, etc).

Strategic Analysis

Using David Aaker’s model as a guide, the first part of unlocking your personal brand is putting together an understanding of who your audience is, who else may be courting the same people, and what your strengths, weaknesses and values are. As an example, let us assume that you are looking for work in finance, but aren’t quite sure yet what it is you would like to be doing in finance. You will want to examine numerous job boards to find out what employers are looking for in an employee, and gain an understanding of what other types of people might also be interested in this job. This information is readily available through job descriptions, and career websites. The meat of the strategic analysis will then involve you spending some time brainstorming what your strengths and weaknesses are – both hard and soft skills, what you are looking for in a job, what kind of people you like to associate with – basically anything you can think of as to why people like you, and why people may not like you.

Core Identity (i.e Soul Searching)

This is where some soul searching comes into play. Now that the brainstorming session is complete, the real question now is, what are the 2-3 attributes that make you unique? This can be a very difficult question to answer, and I find that a lot of people tend to focus on their hard skills (i.e math skills, proficiency in Excel), as opposed to their soft skills (i.e ability to ease a tense situation, empathy towards others). The core identity of any individual are the pillars of what define you as a person; the attributes that make up your core are present in everything that you do, say, act, and feel, no matter whether you are on a date, job interview, or on the soccer field.  Often times it is the soft skills that are present wherever you go, and simply unique to you (unless you are the greatest mathematician that ever lived…then maybe your math skills might be more a part of your core).

Extended Identity

Once you have established your core identity, you can now look at what other attributes make you great. Your extended identity will include attributes that do not necessarily define who you are, but are added qualities that make you attractive to your prospective audience. Unlike your core identity, which is fixed, your extended attributes may vary over time, and may depend on your audience (i.e your math skills probably won’t be useful to you when you present yourself to that cute girl who is still sitting at the Starbucks, but will be for that financial risk management job), and can include hard and soft skills. Your list of extended identity attributes will generally be your 4-6 best, and most relevant attributes that are specific to the audience that you hope to attract.

Value Proposition

So you have now managed to find all those attributes that make you wonderful, and categorized which ones make up your core and extended identities.  But how does this help you?  Well, these attributes should help give you a sense of how you can benefit your audience (or how you make the world a better place). There are three types of benefits one can provide to their audience: functional benefits (what tasks can you accomplish that will make other people’s lives easier), emotional benefits (your ability to make others feel good), and self-expressive benefits (how you improve the image of your audience). Your promise of value to your audience should be able to deliver on all three fronts in some way, shape or form. This means that when you walk into that job interview, simply telling them that you are great at math will not get you the job!  Because at some point in time, someone who is better at math than you will come around, making you replaceable.

At the same time, your promise of value must be able to resolve a need for your audience (i.e the missing piece of an innovation team, or the man that Starbucks girl has been waiting all her life for), which ties back into the strategic analysis you conducted of yourself where you looked at who your audience is, and who else is looking at that same audience. Selling yourself as an analytical thinker with strong negotiation skills and a background in finance in an interview for a graphic design position will not give you an edge for the position. Therefore, if your value does not fulfill the needs of the job being posted, or is inferior to your competitors, it might be best not to waste your time applying.


You have now constructed your personal brand, you know what you have to offer, and how you can make the world a better place.  Now how do you showcase yourself? You will find a lot of information on how to execute your brand – whether it be how to tackle an interview, or how to be the ladies man you always wanted to be, yet I find that the recommendations are fairly standardized and focus on conforming to sociological ideals. I believe however that while adhering to social norms is definitely important, it must be done in a way that is synchronous with who what you represent, and the value proposition that you represent – only conform in ways that are a genuine reflection of who you are. If you are a beer drinker, who likes sports, you probably won’t find the woman of your dreams at a martini bar, and if you do so happen to find yourself at a martini bar, it is totally okay to buy a beer anyways because you may attract other beer drinking women who are also unhappy about being at said martini bar. Daft Punk for example, decided on an approach to execute what their brand represented that did not conform to the prevailing trends in marketing, but it worked because it was genuine and unique to their personal style. Confidence is key in executing your image, and you will only feel confident with your execution strategy if it is an accurate reflection of who you are as a person, and what you represent.

Taking the time to unlock your personal brand is a very rewarding and useful exercise, as it helps to not only clarify in your mind what makes you special and how you would like to project yourself, but it also helps sort out what your goals are, and what you want to get out of your career and/or relationships. Personally, I have found that having a solid grasp of what I represent has given me the confidence to showcase the value I provide to others more effectively, and a clearer idea of how I hope to achieve my goals.

Do you have any tips, recommendations, or examples of how one can develop their personal brand? I would love to hear your comments!


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