“Linking Customer Experiences Across Multiple Channels is What the Great Retailers Are Building” – Interview with Ian Madell, Managing Partner and President at Level5

Level5’s global strategic partner Brand Finance has launched Canada’s Most Valuable Brands 2019 in May. Recently, Brand Finance sat down with Ian Madell, Managing Partner and President at Level5, to discuss how Canadian Tire retains its title as Canada’s strongest retail brand year after year.

Banking and Telecoms brands are some of the most established brands in Canada. What are some emerging sectors and brands that we should look out for in the next 5 years?

The legalization of cannabis in Canada is, without doubt, one of the most interesting and exciting brand building opportunities in a generation. Not only for this country, but also globally as cannabis becomes legal in other jurisdictions. The sector is in the very early stages of development (lots of growing pains right now) but, for those organizations looking to build value for the long term, these brands will become the crucial driver of that value.

At Level5 Strategy we define brand as ‘the value of a promise consistently kept’.  It is far beyond marcom and requires the whole organization to play its part in building the brand. This becomes more important given the restriction on traditional ‘marcom’ techniques.

The brand will be defined by effectively delivering the promise in terms of product/ service quality, consistency, availability, safety, product extensions and openness to learn and change in a very immature customer journey. This sector is highly regulated but differentiation is possible and needed for long term value appreciation.

There is seemingly no traditional sector brand that is safe from tech sector disruption. What do traditional sector brands need to do to adapt and grow under these conditions?

You are absolutely right that technology – or digital – should now be immersive in any organization’s business model. It should be part of any strategic discussion and seen as an enabler to differentiation and the value proposition put forward to the market.

I think it should be embraced by an executive team at a more traditional organization. When we use the term “digital” today, the reality is the necessary changes encompass much more than simply a process of redesigning IT architectures and business operations.

Rather, companies must rethink everything that touches the customer journey — design, research, product management, marketing, support, you name it —and create experiences that likely go beyond a product’s original purpose.

Organizations that we have worked with that take this approach are having success with this new competitive reality. I think the next 5 years will start to separate those who have embraced technology – are not afraid of this new competition – from those who are paralyzed by it and clearly show the winners and losers in the market.

What is unique about the way Canadian Tire Corp. approaches brand and brand management?

I think there are two significant things that they have done. First, they have recognized that the traditional model of retailing – product driven – has dramatically changed to become customer driven. Customers have gained a lot of power thanks to technology.

For example, they can do instant price comparisons, quality comparisons and purchase wherever and whenever they want! Adopting this changing business model requires a new strategy, processes, competencies and culture. I think CTC has been working hard at this for the past several years. Second, the organization has taken the time to really understand their brand and treat it as a valuable asset – to be nurtured, leveraged and act as a driving force for profitable growth. Importantly, this brand ownership and culture must start from the top, the chief brand officer of a brand-driven company is the CEO and I believe Stephen Wetmore excels at this.

They are one of the only organizations I know that have a Brand & Community Committee at the board level. That sends a very powerful and positive message to all employees about the importance of their brand and the role they play in increasing the value of this asset.

What are some of the ways that traditional brick-and-mortar brands like Canadian Tire compete in the digital space?

The first thing is to embrace the multiple channels that consumers now engage in and then ensure your operations are extremely competent in all channels. This is table stakes and seems obvious but many brick-and-mortar retailers still have a way to go in this area (CTC has made great strides over the past couple of years). Once you have accomplished this – don’t be satisfied. Look for aspects within each channel that you can be the leader and innovator.

In addition, one of the most significant levers that brick-and-mortar organizations have to strengthen their value proposition is in the customer experience. This is still a difficult territory for digital-only to compete in as effectively. It requires a clear strategy on the type of customer experience you want to deliver that is relevant to customers and touches the emotional and rational drivers of purchase intent along their journey.

Linking experiences across multiple channels – allowing customers to seamlessly transition from online to brick-and-mortar and back again – is what the great retailers are building. When you do this right, it can’t be duplicated by your competition – digital or traditional – and YOU win!

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