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Author:  James Madell, Summer 2016 Intern Analyst

For a day in July, LEVEL5 shut down the office to volunteer at Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre (WNC). Serving a client base of 50 children between the ages of 6 to 12 (below our ‘typical’ client age range), we worked together to serve a BBQ lunch to fuel the kids for an afternoon filled with fun hands-on activities that we also participated in.

Following a successful partner led BBQ, we switched roles from consultants to activity and group leaders. As the afternoon progressed a courageous group of L5’ers helped take the reins of several groups of kids, of varying ages, and helped steer them through the activity stations that the rest of the firm had helped organize. Activity stations included, slip and slides, water balloon capture-the-flag, egg and spoon races, however the most popular stations definitely involved covering the WNC staff, and some unsuspecting L5 staff, in paint. To finish off the afternoon, the remainder of the five hundred water balloons that were purchased for the day were put to good use as the kids participated in a massive water fight. While the majority of the LEVEL5 staff refrained from taking part in the water fight, a few water balloons were reportedly thrown into the fight from the L5 sidelines. However, at this time all consultants and partners are refusing to confirm or deny this claim.

This day allowed us to give back to a community centre that is close to home and is helping make a difference in local resident’s lives in our neighbourhood. We had a great time working with the awesome team of WNC staff and we look forward to helping out more in the near future.

Thanks WNC for a fantastic day!

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With heightened competition, digital shifts, an onslaught of e-commerce and the rise of global marketplaces, several major retailers are shaking up their top ranks (think: Sears Canada, Canadian Tire, Sobeys and Holt Renfrew).

“The competitive space is shifting. What worked 10 years ago doesn’t work now,” says David Kincaid.

The ferocious competitiveness and wild unpredictability of today’s market make sustainable competitive advantage a function of an organization’s ability to react and regroup their branded business system smartly and quickly.

Read the full article here:  Shakeup in retailing being felt at highest levels

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The L5 team congratulates our favorite USA Sports Team and client – the San Jose Sharks – on their very successful Stanley Cup run.

LEVEL5’s definition of a great brand is ‘the value of a promise consistently kept™.’ This powerhouse sports and entertainment brand definitely kept its promise of providing a season of gritty, gutsy, never-say-die hockey and a truly memorable fan-centered experience – on and off the ice.

Thanks for inviting us into Sharks territory… a very special destination.

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Author: Sylvia Palka Melo

On June 9, 2016, over 40 members of #WeWorkingWomen (女仕界) – a social network that connects and celebrates professional Chinese women – had the pleasure of participating in a workshop on Building Skills for Change with Olivia Chow, Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University and her team of experienced trainers.  From LEVEL5, Ashlee Goodfellow (Manager), Sylvia Palka Melo (Senior Consultant), Shirley Cho (Business Assistant) and Joanne Wan (Analyst Intern) were also in attendance for the workshop.  

The goal of this distinctive workshop is so much more than to teach participants about effective communication and leadership. By focusing on three fundamental elements “People, Power and Change”the workshop is designed to help uncover individual inner passions and provide coaching on how to act, take action and make a difference in the world.  

Immensely interactive and hands-on, the workshop kicked off with a lecture by Olivia Chow on building skills for change. As part of the lecture, Olivia introduced the power of effective storytelling and shared the three components of a good story that many organizers have found to be effective and helpful in achieving positive change:

  • Story of Self – “here’s who I am”
  • Story of Us – “this is what we have in common”
  • Story of Now – “here’s what we are going to do about it

By weaving these three components together, the storyteller has the power to connect and inspire people as well as to motivate change.  As part of the lecture, Olivia also spoke about coaching as a key for leadership development and the principles of an effective coach. The key to becoming a good coach is to help people find their own solutions. Rather than offer advice and feedback, effective coaches listen and ask questions to get people to uncover the answers by themselves – Olivia refers to this as “coaching by enabling others.”

Following the lecture component, participants were broken into small groups and assigned to one of Olivia’s trained instructors to practice telling their Story of Self. Each participant was given three minutes to tell their story. After each story, group members had the opportunity to put what they have learned about effective coaching to the test. Despite this being the first time undertaking this type of exercise for many in the room, the support and encouragement was overwhelming. It was truly an evening of inspiring stories and a room full of brave working women!

A key takeaway for everyone was the value in learning how to communicate who we are and why we are so passionate about making a difference – and to help others do the same through effective coaching.

For more information on Olivia Chow’s Building Skills for Change seminars, visit:


About #WeWorkingWomen (女仕界)


Hua Yu, Managing Partner at LEVEL5, founded #WeWorkingWomen in October 2015. Since its inception as a blog, the network has grown into a true global social platform, with over 10,000 members and 100+ volunteers… and continues to grow each day.

For more information on #WeWorkingWomen, please visit their website:

To join #WeWorkingWomen WeChat account, please search “nvshijiequanzi”.

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Author: Sylvia Palka Melo, Senior Consultant, LEVEL5 Strategy Group


More than three decades ago, David Kincaid was putting himself through Queen’s University playing drums in a rock band. It’s a period in his life he recalls with fondness. These days, he regularly returns to his old Queen’s stomping grounds, serving as an Adjunct Professor of brand management at the Smith School of Business.


This month, you can also find the Artsci’81 alumni’s latest book – The Value of a Promise Consistently Kept –  featured in the latest issue of Queen’s Alumni Review (2016 Issue #2, pp 50). The feature can be found in the Ex libris column, which highlights books by alumni and faculty.

Whether it’s standing in front of a classroom of business students or a boardroom of C-suite executives, David has been on a mission over the last 30+ years to clarify the confusion between brand management and marketing and to demonstrate how organizations can prosper by managing their brand as an asset. That’s why he coined the title of his first book The Value of a Promise Consistently Kept – to inspire business leaders of today and tomorrow to unlock the power of their organization’s brand and leverage it throughout their entire business system.

At LEVEL5, we define brand as THE VALUE OF A PROMISE CONSISTENTLY KEPT. Here’s what we mean:


You can measure the value of your brand on your balance sheet — usually a major contributor to the value on the goodwill line. You can monitor its value by using internal and external metrics. Using these metrics, management can evaluate each activity within the organization, based on its contribution to the brand’s performance and its return on investment.



A brand represents a promise made by an individual or an organization to its customers, its employees, and its shareholders to deliver value that’s unique to that brand alone.



To keep the promise of a brand consistently, leaders must inspire and coordinate everyone within the organization to work toward the common goal of delivering value to its customers. They must demonstrate clearly how each person contributes to the brand’s success and encourage and reward each person to keep the brand’s promise.


In the words of David Kincaid, “a branded business system guides not only what a company sells but also how the company is run. Only C-suite executives have the comprehensive perspective and accountability to harmonize the operations of each department and function to create a cohesive approach to delivering a brand to the customer. Once a brand is acknowledged and managed as a tangible asset, it can become a source of enterprise and shareholder value.”


Backed by 35+ years of experience managing some of Canada’s (and the world’s) most iconic brands, The Value of a Promise Consistently Kept is the ultimate brand management handbook of advice, tools and illustrative examples for managing brands as assets.


Read the May 2016 issue of Queen’s Alumni Review here:

You can purchase your copy of The Value of a Promise Consistently Kept here:



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Author: Sean Pavlidis, Manager, LEVEL5 Strategy Group 

In September 2015 the Dallas Cowboys overtook Real Madrid for the title of ‘World’s Most Valuable Sports Team’ at a whopping $4 billion valuation – a pretty impressive feat for a team playing a sport that only has 16 regular season games.

Even more impressive is that the team hasn’t won a Super Bowl in 20 years.

When working with management teams of sports franchises across North America, we frequently hear that to succeed “all we need to do is win,” or “we just had a bad season” to justify poor financial performance. While winning is absolutely important – nobody is going to argue that – dependence on team performance is dangerous and often blinds management from the other efforts they can be making to ensure that their franchise is a financial success. Even with the best possible GM and Coaching Staff, only one team can win a championship each year.

Even if your team is incredibly successful, studies show that statistically a winning record only accounts for 20-40% of franchise value. [See below for a chart mapping out z-scores of the 10-year winning percentage of North American sports teams (x-axis) vs. franchise value (y-axis) – outliers such as Leafs, Cowboys, and Yankees have been removed for statistical purposes]:

Fields of Green_Blog Post pic

When the broader organization and environment is taken into consideration, franchise and brand value is driven from 3 distinct drivers:

  • The Team (Winning, Star Power);
  • The Organization (Reputation/ Tradition, Entertainment Package/ Delivery); and,
  • The Market (Media Coverage, Geographic Location, Competitive Forces).

For the most part, only one of these driver areas – organization (which holds brand and fan experience) – is in the direct control of the management of a sports franchise. However, relative to efforts around the team it is viewed as a cost center vs. revenue and loyalty driver – especially when the team is consistently performing well and the need to work for ticket sales diminishes. What the management of sports teams often don’t take into consideration is how powerful a strong brand and fan experience can be in building long-term franchise value.

In the general business world, brand is king. Apple’s high valuation isn’t because it makes the best products; it’s the brand and customer experience that allow Apple to drive retention and command such a high premium. Even when the product is inferior, its brand strength allows it to skate over hiccups without losing momentum. What’s so different about the sports world? Not much when you consider teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Knicks, or Washington Redskins who have incredible brand valuations without necessarily having the strongest performance in recent history.

On average, 50% of our behavior as consumers is based on an emotional response to a product or service. Our proprietary BrandMap™ Fan studies have indicated that in sports a strong brand is 60-70% driven by measurable emotional vs. tangible attributes, and once understood, defined, and consistently executed can help a sports team:

  • Retain loyal fans and create new ones (even ones that may not like or ever attend the live sport itself!)
  • Increase sponsorship/ partnership revenue and opportunities
  • Maximize the value of winning seasons, and mitigate risk of losing ones
  • Drive merchandise sales
  • Increase media coverage and engagement

But building and maintaining a strong sports brand isn’t as simple as cultivating a stellar fan experience in the stadium. What really separates the good from the great sports brands is how they manage that brand and profitably engage their fans beyond of the confines of the game – “think outside the rink” as we like to tell our hockey clients. Sports revenues are naturally cyclical, and the ‘product’ itself [e.g., ticket sales] has limited scalability and geographic reach. Teams that over-focus on attendance as their primary performance measure will find their franchise value plateau once they consistently hit full capacity.

You don’t need to look any further than the $4B Dallas Cowboys franchise to see the latest initiative – a fan-accessible practice stadium outfit with a shopping model, office space, and distinct membership opportunities giving fans exclusive access to their heroes – that Jerry Jones and their Chief Brand Officer have undertaken to continue to build the brand far beyond the confines of the team and game itself.

Absent of environmental factors, what truly separates the most financially successful franchises from the pack is that they understand what they are selling is far bigger than just a sports team – it is an incredibly strong emotional connection. This connection creates an identity that a person attributes to themselves, and a deep bond to a community of like-minded others.

What makes the best franchises special is that they understand the unique emotional connection they own, and then they drive it throughout their entire organization from fan experience and engagement through to corporate and community partnerships.


LEVEL5 BrandMap™ Fan Studies,,
Sport Marketing: Managing the Exchange Process

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In a closing keynote session, David Kincaid, discussed the latest trends in retail brand strategy and how it folds over into the Human Resources discipline.  Envision HR as if it were a brand in adding health and vibrancy to your company to attract (and retain!) customers. These sessions are designed to help HR professionals participate more actively and directly with their counterparts in different parts of the business. 

To register for further events or to view the full agenda visit:

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Image Source: Work4

As LEVEL5’s founder and managing partner, David Kincaid likes to say, “good brands attract great people.” A brand’s promise, which needs to be consistently kept in the marketplace, also plays a major role in determining the quality of an organization’s talent and culture. After all, employees are the lifeblood of any company… and the only way that an organization can keep a brand’s promise consistently is to hire the right people.

Martin Birt, president of, takes David Kincaid’s five key stages that customers experience when they engage with a brand and applies it to his latest article for Profit Guide: The 5 Stages of Building an Employment Brand.

Your company’s reputation as a great place to work depends on your ability to keep the promises—implicit and explicit—you make to your employees. In addition to your organization’s brand in the marketplace, there is also an “employment brand” that needs to be managed as part of your branded business system. Through applying David Kincaid’s customer engagement framework, Martin Birt discusses a five-stage planning framework for helping your HR department align the onboarding processes with the promise of the brand.

Read full article: The 5 Stages of Building an Employment Brand

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Authors: Efram Lebovits, Director, LEVEL5 Strategy Group and Bryan Noble, Analyst, LEVEL5 Strategy Group

Margaritaville. Cheeseburger in Paradise. It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.

These Jimmy Buffett song titles invoke visions of sun-drenched bliss – imagery that momentarily transports fans of the 69 year old musician to a beachy paradise. But the care-free spirit Buffett exhibits on stage is in sharp contrast to the Buffett brand’s selective approach to business growth. Since Buffett’s first non-music business venture in 1985 with the opening of the inaugural Margaritaville restaurant, the Buffett Empire has grown incrementally to include a variety of offerings across several (somewhat) related categories culminating in over $1 billion in revenue annually. Margaritaville LLC, Buffett’s privately-held management company, has ventures in entertainment, retail, packaged goods, hospitality and charity.

Given Buffett’s business roots, one might assume that his success and longevity could be largely attributed to his musical popularity. But a brief look at the billboard charts indicates otherwise: Buffett’s 1977 hit song “Margaritaville” is the only song in his over 40 year career to ever breach the top 10, peaking at no. 8 – with the vast majority of his songs never reaching the traditional radio airwaves.

So if it’s not his musical popularity, what has been the key to Buffett’s broader business success?

Buffett and his management company are relentlessly loyal to the brand they’ve created

Jimmy Buffett doesn’t follow trends. Instead, Buffett has carved out a niche in his self-described “Gulf and Western” musical genre and every business decision since has seemingly been a natural extension of the lifestyle he showcases.  He has a masterful understanding of his “Brand DNA” (the term we use at LEVEL5 to describe the guiding core essence of a brand), as well as the needs of his niche audience – “Parrot Heads” as they call themselves.  In other words, Buffett doesn’t sell music; he sells a “tiki escapism” where all of his endeavours are underpinned/informed by that DNA.  Buffett uses his brand to great effect in building out his business empire. 

Jimmy Buffett

For example, the Margaritaville restaurant chain packages up live music and entertainment, boozy tropical drinks, an island-inspired menu and some kitschy / exaggerated décor. The restaurants are a physical embodiment of the escapist dream Buffett professes. And naturally, the establishments are located in warm and/or touristy locations – places that line up perfectly with the theme of ‘escape’.  This model allows the chain to not only appeal to specific Buffett music fans, but more generally to others seeking ‘escape’ – all while reinforcing his brand.

Buffett is comfortable and methodical in his approach to growth  

Buffett’s other ventures which include packaged goods and hotels don’t seem to have been established just in the pursuit of arbitrary growth goals. Instead, each decision seems to have been made after carefully weighing the needs of his niche audience and the upside potential – both dollar and brand. In so doing, each decision is ‘brand congruent’ and, as such, brand strengthening.

This brand based approach is also evident in Buffett’s charitable efforts.  His Save the Manatee Club, which advocates for the conservation of Florida’s official state marine animal is a further example of managed growth. The conservation of Manatees may not have the same reach as other major not-for-profit organizations but Save the Manatees Club fills a space which aligns seamlessly with Buffett’s gulf-life persona.


The above demonstrates key components of building a great brand through active and thoughtful management. Buffett seems to live by one of LEVEL5’s key credos: “your brand is your business system”.  His astute and disciplined use of his brand as a basis for strategic growth is something we applaud; it is after all a focus for us as we support our clients.

It’s ironic that the man who sang the words, “Indecision may or may not be my problem” has demonstrated laser-like precision in tapping into his brand and choosing how to grow his billion dollar empire. When it comes to developing a business system, Jimmy Buffett is living proof that a carefully managed brand can produce extraordinary results.  

How well does your organization leverage its brand to build strategy and drive growth?


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On January 15th, 2016, YMA held their 10th annual conference at the Pantages Hotel in Toronto. With over 100 of the best and brightest students from across the province in attendance to explore and embrace their shared passion for all things marketing, David Kincaid, LEVEL5’s Founder and Managing Partner, delivered the lunch keynote talk.

In it, David introduced the NEW 4PS OF BRAND MANAGEMENT and shared his point of view on why it’s time for a new model and approach for managing your brand as an asset.

We are all familiar with the 4Ps of Marketing developed in 1960 by E J McCarthy. In many businesses (and business schools) brands are managed under these conventional 4Ps: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion. The world has changed in massive ways, so why are we still applying and teaching models that were developed in 1960?

The role of brand managers has changed. Brand managers no longer control the brand – they might own it, but don’t control it. In today’s business environment, which is characterized by complexity, commoditization and constant change, consumers control the brand.

Here’s the shortcoming of the 4Ps of Marketing: the model teaches you how to manage marketing, not brands. Marketing is stated as an EXPENSE on the P&L. You spend money to do marketing. Brands, on the other hand, are ASSETS. And as with any valuable asset, the management of a brand requires the perspective and participation of the entire organization (think: culture, HR, supply chain, sales, IT, Finance, core processes, customer service, etc.) in order to consistently keep the promise that your brand is making to the marketplace.

In the complexities of the current business world, organizations need to update their model and profitably apply the new 4Ps of Brand Management: Process, People, intellectual Property, and Partnerships. This will require bringing to bear a different set of principles and management perspectives for managing your brand as an asset.

Today’s millennials (aka those in the room during David’s keynote talk) are the next generation of brand managers over the next 50 years. If 50 years from now, brand managers are still using tools that were developed in the 1960s, then we haven’t moved forward.

It’s time for a new model that manages brand, not marketing, so that we can all move toward building stronger brands – in Canada and the world.

Author: Sylvia Palka Melo