Waking up to consumer needs of today (and tomorrow)

Part two of strategy's MES roundtable brings marketers together to discuss the impact of cultural relevance and universal human insights.

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On Thursday this week, the industry’s top marketing minds will congregate in the King Edward Hotel to discuss and reflect on the changing role of the CMO.

Burning questions around what it takes to be in the front row of complex industry change will be tackled at the Marketing Evolution Summit (MES) on Sept. 20. Strategy gathered some of this year’s speakers and advisory board members over a roundtable dinner to scratch the surface of where marketing is headed and how its preparing for the consumer landscape of tomorrow.

At the roundtable were MES advisory board co-chair Jason Chaney, CCO for Koho Financial; as well as board members Lori Davison, VP, brand strategy at SickKids Foundation; Emma Erickson, VP marketing at General Mills and Andrea Hunt, VP and GM for Weston Bakeries. They were also joined by MES speaker Axel Schwan, global CMO at Tim Hortons, as well as Ron Lund, president and CEO of the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACS) and Jani Yates, president of Advertising Standards Canada (ASC).

The roundtable discussion was edited for clarity and space. For part one of the discussion, click here.

Axel, you’re at a brand that’s looking to expand even more internationally. How do you build a brand in new markets where they don’t quite have the cultural connection to the brand?

RT_Sept5-086Tim Hortons’ Schwan: When we bring Tim Hortons to the world, we are actually bringing a piece of Canada around the world. We tend to say, in Canada, “Welcome home. Welcome to Tims.” But when we think about it internationally, then it is actually “Welcome to Canada. Welcome to Tims.” So it’s almost like inviting people to visit Canada and we will do this more explicitly. So when we open a restaurant outside of Canada, then we are thinking about shortcuts: ‘How do we celebrate and embrace Canadian values?’ So when you think about other global brands, some of them actually embrace wholeheartedly their origin and that’s what we want to do. So when you think about IKEA, for example, besides furniture, they also bring a piece of Sweden to the world. They even speak with Swedish accents in their commercials.

General Mills’ Erickson: I have managed some big brands that are originally out of the U.S., like Nature Valley, but in Canada, we like to do Nature Valley the Canadian way. Our purpose is all around connecting Canadians to nature. And if you look at the U.S., they are very much about performance and how Nature Valley can help give you the energy to climb that mountain. In Canada, we felt that because nature is all around, Canadians have all grown up with that connection to nature and you want to make sure that you are not losing that connection with the next generation. We did something that is very approachable, and very democratic and inclusive. That’s how we brought that purpose of life in Canada – even if you are managing a global brand, if you’re a good company, you can adopt your own approach to culture.

Koho’s Chaney: You can also build cultural relevance in two ways. You can go on a Canadian insight, or you can go on a human insight. Look at what Nike did with Kaepernick – that just transcends borders. It was a simple execution, with a pretty big social impact. Great human ideas transcend borders, no matter where it comes from. And so it depends on what you are trying to accomplish and what you are trying to develop as a brand, whether it’s on a national level or a human level. If you can create great human work, it impacts everybody equally.

SickKids’ Davison: We actually had this debate when Jason was as Cossette working on SickKids. We spoke about the degree to which you bring forward a brand’s origins. And I think what [Jason has] done with Koho is to be international, whereas [SickKids is] on the opposite end of that. But it is sort of a choice and there is power in each. They’re both insights: Canadianism as opposed to some sort of universal human insight. I think you need lean into it, though, whatever you choose.

Chaney: But I think both SickKids and Tim Hortons have that authenticity to be able to go down that Canadian route.

Erickson: But you can also bring a human insight to Canadian context.

In some ways, Jay, your company is asking people to change behaviour that is pretty fundamental to them (traditional banking). How do you deal with that challenge?

RT_Sept5-113Chaney: We had to take an approach that a bank had never taken. The experience of it was equally as important as the message we’re using in the “Dream Thieves” spot. We were very careful to do some things that are shockingly different and unexpected, and that became the message to consumers, particularly in Canada, where there is pretty consistent communication approaches. We had to get people to wake up a bit to us and to the fact that we’re different.

My whole view was that if everybody likes it then we’re in trouble and we’re being ignorable and too soft. So I actually have as much fun reading the negative reviews. Because I affected someone on an emotional level. And with limited resources, we are looking at service and focusing on the development of our product, but when we do go to market, we need to make that money go infinitely further.

On the flip side of that, how do you future-proof a legacy brand?

Schwan: When it comes to legacy brands, you need to understand your positioning. You have to obsessed with that. If you want to do a radical change with a legacy brand, there’s a big risk that you’ll lose a lot of your core customers. So it’s more about evolution than revolution for a successful legacy brand. If you are not successful anymore, OK maybe it’s important. But we all know that brands don’t die, brands get killed, and usually by marketers. So we need to make sure that we understand the brand and have a very important role in being humble and then doing an evolution.

RT_Sept5-156Erickson: It’s also important to go back and look at a brand’s origins. With new people coming in and stewarding these brands, it’s important to go back to the beginning and see why these brands were started – what is their heritage and what is their role? At the core, these brands are going to be the same. And I think you can push the envelope, because consumers will let you go to places you never think you’d go, as long as the core is the same. The core of Lucky Charms, for example, is that it has a touch of magic. It’s larger than life and embraces that magic in your day and that can be done with kids through a new unicorn marshmallow, for example, or it can be done with millennials in a more relevant way for that target.

With there being so much platform disruption, how should marketers approach getting their messages out there?

Chaney: I think it goes back to this notion that you don’t have to be everywhere all the time. It creates this meaningless brand that’s just yapping. I think we sometimes have an over-reliance on trying to be everywhere, worrying about Facebook and Snapchat, Instagram, whatever. But I don’t think that’s where the opportunity is, I think the opportunity is to go back to ideas and find a way to connect with your audience. And if you focus on that, the world can change drastically. If you buy into a platform too much, then I think they have you over a barrel. We adjust our buy every day, all day, non-stop. The place is almost irrelevant.