Strategy’s Most Read of 2019: C-Suite

From Canadian Tire's brand win to P&G's cost-cutting strategy, these are the stories that reached corner offices this year.


This week, strategy is counting down the most-read stories from all our areas of coverage over the past year. Today, we are looking at the headlines that reached corner offices. Check back throughout the week for more of 2019′s biggest stories and, in the meantime, read up on strategy’s top agency stories, account wins, and news from the Shopper Marketing Report.

How Canadian Tire became Canada’s most admired brand

susanThis year, Canadian Tire clinched the top spot on Leger’s annual ranking of the country’s most-admired companies, replacing long-standing incumbent Google. In the year’s most attention-grabbing story from Strategy C-Suite, Susan O’Brien, the retailer’s VP marketing and corporate affairs (and a 2019 Marketer of the Year), explained how the company pulled it off.

It turns out Canadian Tire had been eyeing the top brand recognition for some time. “Being number one in brand is very important to us and we sort of stated it as an ambition,” O’Brien said. She outlined the major pillars of the strategy, from building consumer affinity through its Jumpstart Charity to making more data-driven decisions – as seen with the launch of its Triangle Rewards loyalty and credit card program in 2018 (one of that year’s most-read stories from the Shopper Marketing Report).

 A look at Tim Hortons’ yearlong turnaround

Tim HortonsWhen Tim Hortons unveiled plans for an “innovation cafe” this summer, it did so on the heels of having spent most of the year reinvesting in its brand. For strategy, it felt like the right time to step back and take stock of those efforts – a new headquarters, new loyalty program and a reinvigorated “True Stories” platform just to name a few (also a top-read story of the year was Tims’ decision to add plant-based Beyond Meat to its menu, though it has since ended that test in stores outside Ontario and B.C.)

We spoke to former CMO Axel Schwan (who was recently promoted and replaced by Paloma Azulay) about where a downtown Toronto, hockey-themed restaurant offering fancier donuts fit into Tims’ plans for the future. Industry experts then offered their two cents on the new store concept and the initiatives they thought were likely to be the most impactful for the brand. Since then, the chain continues to launch new spots under its “True Stories” platform, including a recently spot on what inspired The Great One to pursue hockey.

BMO looks to redefine its purpose

Catherine RocheA column from Catherine Roche, head of marketing and strategy at BMO Financial Group, caught readers’ attention in July. Around that time, the Big Five bank announced that by 2025 it would put $400 billion towards sustainable finance, increasing support for small businesses and women entrepreneurs, and eliminating barriers to inclusion, including doubling the size of its Indigenous banking business. The strategy, Roche explained, was based on research showing purpose-driven companies deliver better financial performance, have more engaged employees and more loyal customers, and are better at innovation and transformational change.

The bank’s commitments are coming to fruition. Last week, BMO announced it is providing Maple Leaf Foods with the “first sustainability-linked loan in Canada.”

How to do cost-cutting right: lessons from P&G

P&GMarketers’ companies-to-watch list often includes one of the world’s largest advertisers: P&G. Industry interest in the global CPG co was confirmed by the number of people who chose to read up on how the company has been cutting costs while boosting sales performance.

In 2017, P&G shed $200 million from its digital ad spend (after initially cutting $100 million in a test) over concerns that its ads weren’t effectively reaching their intended audience. In spite of these measures, the CPG giant continues to post impressive growth: during fiscal 2019, organic sales grew 5%, marking the best organic sales performance in eight years. With insight from industry experts, strategy dug into how P&G has done cost-cutting right over the years.

More recently, Howard Lichtman, co-founder of multicultural marketing agency Ethnicity Matters, offered another take on what the company is doing right: investing in multicultural marketing.

Tracing Lululemon’s next steps

Lululemon-ChicagoLululemon opened its first “megastore” in Chicago this year, prompting interest in what the athleisure player hopes to achieve with a 20,000-square-foot location with a fitness studio, meditation area and a restaurant serving smoothies, salads and beer. We decided to ask experts what they thought of the concept and the retailer’s shift towards a more grassroots approach to its marketing (it planned to support the Chicago store with 45 brand ambassadors, a far greater number of brand reps than it typically deploys).

Like Tim Hortons, it was worth backing up and looking at where Lululemon is investing today: the Vancouver-based company has been pushing further into the experiential space, while expanding into new product categories and hoping to double its menswear revenue by 2023. So far, the strategy appears to be paying dividends: net revenue reached $916.1 million in Q3, up 23% from the same quarter during fiscal 2018, and comparable sales gained 10%.