Branding from the outside in

As a Canadian ad exec who has launched brands abroad, Will Novosedlik shares his thoughts on the advantages a global POV brings.

Successful branding depends on a willingness to stand out while everyone else is busy fitting in. But while it’s always easy to spot the standout, it’s a lot harder to be one.
The structure of most branded organizations reinforces the basic human need to be like everyone else. Inevitably, that need extends to entire industries, to the point where you often can’t tell the difference between one player and the next, except maybe in the colour of their logo. So it should come as no surprise that, rather than proactively differentiating, brands spend more time reactively responding to competitors. 
One reason for this is that talent tends not to move outside its industry or market. When folks change jobs, they go across the street to the competition. And the competition hires them because they know that, where they came from, things are pretty much the same as where they’ve ended up. It’s a perpetual inertia machine.
How to break the cycle? When you change jobs, change industries. Or markets. Without fail, these are eye-opening experiences, and the longer they last or more often they happen, the more you realize that the world you’re used to is just one of many.
It is by now an exhausted cliché that with the acceleration of technology and travel, these worlds are quickly melding into one. We are living in a time when the cost of a loaf of Canadian bread is linked to the value of the Chinese yuan. You can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime – in real time. While walking in the park on a sunny day in any large North American city, you’re just as likely to see a burka as you are a bikini.
So, if we’re living in each other’s pockets, why haven’t businesses and brands adapted? Part of the problem, as mentioned above, is recycled talent.  You can’t differentiate if you are looking at things through the same lens all the time. There are three ways to overcome this barrier: you can work in another industry or market and bring the learning back; you can hire people from other industries and markets and bring their learning back; or you can just poke around and see what other markets are doing.
The classic example of the latter is Starbucks. A couple of kids trek through Europe back in the ’70s and see God when they taste their first cappuccino. Who didn’t? The difference in this story, of course, is that these guys took God to the bank. They started small, romanced the experience and ushered in a whole new era in coffee drinking – all because most Americans had never seen a cappuccino before.
A great local example of the same thing is Autoshare. Started in 1998, the Toronto-based car rental service allows members to rent by the hour from within their neighbourhoods. The idea originated in France and the Netherlands back in the ’60s and ’70s (what is it with those decades?), but didn’t really take off until the ’90s when Autoshare prospered from the collision of a European idea with the increasing urban density of Toronto at a time when the internet was exploding. And it is now benefiting from a growing concern with the environment.
If you’ll allow me to use Wind Mobile as an example, the company has benefited from a healthy balance of Canadians with both national and expat experience and seasoned experts from other markets. Our CEO is a Canadian who has spent much of his career in Europe and North Africa. Our CMO, while a veteran in Canadian telecom strategy, also brings considerable trans-oceanic cred to the table. Similar profiles characterize the executive team and many senior managers. A walk around the head office would reveal one of the most diverse workforces you’ll see anywhere. It’s a strong reflection of this country’s cultural mosaic, drawn primarily from a Canadian talent pool with global experience.
The collision of global and local perspectives inevitably leads to new ideas, and new ideas increase the odds of differentiation. Wind’s combination of knowledge and experience from other markets has resulted in the introduction of a fundamentally different business model and brand to the Canadian wireless market. Our approach to the customer – listening to what people really want – has informed the design of everything from key interactions to integrated communications. Turns out what people want lines up pretty nicely with the way wireless gets done in lots of other countries. Having ideas from other markets at the ready has greatly enriched the outcome.
So get off the island. Hire from other islands. Bring back some new ideas. Your brand will thank you for it.

Will Novosedlik is vice president, brand and communications, at Wind Mobile. He can be reached at novosedlik@gmail.com.