Eva Salem broadens Mark’s and Sport Chek’s horizons

The Marketer of the Year is taking lessons from Canadian Tire and opening more doors for its sister banners.

200228 - Canadian Tire Eva Salem 0441-FINAL-6x9This feature was first published in strategy’s Winter 2022 issue. Every day this week, we are publishing one of the five Marketers of the Year for 2021. Check back here again tomorrow to see who else made the illustrious group of MOYs, including BMO’s Catherine Roche.

Up until her arrival at Canadian Tire Corporation (CTC) in 2014, Eva Salem spent a good chunk of her career at luxury cosmetics brands L’Oreal and Estee Lauder in NY. Following that, she started from scratch, grew, and later sold Belly Maternity, a high-end, multi-million-dollar business to a pair of venture capitalists.

The 30-year vet was to go from fashion and prestige to hardware and housewares, so, admittedly, before joining she thought CTC was rather conventional. “I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

The corporation proved its dynamism to the SVP, marketing and brand by taking risks and investing as much into brand as it does business. “We call it, ‘why you shop us and why you love us,” says Salem of the mantra that has enabled Canadian Tire’s marcom to go from strength to strength.

Canadian Tire had invested in the mix of art and science for years before Salem began her tenure with the company, so philosophies were aligned and the relationship between business and brand leadership flourished. She spent six years developing prolific platforms alongside Taxi, including “Tested for Life in Canada” and “We Do New,” before the company called on Salem to duplicate that success for Sport Chek and Mark’s in 2019.

That year, Salem also took on brand marketing duties for Pro Hockey Life and Party City, on top of Canadian Tire Retail and CTC’s owned brands – including Premier, Motor Master and Mastercraft, of which is a $4 billion business all on its own. Her role grew to handle everything but performance marketing across every banner that operates alongside Canada’s best-known retailer.

Every few years, says Salem, Canadian Tire leans into a unique brand promise, of which ladders back to its core business promise: to sell all things to all people at all price points. And so when the marketer was asked to bring some of the storytelling magic she had perfected at Canadian Tire to the other banners, she avoided using a template. “The goal,” she says, “was to figure out what each brand needed and to use best practices and lessons from a big successful banner like CT.”

Salem admits that, over the years, the Mark’s and Sport Chek banners had fallen back on functional tactics. There was an over-reliance on price discounting and offers, and not enough of that balance between brand and business building. High-level strategy discussions with the leadership teams at those brands led to new commitments to reinvest in more compelling marketing, she says. And in 2020 and 2021, the apparel and sports brands each found their new voice, while still identifying with CTC’s broader mission to be all things for all Canadians.

All Things Simple #4
Mark’s “All Things Simple” was born out of the realization that the retailer had far more to offer than people were giving it credit for, says Salem. “Mark’s has an impressive brand assortment of labels. But we weren’t really getting acknowledgment of [its role] in the casual market.” So a new platform was designed to expand consumers’ perception of Mark’s offerings, pulling the curtain back by showing the casual basics that it carries.

Created by Montreal’s Cartier, “All Things Simple” connected with consumers by showing how simple-yet-stylish clothing makes it easier to enjoy moments that matter the most; it promoted the retailer’s “fairly frictionless” ecommerce site, where “we make shopping head to toe simple and showcase the versatility of its clothing, which may not represent fashion trends, but can be worn day in and day out.”

Salem says the “simple” platform became an internal rallying cry for how the team merchandised the store to make it easy to shop. “Mark’s really took the core of ‘All Things Simple’ and ran with it. It began to inform how the business ran itself,” she adds.

Just as Mark’s broadened its appeal by speaking to a wider assortment of consumers, so did Sport Chek when Salem worked with the brand to make a much-needed pivot. For as long as she can remember, Sport Chek had painted its marketing with the brush of an “ultra athlete.” While it carries a product assortment for every level of athlete, its messaging really only applied to the more competitive persona.

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Again, perceptions needed to change. So the brand’s in-house creative team came up with “Find What Moves You” in 2019, with the “Cheklist” campaign in 2021 taking its efforts to reach all levels of athletes even further. Creative shows “everyday athletes” tackling a larger goal – like running outside at 5:30am every day – by dividing it up into digestible units – like switching off the alarm, or tying their laces before hitting the pavement.

Both platforms re-grounded the brands to be inclusive of more casual consumers. But they also tapped into new behaviours brought on by COVID. Sport Chek’s campaigns came at a time when more Canadians showed an interest in physical activity, says Salem, while Mark’s product assortment was curated for ease-of-purchase, reflecting shoppers’ “get in, get out” mindset.

It hasn’t been a one-way street between Canadian Tire and the other retail banners. Salem says she has equally taken lessons from Mark’s and Sport Chek. The brands borrow from one another, all the while keeping specific guardrails around what they stand for.

“For instance, at Canadian Tire, we’re constantly reinventing how we merchandise products so that they are intuitively easy for our consumers to shop – and the inspiration came from Sport Chek and Mark’s,” says Salem. She explains that the banners figured out how to reconfigure their stores from the ground up to better suit different types of shoppers. “Whereas, at CT, we were just making tweaks and we weren’t really looking at it in a holistic way. [Working with those brands] expanded our minds.”

Even during the pandemic, results across banners have been flattering – comparable sales were up 7.9% and 12.9% for 2020 and 2021 in Q3 for Mark’s, 11.2% and 7% for Sport Chek, and 1.4% and 25.3% for Canadian Tire – but Salem says there’s still more work to be done.

Her marketing department, of which she counts 80 heads and a new agency partner in Publicis, continues to be tasked with driving the company’s higher-level shared value: “To make life in this fantastic country better. Whether that’s through products that help you play, deal with the weather, keep you dry, or that keep you safe – that’s core to our belief system.”

Making life better for people is how you continue to have a meaningful role in their lives, she says.

“Because if you’re doing that, you win on everything else automatically.”