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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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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:


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If we asked you to list your company’s core values right now… could you? The mention of corporate values usually leads to deep yawns and glazed eyes. Here, we discuss why values are not just “nice-to-haves”.

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VW BrandMaps (002)

Between the endless negative media clamour, a tsunami of legal troubles, plummeting shareholder confidence and ensuing frustration with dealerships and consumers alike, there’s no denying that Volkswagen’s clean car image has been tainted by the emission scandal. Even with all the negative publicity, our latest BrandMap™ study (see screen shot above) reveals that Volkswagen’s brand is not showing signs of distress… at least not yet. 

History is littered with corporate crises. As we have found with other strong brands who were faced with crises of their own (think: Maple Leaf Foods’ listeria outbreak in 2008), the heart and mind of the consumer is less impacted by what caused the crises to occur. What matters to them is how the brand manages the crisis and offers a meaningful solution. In the face of a crisis, strong brand equity offers brands time – the time to manage the crisis and restore its promise to the market.

Also in Volkswagen’s favour is the auto industry’s longer than average (i.e. 5-7 years) purchase cycle. This gives Volkswagen some runway to deal with the crisis and recover deteriorating brand perceptions. When it comes to consumers, both existing Volkswagen drivers and prospective purchasers, it’s still too early to predict the long term impact on their hearts and minds. The ball is in Volkswagen’s court to clean up its act, pun intended.  

Read this web page to get a clearer picture on BrandMaps(TM).