A casual and cool Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sells a new type of Canada

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands Explained

CgpID6RUgAE5OKIAs a Canadian, I am used to Canada being very low-key on the world stage. However, all that seems to be changing with the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. For me, it started the morning after we elected Trudeau back in the fall of 2015, when one of my friends texted me “I hear you have a hot new Prime Minister”.

Trudeau is young (44), good-looking with modern liberal views, outspoken on his support for women, native Canadians and newly minted Syrian refugees. Imagine a politician in these times not only pushing for Syrian refugees, but he showed up at the airport to welcome them to Canada. Trudeau’s trip to Washington made the news, with a similar impact as how Prince William or Harry might generate. He had a tremendous impact on President Obama who referred to him as the most popular Canadian ever. Trudeau is making most of the top 100 most influential lists.

Here’s the type of Prime Minister we have here in Canada, as he welcomes Syrian refugees at the airport.




And now Trudeau is literally selling Canada.

Tourism Canada has caught on to Trudeau being one of their bigger assets to re-positioning Canada as modern, hip, cosmopolitan and accepting, hoping to attract tourists from around the world. Especially those Americans feeling disenfranchised by the current political climate in the US Presidential race. Recently, the Canadian visa website has been flooded with download requests.CO-Truedeau04.JPG

Research shows that tourism is up 8.5% for Canada, and about 1 in 10 Americans have considered a vacation to Canada, although they have expressed concerns about potential cold weather and the perceived lack of urban sophistication. Both of these are misguided stereotypes. Just so everyone knows, Vancouver weather is identical to Seattle (both rarely ever get snow) and Toronto is just like Chicago or Boston (a mix of snow in winter and heat in the summer). As for urban sophistication, Canada has a very urban population (80% of Canadians live in urban areas), and Toronto is the 4th largest metropolitan area in North America. Those who visit talk about how clean Canada is, how safe they feel and how friendly the people are. Many of the Canadian cities are consistently rated as some of the best cities in the world. We have some of the greatest natural beauties in the world, with the Rockies of the West or Newfoundland of the East.

Below is a new Canadian tourism video, prominently featuring Trudeau, that was just released by Destination Canada. He nails some all the key talking points, showing our culinary sophistication, talking about the diversity of Canadians and just showing a very casual coolness that feels different than a politician would normally project themselves. He even talks about a consumer insight that I’ve always been fond of: “Canada has such a beautiful diversity, that it is one the only places where you can’t tell who is local and who is a tourist”. Have a look, and see if this guy is more casual and at ease with people than Obama or Bill Clinton or Tony Blair.



Now whether this type of low-key casual spot is enough to drive tourism sales in Canada, we likely can expect Trudeau’s next 5 years as Prime Minister will continue to drive intrigue and knowledge of the new emerging Canada. Below is a YouTube clip of Trudeau (a former teacher) explaining Quantum computing–and my guess is that most views are not to learn more about computers.




Would you consider traveling to Canada?


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We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution. 

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Positioning 2016.112


Take a look at Google’s inspiring new office space. Imagine the impact of this crazy space on your Brand’s output

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

abd76f7c-f9ac-497f-ad9c-12b5c2310de7HiResWhat does the design of an office space have to do with a brand?   If you get to the mindset where you start to think of your people as your brand, then where they work, how they work and creative energy they bring to their work matters more than the widget you are selling as a result.  Great Brand Leaders should be looking at the culture as an opportunity to win in the market place.  No matter how good your promise is, if your company is not set up to deliver that promise, everything comes crashing down.  The brand story told within the company is even more important than what you might tell the market through your advertising.  Managing organizational culture is very challenging.  As you move along the Brand Love Curve from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and on to Beloved status, you need to make sure the culture keeps pace with where the brand is.


When I started working back in the mid 90s, I worked for General Mills where we had this confined area where we must have jammed around 15 offices and another 12 cubicles for our department.   iStock_000000707086XSmall-e1279431675643The cubicle walls were an ugly turquoise, almost falling down, some stained, and we had just enough space for a chair and computer.   There’s no way this atmosphere inspired any creativity.  In fact, in such a drab atmosphere, it crushed any good ideas.  It was pure cubicle hell.

For a few decades now, companies have been getting more and more creative with their office space.  It started with “cute” names for meeting rooms, then went to “crash zones”, then to funky chairs.  Google has taken this to a new level with the launch of their new office in Toronto.  As you look at these photos, I urge you to take some of these ideas as possible inspiration for your own office space.

The center point of most company culture’s starts with the cafeteria.  Here’s what Google


Taking a modern approach to the old diner booth, these set up great spots for a quick informal meeting.  


To inspire creativity, Google takes Play to the next level, with a pool table, video games a tent for meetings and a putting green on the roof top.  


To watch a video of the new Google Toronto office space, watch below.  



What I want to do is challenge Brand Leaders to start to think of the people on their team as the core part of the Brand, even if you have a patent.  As brands struggle to find their competitive advantage and uniqueness, maybe it will come from your people.  

The Better your People, the Better the work.  And the Better the results you see.  


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Has Mayor Rob Ford destroyed the Toronto brand?

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market
Toronto the Good

I’m from Toronto, but I’m not really from here, if you know what I mean.  It seems most people in Toronto are from some place else.  That’s what makes it such a great place to live.  It’s visibly impossible to tell the tourists from the locals.  Toronto is a beautiful collection of cultural pockets, Italian, Greek, Jamaican, Chinese, South Asian, Brazilian, Jewish, Korean and everyone else woven throughout the city. If you love multiculturalism, Toronto is the place to be.  I love it. 

0704prideToronto has a vibrant LGBT community, with one of the world’s largest Gay Pride parades.  Our premier (equal to a governor in the US) is a lesbian and yet her sexual orientation didn’t really make the news cycle, before or after she came into office.  Isn’t that a healthy sign of a modern day world?

The hot political issues you hear in other parts of the world won’t be discussed at the lunch table in Toronto.  No one really talks about gay marriage, free healthcare, abortion and gun control.  We’ve implemented  solutions and kinda moved on past these issues.  Gay Marriage has been legal since 2003, Healthcare has been free since the 1950s, Politicians never talk about abortion anymore and in most provinces it’s fully funded under the healthcare laws.  We think guns are a problem, because that’s a big issue for us, but in reality, Toronto only has 50 murders per year compared to 500+ in Chicago (same sized cities).   

Toronto is different.  Toronto is very modern.  Toronto is good.   ‘Toronto the Good’ is one of the city’s many nicknames, first used in 1888 when there was a campaign for moral purification.”  Toronto is a fairly pure city.  

It would be safe to say that Rob Ford is a far cry from purification and not likely a fitting leader of “Toronto the Good”. 

So what is Toronto’s brand?  

Toronto is a well respected city, some love it, but almost all like it.  People see all the good, whether it’s multiculturalism or the fairly liberal virtues of the city we offer.  And clean comes up every time.

As for the Toronto tag line, I’m not sure we have one.  I’ve never heard one.   We have some good shopping, good collection of live theatre, a noteworthy ballet and a solid film festival.  We have the greatest hockey team on earth that last won in 1967.  We had the tallest structure (not building) in the world and maybe top 3 now.  We are close to Niagara Falls, a short two hours away.

Wow, who the heck are we?  

Here goes:  Toronto is a nice place to live.  

There I said it.  I’m sorry.  That’s really what the Toronto brand is all about.   We aren’t sexy, fun, wild or insane.  We are nice.  Polite.  Friendly.  Comfortable.  Courteous.  Safe.  And Clean.  

We are a nice place to live.  Embrace it.  

I guess that’s why Toronto never makes the US news.

Enter Stage Left:  Mayor Rob Ford

Well, this week Toronto finally got its wish.  We made the US news. 

hi-rob-ford-interactive-852For those who don’t know, Rob Ford, Toronto’s infamous mayor has admitted that yes, he smoked Crack last summer, but it was likely during one of his many drunken stupors.  His words.  It’s re-assuring that at least we know he was too drunk to remember.

Toronto has finally made the US news cycle and we are on every late night TV show.  I was watching Jimmy Kimmel last night and he just said “Rob Ford” without even saying “Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford”.  Wow, we have hit the big time.  We are famous finally.  Embrace this Toronto.  

Here is Toronto’s seven minutes of fame on the Daily Show with John Stewart.  Tourism Toronto could not afford this coverage.  


So what’s the damage to the Toronto brand?  

First of all, what’s the damage to the Rob Ford brand?  None.  People in Toronto have known Ford was like this for a long time.  So this is not really new to us.  Just good comedy.  Even back last year there was a fun list of 21 things about Rob Ford that will get a good chuckle.  “The 21 Things to Know About Rob Ford” New York Magazine   

There are contrasting Rob Ford poll numbers floating around that could give him room to repair this.  On the positive side, his job approval rating is up 5% compared to before the crisis.  But 60% of the people are saying he should resign.  So if he can find a way to put this behind him and create some “comeback story”, then his core supporters could help him to stay in office.  Check himself into re-hab, lose 30 pounds and come out a changed man.  Just follow the Bill Clinton playbook.

Good brands have to be either better or different.  In the high taxed political world of Toronto and Canada, Rob Ford occupies a very unique message in Toronto, that of “lower taxes”.  He’s almost the wrong guy with the right message.  If someone comes along with a “lower taxes” message but in a much refined image, then Rob Ford could be ousted.  No longer unique.  

As for the Toronto brand, I think it’s relatively safe.  I know local people are “embarrassed” and ranting on Facebook about what a disgrace this is to Toronto.  It won’t really damage the city.   Toronto has such a squeaky clean image, this will fade into the news cycle and won’t come back to haunt us.  In the last 20 years, we’ve seen so many politicians do some pretty bad stuff that we are long past that.   Nobody equates the bad behavior back to where they are from.  

With or without Rob Ford, Toronto will always be “Toronto the Good”


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In his marketing career, Graham led some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, Coke, General Mills, and Pfizer, rising up to VP Marketing. He has won numerous awards including Marketing Magazine’s “Marketer of the Year”, Businessweek’s best new product award and four Effie advertising awards. His book, Beloved Brands, is the playbook for how to build a brand consumers will love.

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Holt Renfrew: a beloved luxury brand trying to be liked by the masses

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

“No one goes there anymore because it’s too crowded”  – Yogi Berra quote

The never-ending recession has every brand agonizing over decisions on a daily basis. The biggest decision is around Price, and the need for volume balanced off against the perceptions of Brand Equity.

This past week, I was at Holt Renfrew, Canada’s answer to Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Selfridges. I’m not a big fan of Holts. I wish I was a fan, but my Scottish blood makes me way too cheap to ever find something within a reasonable price range. Well, guess what people? Holt’s is now filled with items you can afford, and the place is packed.

At first glance, it appears as though Holt Renfrew is immune to the recession.  So I decided to join the crowd and look around.   I saw a Holt Renfrew branded travel beauty bag, which was a $100 value, but for sale at a price of only $25–and it even included a $10 bounce back coupon off my next purchase. Perfect gift for my daughter. Next, I walked past ladies winter hats, saw the perfect gift for my mom.  I flipped over the tag:  $25.  I even got the nice pink box to the put the hat in, which I think the box has even more prestige value than the money I paid.  I walked out with the nice big pink Holts bag, proudly walking along Bloor Street, knowing that everyone must have thought “wow, that guy has money”.   If only they knew, I spent 56 bucks, including GST.  It just seems wrong.

For those who want the $25 Make Up Bag, here’s the link and you better move fast: 


Did I mistakenly walk into the Bay, instead of Holts?  No, there’s no way the Bay would be dumb enough to sell a Travel Bag or a winter hat for only $25. This is like getting a Mercedes for around $15,000 or staying at the Four Seasons Hotel for $59 a night.  It gives the masses a piece of luxury, but at a cost.

The short term attempt at sales gains is off-set by the longer term sales decline when your core customer stops coming.  For Holts, they’d have to sell 100 make up bags to the masses just to make up for the revenue lost from one $2500 dress from a core consumer. And in terms of profitability, if we assume the dress has 40% margins and the make up bag only 10% margins, Holts would have to sell 400 make up bags to make up for that one dress. And it gets even worse when the masses realize they still can’t afford to buy anything beyond these cheap and cheerful items.

Famous little blue box from Birks.

But we’ve seen this story before, in Birks. Through the 1980s, Birks had grown to 225 stores, and was trying to be all things to all people.  You could walk into a Birks in Mississauga, put down $125 for some nice pearls and walk out with the little blue box, guaranteed to make any woman drool when she sees that box.  But in 1992, Birks declared bankruptcy–they went back to what made them famous and who they were. They re-trenched so that all Birks locations were in special locations.  And you needed to save up so you could afford something to go in the pretty blue box.  They figured out that it’s ok if the masses drool, but can’t afford.

Holt Renfrew Pink bag carried with pride around Toronto.

As we’re in the midst of the debate around 99% vs 1%, Holts has to realize who they are and who they cater to. Every time they dip into the 99%, they lose a consumer in the 1%.   There has to be some reverence the masses have when they walk past the windows at Holts.   They have to feel a bit scared when they look at the price tags. They have to be worried they are out of their element. If that Pink Holts bag I so proudly displayed quickly becomes a commodity, then the core audience–the one percenters–will find somewhere else to shop.

As Holt’s looks to see if they can see the end in sight to the recession, they might not realize that they are already seeing the beginning of the end in sight of their status as a Beloved Brand. The lesson: trying to be liked by everyone might mean you end up loved by no one.  

How come the “Occupy” brand never reached beloved status?

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market
The Wall Street Occupy movement felt grass roots, authentic and natural. The rest feel contrived and confused.

Forget your political affiliations or how mad you are. I’m actually a liberal minded person. Will we remember the “Occupy” brand five years from now? If it’s the Left’s answer to the Tea Party, has it achieved the same connection and passion with their followers? A clear and confused NO!!!

In NYC, the Occupy Wall Street had some early passion and it started to make the news. People were clearly upset that during the recessions of the last few years, mad that the rich didn’t suffer, and even more mad that the evil bankers didn’t suffer.The stats around 99-1 are very interesting and highlight a problem with Capitalism if not controlled. Capitalism still has a place, but needs checks and balances.

In terms of looking at Occupy as a brand, let’s keep in mind that Brands move from Indifferent to Like It to Love and then a Brand for Life. It seems that Occupy, quickly connected with a nerve among the people and moved quickly to the Like It stage, gaining very quick awareness. Polls in early October showed strong support for the movement—much stronger than the Tea Party. But then what? Occupy as a brand is really just an idea at this point, but has yet to really turn into a movement. It’s something that people want to latch onto. It’s a promise, a concept, the hope of a movement. All Brands are really just a promise—but it’s the best of brands can take that promise and clearly articulate their difference and then deliver that promise in a consistent manner. Occupy can’t right now, and is at risk of diminishing to the point where people once connected at the early days are just falling back into the Indifferent camp. The Occupy brand appears to be losing steam. More recent polls have shown a steady decline and people are ready to move on.

So where did things go so wrong, in such a short period?

  1. No consistent message: The early Occupiers refused to lay down the core message. Because it was a grass roots movement, they didn’t want to dictate to others how they should feel. They welcomed all, with all types of bitter messages. So what happens to a brand that has a vague message or too many messages? Nothing gets through to the consumer. That’s advertising 101. Even those who moved to the Like It stage were looking for direction that would take them to the Love it Stage. But there was nothing. Even the Wikipedia page on the Occupy movement can’t really articulate it in one sentence.On the other hand, The Tea Party has one defining message: Taxes are Too High and our Government is wasting our money. They’ve stuck to it, refusing to get into political debates connecting to social policies, abortion, capital punishment etc. That gives the people who are mad about taxes something to stay connected to.The Tea Party movement now looks like it has a lasting power as a brand.
  2. The Occupy brand spread too fast, too soon to where it didn’t make sense anymore. The Occupying Wall Street which is the symbolic place of evil bankers and CEO’s walking off with the money makes sense. But that message resonates less when it spreads to Occupy Toronto where that same thing didn’t happen, or Occupy Portland or Occupy Vancouver or even Occupy Kingston Ontario. While I’m sure the Occupy movement was excited to see it spread to so many places, it does feel like a retailer spreading their franchises too fast too soon.
  3. Those occupying changed dramatically and it impacts the emotional connection:   The original Occupy Wall Street projected a groundswell of “Average Americans” upset with the system. People who had been burned and were “mad as hell and not going to take it”. More recently, we’ve started to see Unions get involved—I get that they aren’t in the 1%, but they’ve shared and benefited in the same way as the bankers and CEOs.  Bail outs to Auto Giants kept Union jobs alive at $38 an hour to watch a machine put molding on the side of Buick. The entry of Unions looks bad on the original groundswell idea. And recently, there’s been a drug overdose in Vancouver and looting reported in many cities near the occupations. It now looks like a bunch of Teenagers or Hippies, not your “Average Americans”. This change makes it harder for the average person to stay emotionally connected and while people were at the Like It Stage looking to move to the Love It stage, many are now falling back to the Indifferent. Polls now show most people support “clearing out the occupiers” in their cities.
  4. The Occupy brand never got to the action stage: Classic marketing plans have a vision and mission, which is half articulated. But what about the strategies, tactics and executional plan? People are protesting that change is needed, but then no action plan is developed to make change happen?People are screaming that the gap between rich and poor in the US is real and something needs to be done. If Occupy wants to be a brand that continues, it needs an action plan. Looking at the traditional brand funnel, they’ve generated the awareness and consideration but that’s purely a rational connection for consumers.There is nothing to enable consumers to really take action. Are they using social media? Have they connected into a political movement with a leader, policies, candidates and even a few wins? Is there a bill being sent forth in the name of the Occupy movement? The Tea Party has all that and it’s what is keeping their consumers connected to their brand. The Tea Party scored points among their followers this summer by forcing Obama into a corner of cutting spending.

Unfortunately, the Occupy Brand looks like it’s a leaderless, rudderless brand in free fall. There’s nothing for consumers to hang on to. People are back to Indifferent. And sadly, it could be gone by Christmas when we begin to drive that wheel of capitalism again–one more attempt to spend our way out of the recession. 

In 9 more years, on one of those “Decade In Review” shows,  someone will mention “Occupy” as the big thing of 2011 and we’ll all smile and say “oh yeah, I remember that”. 

Positioning 2016.111
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The Beloved Burger: BURGER’S PRIEST.

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

Original Story, October 2011:  This Saturday, I visited THE BURGER’S PRIEST in Toronto.

Great Mystique created around the whole Priest thing. Different makes them stand out.
Burger 9 out of 10, fries 6.5 out of 10.

Even before you try the burger, you hear the story first, and it’s quite crazy. That’s the way a brand should be.  I have had quite a few people tell me that the Burgers Priest was clearly the best in Toronto. But then they get into the storytelling of what they know. Part of the story is this idea of a secret menu, that you have to ask for. Funny enough but if you google “Priest Secret Menu”, you’ll see about 15 stories come up from various Food Critic reviews. Confirms that it’s a marketing ploy–and a great one for driving word of mouth. The second part of the story is that the owner, who most describe as crazy, even though they never likely interact with him. Apparently, one day he was looking for a really good burger and couldn’t find one. So, he decided to just get in his car and drive until he could find one. He ended up in his car for six months, traveling all through the US from New York to the South, through Texas and Out to California and back. He was intent on learning about the secrets of the best hamburgers he could find. He’s has photos, up at the Priest, of all the great burger places that inspired this burger. Once back, he took all the great ideas and build his own burger. He’s layered in the idea that this burger is a religious experience, with the priest’s idea.  And the mission is to “redeem the burger one at a time”. That’s the brand story anyway.

Now with a brand story, you need to create buzz. Word of mouth on this is amazing. When I got there, just before noon on Saturday, there were already 10 people in line about 10 minutes before the place was open. I also saw the attached sign, asking people to line up to the left to avoid blocking the entrance to the Apartment. I looked for the apartment, and it’s about a good 50 feet away.

So clearly, all the story and mystique has created a word of mouth that is getting people to travel for this burger. It’s 45 min from my house, and I ran into someone I knew who lives 45 minutes the other way. Both of us just felt compelled to try it. Keep in mind, the stories he’s created help drive word of mouth and in turn demand. The line up makes things much more predictable for him, so the food is fresher/better tasting. He can manage his inventories, staff accordingly and drive down his costs by driving up his volume. Plus, I would have paid anything at this moment for the burger. Lastly, I started to tell my friend in line that about the Five Guys burger I had which was amazing and a stranger jumped into our conversation to defend his priest, saying it’s not even close.   Already has brand advocates defending the brand. He’s clearly working his branded business system.

As for the burger, it was ideal. I’d say it’s a tie with Five Guys Burgers–which has a story unto itself–with celebrity endorsements like Obama and Shaquille O’Neil. Both use the same technique of keeping the burger juicy while ensuring it’s well done on the outside.  Very similar taste. (More bacon on the Five Guys, and the Fries are better) The fries at the Priest need improving to be great. Poor Licks, a Toronto icon for many years, has been losing out the last few. The only good thing about Licks now, is there’s never any wait and you can have a nice quiet meal (e.g. no one goes there)

For those of you looking for a great burger, I’d recommend it for sure. For those of you looking for unique marketing and seeing how a small business is trying to drive a BELOVED BURGER, this is a great example. Not sure if he spent six months figuring out the world’s best burger, or just six months becoming the world’s best marketer. A great brand in the making.

Top 3 Burgers in Toronto (my view)

  1. Five Guys Burgers
  2. Burgers Priest
  3. Craft Burger (now the Big Smoke)

Nov 16th, 2011, Update to the Story: Burger’s Priest opening a second location in North Toronto, on Yonge Street between York Mills and Lawrence.  Great location choice. Talk of further expansion into the West end of Toronto, likely High Park or Bloor West Village.   Need a good income level to afford 9 dollar burgers. It will be interesting to see how many they put into Toronto, and then into the rest of Canada. One big fan of the Priest who I told was actually disappointed about the expansion plans.