Most-read of 2020: C-Suite

Pandemic responses and new opportunities in alcohol were the most popular stories from our weekly newsletter for brand leaders.
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As we do every year around this time, strategy is counting down the biggest stories from the past 12 months. Today, we are looking at the most popular stories from our weekly C-Suite newsletter, which covers how brand leaders are approaching the biggest market challenges and responding to new opportunities (and if you like what you’re reading, you can always subscribe here). Be sure to also check out the year’s most-read stories from our bi-weekly Shopper Marketing Report newsletter and the pages of our print magazine.

The 24 hours that changed Roll Up the Rim

Tim Hortons had big eco-friendly plans for its annual Roll Up The Rim promotion heading into the spring. Tims planned to hand out 1.8 million reusable mugs at its stores – but then COVID-19 happened, forcing the company to overhaul its plans. In a matter of days it unveiled a new randomized draw at the cash, designed to ensure Roll Up could live on, while also protecting customers’ health and safety.

Sunwing resets during shutdown

If you think it was tough to work at a travel company this year, try joining one right before the pandemic hit. That’s what Samantha Taylor did, agreeing to make the jump from Indigo to Sunwing in March, fully assuming her role once flights had already been grounded. But in this interview, the CMO explained her plans for “the new foundation” that her team has been laying down for when it can emerge on the other side, as well as her predictions for recovery in the travel sector and how Sunwing was staying close to consumers even if they didn’t have any tropical vacations planned.

Canada’s most-trusted brands, pre- and post-COVID-19

The University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business always gets a lot of attention for its annual ranking of Canada’s most trusted brands, but this year obviously came with a number of events that changed how Canadians view the brands they buy from. So, in addition to the regular ranking – based on research conducted in January and February – the school also conducted a second round in April to see how things changed after the pandemic hit and lockdown measures began.

The pre-pandemic ranking included several of the usual suspects: MEC, CAA, Costco and new entrant Dyson were at the top of the list. But post-pandemic, Canada Post ranked number one, followed by Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix and CTV News. Part of the difference is because the second round focused on categories more impacted by the pandemic, leaving certain brands out of the poll. But it also revealed a number of other trends that impacted brand trust, which had already been low prior to the pandemic: trust in household cleaning products declined, attributed to the lack of availability, while trust in Amazon suffered due to perceptions of  price gouging and accusations of failing to protect the health and safety of its employees, one of the main drivers of trust.

BMO’s approach to COVID-19

Mona Malone – BMO’s head of HR, people and culture – isn’t the kind of person a marketing outlet like strategy usually interviews, but with how involved she was with the bank’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it only made sense, especially considering how it fit into its long-term brand purpose. BMO wasn’t the only bank to do things like lower credit card interest rates, defer mortgage payments or offer lines of credit and capital to small businesses, but Malone explained how the fact that the bank’s positioning around “growing the good in business and life” helped guide it through every other decision it had to make this year, from safety practices in its branches and offices to digital banking adoption to handling a larger than normal amount of customer service requests.

Inside the “better-for-you” beverage alcohol boom

For everything that happened in 2020, it was also the year that White Claw – the hard seltzer that caused somewhat ironic but still sizeable social media buzz in the U.S. through 2019 – came to Canada, with people lining up in the February cold to get their hands on it when it first came to LCBO locations.

But while it is easy to assume that brands trying to piggyback on White Claw’s success is the reason behind more seltzer and sparkling water brands hitting shelves, it is actually the continuation of a trend that has been going on in alcohol for nearly a decade. Ready-to-drink, “better for you” cocktails have been growing steadily as consumers look to incorporate more health-conscious drinks that are low in sugar, carbs and calories. That’s been especially true of major brewers, which have been looking to diversify their product lineups as growth in the beer category has stagnated.