As retailers look towards a post-COVID world, the business of branding is assuming new importance. As much as it has changed customer buying patterns, the pandemic has also changed customer expectations. In this evolving commercial landscape, perspectives and insight from the top are especially valuable, and AMA Toronto’s November Legendary Leadership event certainly delivered, as Ashish Patel hosted a virtual fireside chat with successful entrepreneurs, marketing leadership experts and Canada Hall of Legends recipients Brian Scudamore and Anthony von Mandl, in which they shared their thoughts about digital transformation, expanding a business geographically, and how companies can emerge as brand experience leaders in Canada.
Amidst a pandemic, shifting to digital
As 2020 nears its end, more businesses are focusing on transitioning towards and transforming into digital business. Speed to market is a concern for many, and as a result, some are choosing to settle for “good enough,” as opposed to looking for perfection in the customer experience or the technology.
Brian Scudamore, Founder and CEO at 1-800-Got-Junk? and O2E Brands, notes that as his businesses adopted digital transformation in the wake of the lockdowns, there were some unexpected benefits: first, revenue from people booking jobs online jumped by nearly 20 points, and that number didn’t drop even when offices started to reopen; and second, demand for franchises exploded, with more momentum and more new franchise owners in the past six months than in any comparable period in the past decade.
“We’re grateful that we’re in an industry that people want to be part of during these times.” – Brian Scudamore
Anthony von Mandl, Founder and CEO, The Mark Anthony Group of Companies, initially found the pandemic was beneficial for his business. As he states, “people had nothing else to do but sit at home and drink beverages they really enjoy.” But as retail stores and restaurants, the major channels for the company’s fine wines, shut down, the situation quickly changed. The company was forced to adapt, and digital transformation was an essential part of the process. Anthony notes that the most important part of building a brand in the wine business is storytelling, so the company quickly shifted its digital offerings, and not just its websites, but also the services and programs they offered. They were the first winery to start virtual tastings, connecting their winemakers with consumers. As a result, digital sales for the company’s wineries have increased by a staggering 800 percent, making up for the deficit in restaurant sales, and the company is looking ahead to transforming the customer experience as the wineries open once again to consumers.
“With the lockdown, we were all at home. We had time, we had thoughts. And we had an opportunity to tell our stories and build our brand.” – Anthony von Mandl
The challenges of location: building and expanding a regional brand
Brian and Anthony both started their businesses in Vancouver before expanding internationally. Brian was inspired to take his business into the American market on a trip to San Francisco when he noticed that people had the same junk, they were doing the same renovations and spring cleanings. This inspired him to look at a franchise model as a way to scale the business quickly, rather than trying to expand in different markets in turn.
“People don’t buy franchises without a proven local success story.” – Brian Scudamore
Even though he’d created new categories and new-to-world brands in Canada, Anthony dreamt bigger – could he make it in the biggest market in the world? And when Anthony found that industry veterans in the US were suspicious of the upstart Canadian company, moving the headquarters to Chicago made it easier to attract talent, and more importantly, retain the strong, winning, and still humble culture of the company he’d built. Now, of course, COVID-19 has changed the way people think about living in cities, and as a result, Anthony is finding it much easier to attract top marketing talent to the Okanagan region in British Columbia, and this will only help the brand grow in the future. Anthony also notes that as companies have transitioned to work-from-home, the increased access to buyers through digital channels has even negated the location issue, as long as you’re prepared to adjust for different time zones.
“The population base, the business base and the customer base are all critical when running a company.” – Anthony von Mandl
How can Canadian companies emerge as a brand experience leader for the future?
Brian has found success by delivering the best customer experience in the business, and he’s done this by taking care of his people. He treats them right, knowing that this lets them go and deliver exceptional service to customers. Brian also points out that while tech giants like Amazon and Google might depend on great algorithms and code, ultimately, they’re still being built by people.
“Find the right people, treat them right and things grow.” – Brian Scudamore
Anthony agrees with the focus on employees, and also believes that success depends less on strength than on adaptability. At his business, this meant transforming the winery experience by having the winemakers reach out for virtual tastings anywhere in the world, enabling them to tell powerful stories directly to consumers.
“Change is essential.” – Anthony von Mandl
In the end, Brian and Anthony agree that the why of a brand – watching it grow, creating magic, crafting meaningful stories – is the most important part in finding branding success. For Brian, “without the why, the how and what doesn’t matter at all.” And for Anthony, it’s all about “creating brands that are innovative and engaging, and compelling enough to set themselves apart from the competition.” For companies looking to build their brand, this is excellent advice to follow.
The virtual event concluded with an opportunity for attendees to ask questions, and in answering and engaging with the participants, Ashish, Brian and Anthony offered additional insights and advice about career development in marketing, and above all, shared their enthusiasm and passion for branding.
Written by Headstart Copywriting
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