Tim Hortons: Brazilian as a Bikini Line

[Cache #183]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

The quintessential Canadian brand is not really Canadian, and has not really been Canadian for substantial stretches of the past 20 years.

Tim Hortons remains, in the Canuck mindset, as Canadian as snowfall in June.  Despite the fact that Tim’s is majority owned by foreign companies, making it at least as accurate to say Tim’s is as American as apple pie, and as Brazilian as a bikini line.

tim hortons logo

So why do we Canadians persist in thinking of Tim Hortons as Canadian?

Because we need them to be.

It is the same reason that Canadians think the NHL is a Canadian league, when almost 80% of its teams are American and its headquarters are in New York.  It is the same reason that Canadians buy the CFL’s tagline – “This is Our League” – when 70% of its starting players are American, there is a quota that the remaining 30% of starters must be Canadian (otherwise many of them would not start) and the official league rules cannot bear to call the American players “American” so instead run a fake by calling them ”internationals.”

It is the same reason that Canadians think of Molson-CoorsLabatt and Sleeman as Canadian, each of which has foreign ownership ranging from approximately 50% (Molson-Coors) to 100% (Labatt and Sleeman).  Yet each of which persists in patronizing Canadians with brand positioning that leans heavily on their (bygone) Canadian heritage, as opposed to telling American, Belgian and Japanese stories, respectively.

We need them to be Canadian because our profoundly deep attachment to this country vastly outweighs our ability to protect and nurture national icons.  Because we are a small country, even if we don’t feel that way.

What do your customers fundamentally need to believe?  Your employees, your strategic partners?  And how can you give it to them in a way that, rather than stretching the truth, celebrates it?

New comment in Globe and Mail:  Standing out from the business school crowd
Recent comment on CBC Radio One:  Uber’s Misbehaving Executives

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Standing out from the business school crowd

Comment from yours truly in a Brenda Bouw feature for the Globe and Mail, alongside my good friend Mark Healy, CMO of Tennis Canada.

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“Thank you for that stunning penetration into the obvious.”

[Cache #182]

These were the cutting words of a professor of mine at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, which he had borrowed from an acerbic professor from his own undergraduate days. The class was Commercial Law, and the expression seemed somewhat unfair to wield against unsuspecting students who, for the most part, were taking his class disinterestedly, as a mere elective.

Perhaps because of its clear-eyed cruelty, the retort has stuck through the years, coming again to mind recently as I spoke with a friend who works for Canada Goose, the apparel company that has staked out a brand position as the maker of coats that are – wonder of wonders – really, really warm.

It is the same “obvious” strategy employed in the 1990s by Westin, as they took a fresh look at the hotel bed and had the revolutionary idea of making it really, really comfortable – and naming it, brilliantly, the Heavenly Bed.

And it is not that different from Subway, which has – by staking everything upon food that is fresh, presumably as opposed to rotten – incredibly surpassed McDonald’s by 20% in number of stores, with more than 43,000 globally.

And it is again cranked up this holiday season by WestJet, the airline strongly differentiated on the earthshattering basis that it actually cares about its customers.

All of which demands of us, if we are prepared to listen to the question: in our own businesses, in our own daily lives, in our own relationships, what truly obvious difference-maker are we missing?

Recent comment on CBC Radio One:  Uber’s Misbehaving Executives

Book:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter

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Second Cup’s Only Shot

[Cache #181]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

If, in your heart of hearts, you doubt our nagging claim that too many organizations fundamentally don’t know what a brand is, you need look no further than the just announced “rebranding” of Second Cup.

Second Cup’s stores have been behind the design curve for years, so the need to update the logo, store interiors, uniforms and the like is not in dispute.  But that work, unveiled at a flagship location this week, does not a rebrand make.  On the contrary, it is not much more than window dressing that will have little to no impact on whether Second Cup can grow its moribund market share and once again be relevant in the Canadian coffee house market it invented.

What Second Cup and many other organizations are missing is that a brand is not a logo (or new uniforms, or a new colour palette), but that it equals culture.  And in Second Cup’s case in particular, a major overhaul of that culture is required if they have any hope whatsoever of delivering an experience that rivals category champion Starbucks in any way, shape or form.

It is a lacking culture – not a lacking logo – that allows stores to get run down, dirty and irrelevant in the first place.  It is a lacking culture – not a lacking uniform – that leads to front line employees who do not hold a candle to the bright faces and engaged minds of Starbucks’ staff.

And yet, in Second Cup’s press release, not a single use of the word “culture” in reference to employees or the experience they are expected to deliver.  Speaking of staff, being the humans who actually deliver the brand, the word ”employee” appears but once – in reference to the “stylish new employee dress code.”

To Second Cup’s great credit, the word “experience” appears 11 times, so they know that the true differentiator in the upscale coffee business, whose physical product is a commodity after all, is indeed the customer experience.  The problem is that a new logo, coffee machines and store design – and even the coffee itself – are not the pivotal aspect of experience.  Employees are.  And their level of effectiveness at delivering a great experience is driven by culture, not by what the logo looks like.

The media believes brand equals logo as well.  Do a Google search for “Second Cup new brand” and look at the words that pop out in their first lines of coverage:

We can only hope that Second Cup CEO Alix Box, who knows a hell of a lot more about the coffee business than I ever will, is working on cultural change behind the scenes.  In the last lines of her press release, she says that “this launch is a major step forward in our revolution…our work is far from over.”

Let’s hope so, because it is culture – the true meaning of brand, cemented as it must be in a brand foundation – that is Second Cup’s only shot.

Recent comment on CBC Radio One:  Uber’s Misbehaving Executives
Book:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter.


Posted in andris pone media comment, brand culture, brand differentiation, brand experience, customer service, rebranding, what is a brand? | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Something A Bit Different About Uber

[Cache #180]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

***Click here to listen to the interview.***

One hundred and seventy-nine consecutive issues of Cache were delivered via the written word, so here is a change for issue 180:  an audio file of my four-minute interview with CBC Radio One this week on the topic of Uber, the revolutionary app-based taxi service.

An Uber executive recently made some outlandish remarks about abusing Uber’s customer data to spy on journalists.  Paul Haavardsrud of CBC asked me whether consumers hold execs accountable for such things, whether loose cannon executives hurt brands and how much consumers care about privacy.

Have a great weekend -


cbc-radio-one-logouber logo

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If You’re Up Uber Early…

You might hear my interview with Paul Haavardsrud on CBC Radio One, on the topic of controversial remarks made by executives of Uber, the revolutionary app-based taxi service.  What does it mean for the Uber brand?

The interview will run at various times in the morning across Canada, including in Toronto between 530 and 6am.

Related stories:
Uber Has Changed My Life and As God Is My Witness I Will Never Take a Taxi Again
Uber Executive Reportedly Advocated Smearing Some Journalists
The Moment I Learned Just How Far Uber Will Go To Silence Journalists and Attack Women
Uber on Wikipedia

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What Do We Know About BDO?

[Cache #179]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

Several years ago, in an interview for a potential gig, I made an embarrassing admission.

I am not a multitasker.

I wasn’t the embarrassed one.  The potential client was.  On my behalf.  ”How stupid must this guy be to admit that he doesn’t like to multitask?” he was thinking, judging from the look on his face.  Such was and is the zeitgeist – that in the very first paragraph of one’s resume must be the claim that we can do a million things at once, and love every one of them with all our heart.

Instead I proudly wear the fact that I am a focuser.  The things I love to do, and do well, are things that require attention sustained over long periods of time.  And so an online ad I saw recently has irked me deeply.  The ad is from BDO Canada, an accounting, tax and advisory firm whose memorable tagline is People who know, know BDO.

For me the pivotal line of dialogue is this:

“For Brian, it’s about whether he can call the partner at midnight.”

This is the line spoken by someone from a firm thinking of hiring BDO.  He is saying that Brian, a guy on his team, needs a seasoned consultant he can call in the middle of the night.  This ad is telling us that partners at BDO are available for calls, well, whatever time the client feels like it, no matter how unreasonable – and I realize I am using ”unreasonable” improperly here, for this ad tells us that for BDO, the concept does not exist.

This ad is telling us that BDO partners are puppets.

How good can such partners be?  What is their level of expertise in a particular area, and what esteem do they hold in the eyes of their clients if, at this senior point in their careers, they have no control whatsoever – no focus – over their work day or personal life?

The answer is likely a simple one:  that BDO Canada consultants are a highly talented and respected group of professionals who have considerable control over their calendars and careers.  For this to be true, and it is fair to expect that it is, the ad must not be a reasonable portrayal of the BDO brand.  And indeed, on the BDO Canada website we find this:

“BDO helps its professionals meet their professional objectives, advance their careers, and establish an appropriate balance between their work and personal lives.” (emphasis added)

And this:
“…Our team members enjoy a well-rounded client working experience, a stable and suitable work environment…” (emphasis added)

So it turns out that BDO is a great place to work.  Or that it’s a hellhole.  The reasons behind this discrepancy could be many, including the Old Friends and New Friends problem, or the need for a CBO (Chief Brand Officer) orientation.

Any way you slice it, a brand is what people think of you.  That’s why the Number One Rule of Branding is: be consistent.  Because if you’re not, people won’t know – even about BDO – what to think.

Posted in brand advertising, Chief Brand Officer, consistency, key messaging, positioning, taglines | Tagged | Leave a comment

Apathy and The Facebook Solution

[Cache #178]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

Why bother voting?

In what was effectively a referendum last week on whether to keep in power the world’s most famous Canadian, only 60% of Torontonians cast a ballot – and relative to past Toronto elections, that was considered a big and impressive number, characterized in the media as “high voter turnout.”  The 60% ballpark happens to be the same as the percentage of Canadians who bother voting in federal elections, which is also the same proportion as Americans who do.

So basically, barely more than half of us go to the trouble of getting off the couch, walking a few feet and picking up a pencil.

But here’s the problem: we have heard the reasons we should vote, and they are boring.  They are also irrelevant, because they do not sufficiently connect with some of the most fundamental needs that drive our behaviour, which are to feel useful, wanted, validated and shall we say liked – for it is these very needs that the most successful mass participation exercise in history, Facebook, presses directly upon.

Some of the boring and irrelevant reasons to vote are:

  • it is important to exercise your democratic rights, or guys like Stephen Harper will take them away.  Don’t be fooled by those hugs he gave Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulclair, because he didn’t really mean them.
  • use your vote or we’ll get invaded:  Vladimir Putin watches our federal elections very closely, and also the CFL draft, and when he sees voter turnout get below, say, 50%, he is coming over the North Pole, just wait and see.
  • it is your obligation as a citizen to play a part in shaping our civic life, whatever that means.
  • vote or you won’t have the right to complain for the next four or five years, as if that’s going to stop you.


facebook logo

None of these purported reasons can overcome the fact that in Canada and the United States we are very free, that our democratic systems are stable, and that government continues to deliver the services we care about most, despite low voter turnout.

If electoral officers, voters’ rights organizations, political parties and candidates actually want more people to vote, they will forget about the traditional, failed arguments  – and rebrand voting as something that feels very validating and incredibly good.

I was reacquainted with this feeling last week, while walking, skin tingling, out of the ballot box.  Sure, my guy won, but that wasn’t clear until hours later.  The basic fact is that the voting experience was all about me.

Indeed, the carefully scripted ritual of ballot-casting puts the customer in the middle like few other experiences.  You are snail mailed an invitation – how classic – to appear at a certain place at a certain time for a rare event.  The polling place is like a nightclub:  there is a lineup, you show your ID, and then they check to see if you’re on the list.  Then you get a secret ballot, which in municipal politics happens to be the size of a surfboard, walk to a booth protected from prying eyes, mark your vote(s), cover up your secret ballot again, and proceed to the voting machine where you, and only you, are allowed to cast your vote or even touch your ballot.

To borrow an American phrase, we, the people, are the stars of the voting process.  Forget about the fact that many of us don’t trust politicians, that we feel betrayed by the political system, and that our vote will almost certainly make no difference whatsoever to the outcome.  We are the same people who get a thrill from a handful of likes on the photo we posted of our morning coffee, our glass of wine, our pedicure or our cat.  We are the same people who post Facebook updates that literally say, “I’m going to find out who my real friends are by seeing who shares this.”

In that profound need to be appreciated, there is much for anyone who wants a voter – or a customer or an investor or any stakeholder – to lever.

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Jian’s Gone. What To Do About Q?

[Cache #177]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

Jian Ghomeshi has left the building, literally.  You know you’re done when your bosses let the media take pictures while your face, 10 feet high in the lobby of your workplace, is torn down and into shreds.

That or when your PR firm, on whose shortlist of responsibilities is that of taking the facts and bending them, publicly fires you.

The only ones left are Jian’s lawyers, whose $55-million action against the CBC is a contrived ”joke,” according to a labour lawyer/commentator, because unionized employees have no standing to sue for “anything arising over the employment relationship.”

The lawyers and Jian’s dog, if he has one – and we know dogs are more likely to leave if they’ve been kicked.

So what to do about Q, the show that Jian created and for which he was the only host?  Should the CBC keep this brand name or scrap it and start fresh?

Against the backdrop of the very serious allegations being levelled by a number of women, and the trauma it seems clear they have suffered, consideration here of the show’s name should not be taken as trivializing in any way.  There are obviously more important issues at play than whether or not to keep Q as a name, and the Internet and media is full of them – hence the narrow, brand-centric approach being taken here.

In favour of keeping Q, public awareness of the name is extremely high because of the scandal.  Not only that, media attention on Jian Ghomeshi’s acknowledged talent as an interviewer has ensured that the public knows this show is based on intriguing and unexpected questions – an understanding amplified by the memorability of this name (aided by both its brevity and allusiveness), standing as it does for “question.”

If the CBC chooses to relaunch the show with a new broadcaster in the chair, tastefully, after an appropriate period of time and without too much fanfare, they will get an unheard-of amount of positive publicity and incremental audience listening in.

If on the other hand they choose to scrap the name and fill Jian’s timeslot with a newly-named show, they will get a small fraction of the attention, a bare blip on the radar.

Of course there is the question of whether Q is synonymous with Ghomeshi, and on that basis whether it makes any sense at all to carry on with the name.  Imagine Coach’s Corner without Don Cherry:  the man is the lifeblood of the show, and it will be gone, or at least it should be, when he retires or is pushed aside.  But I was not highly aware of Q until recently, so your comments on this dimension would be appreciated.

Weighing against maintenance of the name is the concern that the CBC might be seen as profiting from Ghomeshi’s alleged ill-deeds.  This concern will only be magnified if evermore serious allegations surface, especially if criminal charges are filed.  At some point along the continuum of bad to evil behaviour, it becomes inevitable that the name must be dropped.  Whether we will arrive at that point is unknown until we get there.

If, that is, we have not arrived there already.  It could be that the Q name is already irretrievably tainted.  It is very likely that for some people, that point has indeed been reached.  The name “Q” means Jian Ghomeshi to them, and Jian Ghomeshi means, well, more than a few deeply unpleasant things.

Then again, Rob Ford has committed an almost inconceivably long list of ill deeds, and his constituents still voted him in by an overwhelming margin.  And so it is that some people’s tolerance for bad behaviour knows few bounds, although it is a mammoth assumption that devoted fans are even capable of recognizing bad behaviour in the first place.

A final major factor is whether Ghomeshi can rehabilitate his brand to the point that Q is made viable for the CBC moving forward.  The point has not yet arrived (although it is still 1030am) that Jian’s brand is toast forever.  If criminal charges for truly abhorrent acts do not come to pass, and Jian immediately opens the PR handbook and…

-admits every deed
-admits they were wrong
-admits he has a problem
-makes a real apology (not one of these “if you were hurt” excuses) directly to the victims
-seeks extended counselling

…he has a chance of emerging one day and continuing his career, somewhere.  Human capacity for forgiveness is that strong, and his talent will help him.

So should the CBC keep or kill Q?  Fundamentally, it is a question of time.

Jian Ghomeshi allegedly choked, beat N.B. woman with belt
Carleton University looking into allegations against ex-CBC host Jian Ghomeshi
Jian Ghomeshi dumped by PR firm over “lies,” sources say

Andris Pone is President of Coin, a leading branding firm with offices in Toronto and Montreal.  Through naming, tagline and brand foundation services, Coin pursues its vision:  a world in which every person can share their unique gifts in pursuit of their livelihood.  Coin clients include Sun Life Financial, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, BMO Nesbitt Burns, RBC Wealth Management, Oaken Financial, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Canadian Tire, The National Ballet of Canada and many others.

Andris is co-author of the Globe and Mail #1 business bestseller, Brand: It Ain’t the Logo.  He frequently provides expert comment on branding for media outlets including CBC Radio One and the National Post, has appeared on BNN and has written opinion pieces for Marketing magazine.  He can be reached at andris@coinbranding.com.

Posted in best brand names, brand equity, brand names, personal branding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Won’t Be Voting For Darrin Davidson – But Orangeville Should

[Cache #176]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

This Monday October 27th, I will not be voting for Darrin Davidson, candidate for Councillor in Orangeville, Ontario.

Because I do not live there.  Instead, I live and run my branding business in faraway Toronto.

But if I did live in Orangeville, I would vote for Darrin, more than once if it was allowed, because we are very good friends and have been for almost 20 years.  But it’s not the simple fact of our friendship that made me get out of bed this glorious Saturday morning, likely one of the last warm and beautiful days this year, after a long and tiring workweek, and break my rule not to do a stitch of work on Saturday if it is humanly possible to avoid it, least of all for my good old buddy, Darrin Davidson, who has not met me for a beer in say, two months, because he has been up in delightful Orangeville, Ontario, hammering in lawn signs, going door to door, kissing babies, handing out flyers and doing a whole bunch of other campaigning stuff that does not involve going out with his old buddy Andris for a single blessed pint.

Instead, it is the simple fact that the brand messaging for Darrin’s campaign is really well done, and he did it all himself, with absolutely no assistance from me, as I am on a boycott until he can peel himself away from his precious Orangeville and make at least a passing glance at the 416 area code.

That said, I would not be a friend at all if I did not examine his campaign materials and take potshots at them, and tell him, like the closest friends are obligated to do, what I would have done differently if he had bothered asking me to help with his campaign in the first place.

Like this piece here:

Anyone even passingly familiar with Darrin will recognize this message right away as Darrin being Darrin – for expressing clearly, firmly and without apology a bold point of view. You will never lament Darrin being passive, wonder how this guy views a particular situation or wonder what he is going to do about it.  It takes some substantial cojones not just to stand up your friend for 60 days and counting, and to take not just the typical approach and say I am different than the next guy (what we in branding call positioning), but to go to the considerable next step of literally saying that I am better than the next guy.

Now, in terms of the visuals, I would have Photoshopped in some more hair for my old buddy, but there are of course limits to what technology can do.

Here is what looks like a selfie, and what seems to be some kind of cross-branded campaign to get the Beach Boys back together, which I would tell my friend is just a tad off-message, but the main branding point here is that Darrin’s campaign has been full of these self-taken shots, which conveys more than anything his do-it-myself, take-charge, get-things-done attitude, which comes as close as anything to defining the man.

The your vote is your voice message is of course a way to inspire people to get off their couches and get to the ballot box, which seems as sensible a campaign strategy as any for a guy who hopes to get the most votes, but again, the key branding takeaway is that this image conveys that Darrin actually believes deeply in personal responsibility, self-empowerment and the freedom to choose, and he is not afraid of saying so.

And finally there is this piece, which reminds us not so much that Darrin Davidson puts his town above his old buddy Andris, but that the guy has a sensitive side, most vividly shown when we saw Jerry Maguire together in 1997 and he broke down crying.

I cannot recall if it happened to be at the “You complete me” moment, or the “You had me at hello” moment, although Darrin to this day talks about the pursuit of “Kwan,” the term used by Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character to describe the intersection of “love, respect, community and money.”

So there you have it:  I won’t be voting Davidson, because I do not live in Orangeville.  If you happen to live there, then you have the opportunity to vote for – and bless you, even have a beer with – a guy with a brand as clear as they come.

Andris Pone is President of Coin, a leading branding firm with offices in Toronto and Montreal.  Through naming, tagline and brand foundation services, Coin pursues its vision:  a world in which every person can share their unique gifts in pursuit of their livelihood.  Coin clients include Sun Life Financial, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, BMO Nesbitt Burns, RBC Wealth Management, Oaken Financial, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Canadian Tire, The National Ballet of Canada and many others.

Andris is co-author of the Globe and Mail #1 business bestseller, Brand: It Ain’t the Logo.  He frequently provides expert comment on branding for media outlets including CBC Radio One and the National Post, has appeared on BNN and has written opinion pieces for Marketing magazine.  He can be reached at andris@coinbranding.com.

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