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by: Matt Kelly, Managing Partner

Having worked with CEOs across all industries for the past 15 years, we’ve observed two chronic worries that preoccupy them all.

NUMBER 1: Generating sustainable business growth

In a hyper-competitive, slow-growth world, how do organizations generate sustainable, long-term growth – be it growth in revenue, ridership, donations, margins, profit, customers or funding? For many it would be a significant accomplishment to see growth for two consecutive quarters, let alone two consecutive years.

NUMBER 2: Remaining relevant to customers

How do leaders align and integrate their organizations to effectively focus on the core activities that really matter to customers?

Few CEOs realize that the solution to both of these concerns is right in front of their eyes. All they need to do is look to their brand – through the correct lens, of course.

Unfortunately, most CEOs fail to see the distinction between a brand strategy and a marketing strategy. As a result, they end up divesting their brand. What they should be doing, however, is investing in their brand with a view to driving growth and improving organizational alignment. That’s how you manage your brand as an asset.

To effectively invest in a brand and brand strategy, you need to understand what a brand actually is.

At LEVEL5 Strategy Group, we define a brand as the value of a promise consistently kept™. Let’s break that down.

Value: LEVEL5 quantifies and tracks the most powerful drivers of value – both the rational drivers of value, like quality, price and convenience, and the critically important emotional drivers of choice, such as trust, love, passion and excitement. We’ve discovered that the negative drivers of value (e.g. unreliability or lack of appreciation) associated with your brand can be three times as impactful as positive ones. Have you quantified what drives your brand value? Have you addressed your negative attributes?


Quite simply, a valuable brand spurs demand and creates pricing power. Forbes values the Apple brand as $170 billion, representing 21% of the company’s recent market value of $806 billion. Why do consumers line up to pay over $1500 for the new Apple X iPhone when their current cellphone is working just fine? Because Apple has figured out what really motivates their customers.

Strongly branded organizations tend to outgrow competitors, weather downturns better, deliver superior margins, and attract more loyal customers willing to pay a premium for that relationship.

Promise: Based on what the marketplace really values, what inspired promise is your organization making to customers to drive growth and competitive advantage?

When Starbucks promises indulgence to its customers across the globe, it materializes not just a Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte for $4.69, but comfortable retail environments, customized products and services, valuable loyalty programs, and employees trained to do whatever it takes to please customers. Compelling promises are simple, differentiating and inspiring, and they deliver against what customers really value.

Consistently kept: One of the greatest dangers of making a promise to customers lies in not consistently keeping that promise. Breaking a promise erodes trust. And eroding trust compromises price premiums, loyalty, and any competitive advantage you might have realized.

What branded organizations do effectively is not only quantify what drives value and turn that into a compelling brand promise; they also leverage that insight to align their organization to deliver against it – consistently.

Delivering consistently is no small task, especially in today’s digitalized world where the customer’s journey is evolving at the pace of technological innovation. However, understanding your brand value drivers, and more importantly, having your people in tune to how you consistently deliver your brand promise is how the best of the best continue to grow and outperform their peers in every sector.

Think about Starbucks. They rarely drop the ball and disappoint because they have aligned their entire organization to operationalize their promise.

Ultimately, if you want to realize meaningful growth in a low-growth world and align your organization on what really matters to your customers, you need to be a brand-driven leader. Start with quantifying the most powerful driver of value. Build an inspired brand strategy and promise, and keep that promise consistently by operationalizing it throughout your entire organization. Therein lies your path to achieving inspired growth and an ownable competitive advantage.

Brands may be the CEO’s most underappreciated asset at their disposal. If you’re interested in getting more out of your business, put more of your brand into it. Let us know if you’d like us to show you how.


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Author: Sylvia Palka Melo, Manager

Majority of CEOs and C-Suite Executives will agree digital is no longer a thing, it is a way of being… But what does that mean? The good news is, there’s a number of business leaders who have figured it out, and achieved inspired growth strategies in the process.

On Tuesday, November 14th, LEVEL5, in partnership with Spencer Stuart, hosted the eighth annual LEVEL5 Leaders Forum Power Breakfast: THE BRAND DRIVEN CEO – DIGITAL 2.0

At LEVEL5, we have built our business and brand around the perspective that your brand is the value of a promise consistently kept™. Today, digital is emerging as a key “way of being” to consistently help shape and deliver that promise and achieve ownable competitive advantage. So how do today’s CEO and C-suite leaders use digital to keep their brand promise consistently?

To move the C-suite digital agenda forward, we brought together an unmatched group of leaders from digitally led organizations, to offer insights and best practices on what can be a confusing environment:

  • Drew Green, CEO, Indochino
  • Steven Goldsmith, President & CEO, Brookstone
  • Andrew Zimakas, AZ Consulting Services
  • Claude Ricks, Managing Partner, LEVEL5 Strategy Group

The panel discussion was moderated by Amanda Lang, renowned Canadian business journalist and currently the host of Bloomberg North on Bloomberg TV Canada.


  1. Real digital transformation needs to start at the top of the organization – with the CEO and C-suite. If there’s a gap in organizations around digital, it is the CEO’s role to provide the vision for where the organization needs to go, and then engage employees to make that vision a reality. The transformation cannot start from the bottom-up – staff need digital vision leadership.
  2. There is a technology component to digital, but CEOs don’t need to be “techie” to lead digital transformation within their organization. If you have a smartphone, shop on Amazon, bank online, or watch Netflix, you can lead your organization’s charge on digital. Technology is merely the means for digital transformation.
  3. Digital transformation is not about finding and implementing new technologies as fast as budgets will allow for. Nor is it simply about adapting to new environments in an effort to maintain ownable competitive advantage vis-à-vis your competitors. Digital is a tool to meet business objectives in new ways and continuously explore “what’s next” when it comes to meeting the needs of your customers.
  4. Digital transformation journeys will be different for each organization. There’s no such thing as a linear “best in class” roadmap to follow. Digital transformation is going to be needs to be agile and messy. However, many CEOs are reluctant to be perceived as “disorganized” or “not in control”. You have to take chances, fail fast, learn from failures, and keep moving forward with your digital journey.
  5. Digital has enabled customers to take full control of the customer journey, making these journeys more complex, but also more important than ever. Digital enables organizations to engage with customers in new and creative ways; leveraging the valuable data they create to find new ways to address unmet needs.

The event was a huge success and it’s thanks to the support of Spencer Stuart for helping us host, our panelists for sharing their experiences, Amanda Lang for facilitating, and our guests for attending and engaging in meaningful dialogue.

A LEVEL5 white paper discussing key success factors and practical roadmap for implementing digital across your branded business system will be released in January 2018.



Leaders Forum Power Breakfast Panelist Bios

Drew Green, CEO, Indochino – a seasoned entrepreneur and an expert in managing fast-paced, high-growth companies; since joining INDOCHINO as CEO in 2015, Drew has tripled the size of the company through a commitment to an experience-based omni channel commerce strategy.

Steven Goldsmith, President & CEO, Brookstone –  a retail leader and expert in ecommerce, Steven is leading Brookstone’s expansion into domestic and international retail markets and new product development; previously President of The Shopping Channel, and EVP of Merchandising for Sears Canada and Victoria’s Secret.

Andrew Zimakas, AZ Consulting Services –  25+ years’ cross-industry experience, including Loyalty, Financial Services, Media, and CPG. Andrew led the digital launch of Tangerine and as SVP of Corporate Strategy for LoyaltyOne, he’s helped the organization navigate the increasingly digital nature of the loyalty and analytics space.

Claude Ricks, Managing Partner, LEVEL5 Strategy Group – leads the Digital Strategy and Transformation practice at LEVEL5 leveraging his deep understanding of digital technologies with an agile implementation lens. He has also been COO of gShiftlabs (a leading digital content SEO platform), co-Founder and CEO of SQI Diagnostics (a publicly traded biotechnology firm), and co-founder of the ATKearney change management practice.


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A huge congratulations are in order for Hua Yu, Managing Partner at LEVEL5, for being awarded the most “Influential Woman in Ethnic Brand Strategy, Canada” as part of Acquisition International Magazine’s 2017 Influential Businesswoman Awards.

The 2017 Influential Businesswoman Awards honour the remarkable achievements made by women from a diverse range of industries. These outstanding individuals have been breaking down barriers with their hard work, devotion, innovative thinking and high impact leadership.

Hua’s 25+ years of experience in brand management, multicultural strategy and international marketing enables her to help clients of all sizes and industries to achieve ownable competitive advantage through their growth strategies.

Hua remarks, “Building inspired growth strategies is why our clients partner with LEVEL5. By 2030, visible minorities in Canada are expected to account for one-third of the country’s population, therefore the importance of identifying and understanding the ethnic consumers is becoming critical, and represents a major growth opportunity for Canadian companies.”

In 2015, Hua founded #WeWorkingWomen, which has grown to be the no. 1 Chinese women leadership digital platform in Canada with over 30,000 subscribers.

LEVEL5 extends our congratulations all the 2017 Influential Businesswoman Award winners – your high impact leadership stories and experience are an inspiration to us all.

Read Hua’s interview with Acquisition International Magazine here:

To learn more about the award winners visit the Acquisition International website:

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Author: Sylvia Palka Melo

Before a CEO can begin to build ownable competitive advantage, there are two very important, yet often difficult questions that he or she must first answer. It’s the ‘WHAT’ and the ‘WHY’ of any business – and in this specific order:

What business are you in?

This may seem like an obvious question; however, it always proves to be one of the toughest questions for a leadership team to answer. If I were to ask you what business your organization is in, I bet that I can guess your answer. It has something to do with the product or service that your organization provides to the marketplace… was I close?

This is exactly where leadership teams get trapped when endeavouring to answer this very same question. They look to their competitive frame of reference – which is largely driven by the product or service the brand provides relative to competitors. In effect, they limit their competitive universe and confine their ability to create ownable, competitive advantage.

On the flip side, if the answer is considered carefully, it can be a catalyst for inspired growth opportunities by means of developing new (or enhancing existing) revenue streams, driving new innovation, creating new markets opportunities, and motivating and aligning employees.  The best way to get to your ‘WHAT’ is to think about the benefits that your brand delivers to your stakeholders (i.e., consumers, employees, supplies, shareholders, government, etc.) and the value that it creates.

Here are some examples of organizations that re-framed their ‘WHAT’

Why do you exist?

A brand’s purpose (its ‘WHY’) is influenced by the benefits it creates and value that it drives (its ‘WHAT’). Thus, it is only after leadership teams identify their brand’s ‘WHAT’ can they begin to define the ‘WHY’.

Check out LEVEL5’s latest whitepaper where we share the steps that brand-driven CEOs of Canadian Tire Retail, TELUS, Campbell Company of Canada and Equity Trust Financial took to help define their brand’s ‘WHY’ …and create ownable, competitive advantage along the way.

Asking once is not enough

Markets have never been more competitive or disruptive, therefore it is important for leadership teams to continuously re-think what business you are in because the answer influences the value that your brand creates, and ultimately, why you exist.

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Author: Sylvia Palka Melo, Manager

LEVEL5 congratulates our client, SoOPAK, on the launch of their new website. Head over to to check it out!

SoOPAK provides inspirational and simple packaging solutions for customers of all industries and size. After experiencing tremendous growth since opening up shop in Mississauga, Ontario in 2014, the company decided that it was time to ensure that their brand promise reflected their position as North America’s most trustworthy and reliable leader in short-run packaging.

LEVEL5’s Perspective: There is no such thing as an “unbrandable” industry or organization
SoOPAK brought on LEVEL5 to help develop a customer-centric, brand-driven strategy that will drive profitable, sustainable growth in a very utilitarian, transaction-driven industry. LEVEL5’s perspective (and experience) is that all brands, including those that operate in what many view as “unbrandable” categories, provide a source of differentiation and competitive advantage. Once brand is recognized and managed as a true “company asset”, it can become a significant source of enterprise and shareholder value. SoOPAK is proving that the packaging sector was never “unbrandable”, but merely happened to be unbranded… until now. In fact, the company even has a website tab dedicated to their brand and brand story.

SoOpak Pic 1

SoOPAK embarked on the website redesign with its brand strategy and customers in mind. The new website’s goal is to provide visitors a seamless, interactive way to explore cutting-edge packaging designs and full spectrum of solutions. The new design allows for easy accessibility, clear navigation and an enhanced user experience.

SoOpak Pic 2

SoOPAK’s CEO, Carole Jiang shares, “our new website will extend our geographical reach and allow SoOPAK to deploy our innovative packaging solutions to a broader base of customers. We are thankful for the assistance we received from LEVEL5 Strategy Group in helping us develop an inspiring strategy that drives what we believe is great ownable competitive advantage.”

LEVEL5 looks forward to continuing our work with SoOPAK to unlock the value of their brand. Congratulations on this exciting milestone in your brand journey!

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By: Sylvia Palka Melo, Senior Consultant

Brands are critical assets, have equity, and drive business strategy and performance. When a brand is viewed as an asset, multiple opportunities arises to leverage this strategic asset to generate profitable, sustainable growth. CEOs that adopt and successfully implement this perspective see brand building shift from a tactical effort that is typically delegated to their marketing department to a key driver of business strategy. 

The financial impact of a brand-driven business strategy helps make the case for managing brands as an asset. When Brand Finance® measured the share price of brands and their subsequent stock market performance between 2007 and 2015, it found that an investment strategy based on the most highly branded companies (those where brand value makes up a high proportion of overall enterprise value) would have led to a return almost double that of the average for the S&P 500 as a whole. In fact, between 2007 and 2015, the average return across the S&P was 49%; however, investing in companies with a brand value to enterprise value (BV/EV) ratio of greater than 30% would have generated returns of 94%.1


These findings have one common attribute and that is brand-driven CEOs who leverages brand as a key driver of performance and business value. The challenge is that most CEOs don’t know where to begin.

In our latest white paper, LEVEL5 takes a closer look at why brand management needs to start at the top – with the CEO – and the six critical success factors for transforming a company into brand-driven organization to unlock new profitable, sustainable growth:


As part of the white paper, we showcase four prominent brand-driven business leaders – Allan MacDonald, President, Canadian Tire Retail; Joe Natale, former CEO, TELUS; Ana Dominguez, President, Campbell Company of Canada; and Michael Jones, President & Chief Executive Officer, Equity Financial Trust – who have successfully embraced the concept of brand as an asset and unleashed extraordinary new sustainable value for their organizations by putting these six success factors into practice.


Brand Finance Press Release 

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By Sylvia Palka Melo, Senior Consultant


What do all brand-driven CEO’s have in common? They treat their brands as assets and align all the elements of their business system to make sure that their brand delivers consistently on its promise.

On October 5th, 2016, LEVEL5, in partnership with Spencer Stuart, hosted our Leaders Forum series power breakfast to offer senior executives a new way to think about and manage their brands as assets. Ken Wong, renowned professor at Queen’s Smith School of Business, moderated discussions with brand-driven CEOs who have successfully brought their brand to life profitably across their business system including:

  • Allan MacDonald, President, Canadian Tire Retail
  • Joe Natale, former CEO, Telus; Managing Director, BearingPoint; Managing Partner, KPMG 
  • Ana Dominguez, President, Campbell Company of Canada
  • Michael Jones, President & Chief Executive Officer, Equity Financial Trust

Each panelist openly shared their learnings and experience with integrating their brand’s vision, purpose and promise across all functions and departments within their organization through the power of people, processes and partnerships.

The prevailing keynote that came out of the discussion is that the management of a successful brand begins at the top. It’s the responsibility of (and an opportunity for) C-suite executives to identify the changes required to lead a brand forward, and to support the team within the organization that will make those changes happen to generate competitive advantage and sustainable, profitable growth. As the leader of an organization, you are not just an ambassador for your brand – you are also its guardian. That’s why managing and building a brand begins not in the marketing department but at the top of the organization.

A big thank you to our partner, Spencer Stuart, for helping us host this event, our panelists for sharing their experience and learnings, and our guests for attending and engaging in meaningful dialogue.  

Stay tuned for our white paper on key considerations, actions and best practices for bringing your brand to life profitably across your business system.

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L5 wants to congratulate our client, Keyspire, on their ranking as the #1 fastest growing consumer service company and the 11th overall fastest growing company in the country. Last week Profit Guide released their 2016 Profit 500 ranking, highlighting Canada’s quickest growing companies. Published in the October issue of Canadian Business and online at, the PROFIT 500 ranks Canadian businesses by their revenue growth over five years. Keyspire made the 2016 PROFIT 500 list with five-year revenue growth of 5,446%.

Keyspire is a real estate investor community that empowers personal freedom and financial security amongst its members. They have something to offer for everyone, from educating someone who is new to real estate about the basics to facilitating land development opportunities for the seasoned investor.

We look forward to continuing our work with Keyspire and wish them all the best in their exciting year ahead.

For more information on Keyspire, visit:

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michaelBy: Michael Maringola, Analyst Intern, Summer 2016

After four months and lots of beer (clients), my summer at LEVEL5 has been a fulfilling and valuable experience. As an intern I was given an inside look into the management consulting industry, with a special L5 spin. It has been a long journey from that first interview with my orange tie to a long and hard good-bye. In that time, I’ve learned that it does not end with just the analysis, nor with the insights. It’s about the story, and LEVEL5’s story is one of the most compelling I have ever experienced.

Throughout my LEVEL5 journey, I was given ownership over various projects. Each project was a challenge of its own and I truly believe that is what made my experience at L5 unique. From focus groups to client meetings, I learned essential skills that created a foundation for communicating with different groups. The combination of mentorship and collaboration with executives at focus groups taught me how to draw useful insight from large amounts of information. The workshops provided me with an opportunity to create an effective analysis and uncover insights. The combination of opportunities and support I received at L5 through every step was unparalleled.

L5 really embodies their core values, which allows everyone to provide the best value to their clients. Over my four months, I found myself reflecting those values as well. Every piece of analysis conducted for clients had a credible basis, central to the beliefs of accountability and integrity. The openness at the firm created an ideal environment for collaboration where I felt comfortable asking questions and everyone was willing to share their perspective. The positive energy from everyone at LEVEL5 created an environment where I felt driven and motivated to conquer the next challenge.

I was immediately given interesting work that allowed me to challenge myself. Over the last four months, I’ve had the pleasure of working on projects in various industries, from real estate (a personal interest of mine), to breweries (which at the time wasn’t a personal interest, but definitely is now!). From the very first day, I was embraced by the culture and people at L5. My colleagues were extremely supportive in providing me with help and guidance throughout my internship. I was able to build strong relationships and share many positive experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime.

Ultimately, my internship at LEVEL5 Strategy Group has provided me with numerous opportunities for growth, both professionally and personally. The L5 culture is unlike any I have seen before. I was welcomed into the firm and will fondly remember the projects I was able to work on. What made my experience truly special was the time spent after work connecting with colleagues through activities such as disk golf and volunteer initiatives! Getting to know all the L5ers is definitely what took my summer internship experience from great to truly exceptional. It was a summer full of SMART, BRAVE, ACTION.

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By: Sylvia Palka Melo, Senior Consultant

On August 23rd, 2016, LEVEL5 opened its doors to over 60 of the best and brightest students from the top business schools in Canada for our annual Open House. The event kicked off with a keynote speech by LEVEL5’s Founder and Managing Partner, David Kincaid, on the company’s history, our unique perspective on Brand as a Business System™ and our culture – which is at the heart of the LEVEL5 brand. There’s a magical ingredient to the LEVEL5 culture that makes all the hard work worth it. It’s summed up in the answers to two simple questions that we ask ourselves every day:

1. Did you learn anything?
2. Did you laugh?

As David explained, “whether it’s four in the afternoon or eleven-thirty at night, I can ask anyone in the office those same two questions and feel pretty confident about their answers. When they say yes, I know that our culture is in good shape.” At LEVEL5, our employees are not just part of the company, they’re part of a family in which there is no shortage of laughing and learning.

Following the keynote speech, the students were broken into three groups for a panel discussion, where LEVEL5 team members fielded questions, sharing experiences and shedding light on the most interesting aspects about working at LEVEL5 – from our culture, to the different types of client projects and industries we work with to how we define and help organizations manage their brands… and everything in between. After the panel discussions, the groups all came together to network and connect. In true LEVEL5 fashion, there was plenty of laughing and learning throughout the evening.

LEVEL5 thanks all of those who attended our Open House and wishes you much success in the upcoming school year!

Be sure to check with your university’s events calendar to find out when LEVEL5 will be at your next on-campus recruitment event.