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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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Abstract word cloud for Employer Branding with related tags and terms

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


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 Styles die

If you’re part of a consumer facing organization, you’ve undoubtedly heard – ad nauseam – the “necessity” to engage Millennials. . But as is made clear through the recent struggles of retailers Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, effectively capturing the Millennial market is about more than emulating trends.

Click here to check out our latest blog post on conquering the modern Millennial in your world, written by Rob Gizzie, Consultant with LEVEL5.  

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Sales down? Market shrinking? Margins under pressure? These are symptoms, not the problem itself. To find opportunities in these issues, you have to do your analysis and ask the right questions.

As LEVEL5’s Founder and Managing Partner David Kincaid discusses in THE VALUE OF A PROMISE CONSISTENTLY KEPT, managed prop­erly, your brand is your organization’s most valuable asset. And the responsibility for managing the brand as an asset begins at the top, with you: the CEO, CFO, COO, and CMO— the C-suite. Even board members. As the leader of an organiza­tion, you are not just an ambassador for your brand — you are also its guardian.

It takes more discipline and requires asking the right — and often difficult — questions. To manage a brand, begin by asking the following fundamental questions:

How did your company perform? Continue the conversation by sharing with your colleagues or commenting on this post! Follow LEVEL5 Strategy Group on Twitter @Level5Strategy for more information on managing your brand.

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It is heartwarming to see the dozens of comments and congratulations from friends, colleagues and business associates on my new book. To you all, I say thank you for your support and well wishes. I most sincerely hope that this book will inspire you, and business leaders alike, to unlock the power of your organization’s most valuable asset: your brand.

35 years of witnessing the growing confusion between brand and marketing management has led me to the realization that a brand is the most misunderstood and under-leveraged asset on a company’s balance sheet. Too often, business people drastically limit their brand’s potential by focusing only on what the customer can see packaging, advertisements, promotions, price, product innovations… even the company’s name and logo. They overlook the hidden factors that shape the delivery and true value proposition of the brand. Consequently, they miss an enormous opportunity to align the entire company with the brand and experience its true power (think: revenue generation and profitable growth).

How did I come to form these perspectives? The hard way.

And that’s why I’ve written this book. I want to help business leaders re-establish their brands as assets. You may not agree with everything you read in this book. But I am not looking for you to agree with me. I’m simply trying to provide a perspective so that we can start the discussion and move towards building strong brands – in Canada and around the world.

I hope you enjoy reading THE VALUE OF A PROMISE CONSISTENTLY KEPT, and I look forward to continuing this conversation.

Purchase your copy today:

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Brands are the most misunderstood and underleveraged assets on most company’s balance sheets today. It was David’s 35 years of experience with some of Canada’s (and the world’s) leading brands that led him to form this perspective… and inspired him to write this book.

The Value of a Promise Consistently Kept is 170 pages of key insights and practical advice on managing your brand as an asset.

Get your copy today: