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“I’ll grind for 2-4 years maximum and then go into industry.”

This was the golden plan – the plan that I told friends and family the moment I secured the consulting role I had been working towards.

After all, that was the typical consulting path, wasn’t it? Living out of a suitcase Monday to Thursday; working 14-hour days; eating takeout in an empty hotel room; and soaking up all the knowledge you possibly can until you burn out and move on to greener pastures.

Boy, was I wrong!

While I was in fact on the ‘consulting path’, I quickly realized that my particular path was nothing like the one that I had previously imagined . . .

The accelerated learning curve, diversity of experience, and more-than-occasional long nights were certainly ahead of me. But they were complemented by a welcoming family of colleagues and a culture of openness, sincerity, and mutual respect that is typically not associated with a consulting firm.

To top it all off, the path that I found wasn’t the rigid and defined one that I expected. There was a fruitful field of opportunities in front of me and a group of incredibly smart and talented people to help me along the way.

After a few years, I came to the realization that perhaps I didn’t have to leave to find the ‘greener pasture’.  As it turns out, I was in one of the greenest pastures and it stretched endlessly into the distance.


To this day, the accelerated learning curve I was looking for hasn’t tapered off.

Many of my friends have already switched jobs, once or twice by now, in search of re-energizing their careers with new opportunities, and they’re always surprised that I haven’t. My response is simple: I have.

While my business card remained the same colour, my role has changed plenty of times and will continue to change going forward.

I started my career at Level5 as an analyst. My life revolved around seeking out and synthesizing information; the tools of my craft were PowerPoint and Excel. I loved it. There is no better feeling than when you finally find that one missing data point that you had spent the better part of the day (or week) looking for.

But as soon as I was recognized as a great analyst, I took on more responsibility and my job changed. I became a project manager.

In this role, my singular purpose was keeping clients happy by ensuring that projects were delivered on time, on-budget, and at the quality clients came to expect from Level5. The projects themselves had a far wider range than I had ever anticipated. In one day, I could work on the strategic plan for an NHL team, a new product development and market entry strategy for an insurance company, and a restructuring for a retailer. There was more than enough variety to satisfy my intellectual curiosity and hunger for new experiences.

My shift in perspective towards looking at consulting as a career continued over the years as I grew and took on the additional roles of people manager, brand champion, and salesperson.

As my role evolves within Level5, my perspective continues to shift toward the bigger picture, particularly in the form of firm and thought leadership – a focus that not only opens doors to fresh opportunities, but also allows me to challenge myself and pave my own path forward.


When new teammates start at L5, I always encourage them to make the most out of the countless opportunities ahead and help create the firm that they would be proud to work for.

Most people start in this industry knowing that they’re looking to learn and experience as much as they can through the ‘outside-looking-in’ opportunities that lie before them (which is a great mindset to have). That said, the successes that I’ve found most rewarding over the years are those that come from igniting my entrepreneurial spirit to challenge the current thinking and create something new for my clients, team, or firm.

There are very few places where you can work with established companies on iconic brands while continuously learning, growing, and placing your thumbprint on your firm’s culture and strategy. Some people spend a lifetime looking for a career and workplace like this; somehow, I got lucky and found one on my first shot.

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Episode 2: The Value of a Brand

A brand is the value of a promise consistently kept. In this episode, David dissects this definition looking at how each part drives success in the market. In doing so, he highlights the source of a brand’s measurable value; identifies the key to creating a sustainable competitive advantage; and reveals a common mistake that can affect the value your brand generates.

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Hosted by David Kincaid, Founder and Managing Partner at Level5, this brand-new series provides an in-depth discussion on the most misunderstood and underleveraged asset – your brand – and the value of a promise consistently kept. 

Episode 1: Brands and the Role of the C-suite

In this episode, David Kincaid explores the loneliest job in the world – the CEO. He examines the plethora of challenges that a modern-day CEO faces, in particular, searching for growth opportunities. Through examining the value of a brand, David highlights the key strategy for successful brand management and growth. 

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Author, Matthew Kelly, Managing Partner 

John Schwartz of the NY Times recently challenged readers in his latest article to consider if the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing could be a metaphor for the type of effort required to galvanize governments, corporations and humanity into successfully confronting the most fundamental issue facing our existence – “the grinding destructiveness of a warming planet” – climate change.

For the American space effort that was competing neck and neck with the Soviet Union for supremacy, it started with a clearly defined and inspiring goal: Land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

John Schwartz references John Logsdon, a space program historian, who noted four conditions were required to land on the moon, arguably humankind’s greatest achievement.

1. Powerful stimulus – a “singular act that would force action that you could not ignore”

2. Leaders empowered to direct the necessary resources to meet the goal on a “war-like basis”

3. Deep pockets – people, financial, technology

4. An objective that was “technically feasible”

The metaphor can be easily extended to any fundamental change or transformation initiative confronting a business leader or organization. What is your moonshot and what is your approach to achieving your goal?

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What happens when customer experience, digital, omnichannel fulfillment, dynamic supply chain demands and a retailer’s brand promise all collide? How do you mitigate the issues and learn from the best? Join Claude Ricks, Managing Partner at Level5; Ian Madell, President and Managing Partner at Level5; Rob Gizzie, Director at Level5; and Mike Doherty, Partner at Demand Clarity – a supply chain strategy house – as they discuss the answers to these important questions. 

Related articles: If you liked our podcast, read our latest perspective paper "Customer Centricty" 

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In this episode we talk to Managing Partner and President of Level5 Strategy, Ian Madell, to discuss how technology will continue to force adaptation for retailers.

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Author: Rob Gizzie, Director

Loblaw’s recent announcement suggests that a new frontier in sustainability is gaining momentum

Most of us would agree that doing what we can to ensure a healthy and sustainable planet for generations to come is a worthy endeavour. Today, much of the public focus in this regard tends to centre on “energy” – i.e., how we can continue to power our world in a “clean” way, with a primary focus on alternative forms of fuel that replace suboptimal existing solutions.

Though a transformative innovation of this kind (e.g., cost efficient solar, fusion energy) would be great, there’s only so much a busy person, or professional, can do to impact change in this area. I suppose you could write to your MP or Member of Congress, but when was the last time any of you did that?

Meanwhile, there are plenty of comparatively incremental innovation opportunities available to those of us from the business arena that can have a meaningful impact on our world. One such area is packaging. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that, as of 2015, the U.S. alone generated approximately 77.9 million tons of solid waste from “containers and packaging.” The good news is that the amount of waste that is landfilled every five years has gone down as recycling has become more pervasive. On the other hand, as e-commerce continues to pick up steam globally, we can assume that the necessity for improvements in packaging will only continue to increase.

Loblaw Co., Canada’s largest food retailer, is taking notice. Earlier this month, Loblaws announced a partnership with Loop, a company that produces reusable packaging customized for participating brands that is delivered by a courier, and then picked up when dropping off new deliveries (think of it as the return of the “milkman model”). Loblaws plans to pilot the system in Toronto in 2020.

A Waitrose shopper fills up her reusable container with grains at the grocer’s “Unpacked” pilot store in Oxford.

Loblaws is not alone in its efforts to reduce packaging waste. On June 3rd, U.K. grocer Waitrose launched an 11-week trial of its plastic-free Unpacked initiative at one of its stores in Oxford. So far, the store has removed packaging on over 200 lines of product.

The model encourages shoppers to bring their own reusable containers for a variety of products including pasta, grains, frozen fruit, cleaning products and even wine and beer. For those who don’t bring their own receptacles, Waitrose will provide bags and containers for purchase, much like the model used for grocery bags in many stores today. It seems as though consumers care about packaging waste as well – a recent study from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University found that 94% of Canadians are “personally motivated to reduce single-use plastic packaging” and that 71% of Canadians said they would support a ban on single-use plastics for food packaging.

So, it looks like Loblaws and others are attempting to get ahead of what could become a growing issue in the minds of consumers. The challenge will be that many consumers aren’t willing to pay the price for sustainable packaging – the same Dalhousie University survey found that fewer than 38% of consumers would pay more for an item with biodegradable packaging.

Considering that consumer interest and global trends are heading in the direction of sustainable packaging, retailers must take note and begin planning for how they can meet these demands. As demonstrated by Loblaws and Waitrose, there are a variety of options that can be explored to meet these demands.

This exploration will necessitate an innovative, test-and-learn mindset to find a solution that not only meets customer demands for environmental sustainability, but also stakeholder demands for financial viability within these solutions.

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Author: Frank Zhang, Senior Consultant, Richard Wang, Analyst

In 37 different cities across Canada, thousands of fans of diverse cultural backgrounds gather in their local Jurassic Park. They cheer together, they curse together, they celebrate together.


While hockey was once the sport central to Canada’s identity, the Raptors have quickly become “Canada’s Team.” As of this month, they have surpassed the Maple Leafs to become the most valuable sports franchise in Canada—this indicates a shift in the Canadian identity and the Raptors’ ability to speak to that new identity in a way that no other team has.


Canada’s population has become rapidly more multicultural over the course of the past decade, with 7.7 million Canadians and 51 per cent of Torontonians identifying as “visible minorities” in the latest census—Statistics Canada predicts that over 30 per cent of all Canadians will belong to this group by 2036. Multiculturalism and stories of immigration have been woven into Canada’s cultural fabric.


These are stories that the Raptors wear with pride. The team itself is multicultural, including players of Congolese, Spanish, Cameroonian, and Taiwanese descent. Masai Ujiri, the president and general manager of the Raptors, grew up in Nigeria. He says that the multiculturalism of the team is an important factor.


“It’s overwhelming because you think, when I look at all the international players we have on our team, […] it’s really brought us together, and I think it says so much because that’s how our city is,” Ujiri said. “That’s how the country is, that we can all relate to the multicultural or the diversity of Toronto and Canada. They talk in different languages on defense. They talk in different languages in the locker room, and it’s like that in our organization. And being international myself and being from Africa, I’m proud of that.”


The Raptors have managed to successfully differentiate themselves through multiculturalism, largely because this multiculturalism reflects the Canadian market that they speak to. The brand is deliberate in cultivating fans from different groups, showing awareness and care for its diverse audience. In the 2016-2017 season, special edition Chinese language jerseys were released for Chinese New Year which directly spoke to and included Toronto’s Chinese Canadian fans.


“We the North” has evolved into much more than a campaign slogan, instead becoming the heart of the Raptors’ brand in the same way that “Just Do It” has come to represent Nike. Serving as a symbol of both uniqueness and inclusion, it celebrates the value of being an outsider with a different perspective. Historically stigmatized and marginalized, the NBA’s only Canadian team used “We the North” to turn its point of difference into a point of pride. The Raptors recognize the impact this message can have on multicultural fans and new Canadians, and deliberately display “We the North” in 24 different languages on the big screen during their games.

Scene from a “We the North” commercial. “We are the North side, a territory all our own. If that makes us outsiders, we’re in.”

Chants of “We the North” bring everyone, regardless of cultural background, into the team. This is the big appeal of the Raptors for Canada’s diverse population, says Andy Xu, who immigrated to Canada eight years ago.


“Everyone is accepted. I feel so comfortable,” he notes.


Raptors “super fan” Nav Bhatia speaks of the Raptors’ success as his own, saying that he knew “one day we would make it.”


This brand connection is in large part driven by how the Raptors have strategically positioned themselves. In them, people across Canada can see themselves. Their success is their fans’ success, and their story is Canada’s story. In their rise to success, the Raptors have been able to capture growth in the evermore diverse Canadian market in a way that fosters inclusion and unity and capitalizes on a new Canadian identity. This has been so effective that they have done what many believed impossible in a divisive time: they have brought people together.

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In this episode of the podcast we will be discussing how Tim Hortons leverages their multicultural strategy to grow their brand globally.  To discuss the subject we are joined by Hua Yu, Managing Partner and Frank Zhang, Senior Consultant at Level 5 Strategy. The read the full article click here

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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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