It took me a lot longer to read this book than anticipated. I had started it over the Christmas holidays, and just finished it this morning. While I had been hoping to also finish it over the Christmas holidays, I quickly learned that I needed to take a break from it after each section, or interview, in order to let any insights sink in. I’m sure I’ve forgotten quite a bit of them already, but it’s good to go away and think about it before coming back for more.
Jeanette Hanna and Alan Middleton have put together a book that looks at some of Canada’s most successful brands – whether they are companies that are 100% Canadian, or whether the company started elsewhere in the world, and their Canadian branch of the company has become a successful brand in Canada. To introduce the book, they start off with a look at Canadian history, brands that haven’t been successful (Eaton’s, anyone?), brands that probably need to change in order to keep going (The Bay), and what it means to be a successful brand. The majority of the book, however, is a series of interviews with people involved in some of Canada’s strongest brands – Tim Horton’s, Canadian Tire, Cirque du Soliel, and the ROM are just a few of the companies included. (There are 24 interviews included, all from different companies.) Each of these interviews talks about what it is that makes their company’s brand so strong and successful, and how they’ve become that successful brand.
This was such an interesting book! There was so much stuff about companies that we are all (okay, all of us Canadians) so familiar with, and little tidbits included about these companies that I didn’t know about previously. So cool! For example, The Bay! They have these awesome point blankets, and they were first created in 1780 – and are still sold today. The coloured stripes on the blanket had a special significance for Aboriginal customers at the time – green for new life, red for hurt, yellow for harvest and sunshine, and blue for water. And what Canadian hasn’t seen something from the Bay with those colours included? (Though, they’re not used as much anymore.) But I never thought that they started using those coloured stripes back in the late 18th century. Very cool.
One thing that definitely struck me about this book was that it was a good example of the Canadian demographics – so many of the people interviewed (as well as the authors) were all immigrants to Canada. Could it be more fitting for or representative of our country?
Overall, there were a lot of interesting insights into the Canadian marketplace and Canadian branding that I didn’t know. There was a lot that I had suspected – Canadians being very skeptical about advertising, for example. It told how successful brands became successful, what they’ve done to stay successful, how they’ve had to change their businesses and brands in order to become what they are today. The end of the book noted some trends that seem to be consistent throughout some of the most successful Canadian brands:
Strong, positive leadership: Their passion is not for making money, per se, but for performance that attracts customers. While good business management and profit are table stakes, what drives successful leader and their organizations is creating value on many dimensions.
Clear brand meaning: A raison d’etre that the organization must “stretch” to achieve.
Integrity in approach: Based on real values of respect for customers, employee and communities with values that come from a sense of humanity rather than the often-synthetic values of marketing.
Teamwork: The brand is not just the preview of the marketing department but is shared by HR, Finance, Operations, Sales; every part of the organization is ultimately engaged.
Learning and persistence: Ikonic brands don’t happen overnight; they sometimes falter and take wrong turns. But they endure by learning from successes and failures.
Measurement: Navigating the brandscape is a process of continuous calibration based on prevailing conditions. Are we on course? Brand leaders have developed numerous formal and informal feedback loops to keep them relevant and close to the prevailing winds.
Aside from all the interesting content that this book covers, it is a beautiful book. The page design is lovely and there are so many beautiful pictures (though the full-page picture of George Stroumboulopoulos was rather …. distracting and somewhat scary from the angle it appears when you slightly bend the pages as you’re reading). It was a lovely book to read.
This is definitely a book I’m going to come back to every once in a while – there’s a lot of good advice from the interviewees, and a long list of books in the bibliography that I’m going to be adding to my TBR list about branding, marketing, customer relations, etc, etc.