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Podcast Transcript: The brand's the thing with Andrea Mandel-Campbell

Host: Michael Mancini

If you run a business, chances are you've thought long and hard about your branding strategy. Or have you? My guest today says Canadian companies need to take their marketing and branding strategies to a new level, or pay a heavy price. I'm Michael Mancini, editor and chief of CanadExport, the government of Canada’s magazine for entrepreneurs who want to trade, invest and prosper in the global marketplace. Look for our magazine at canadexport.gc.ca.

My guest for this podcast, the first of two parts on branding, is Andrea Mandel-Campbell, author of Why Mexicans Don't Drink Molson. She's also a veteran journalist who specializes in international business and global competitiveness. Thanks for speaking with me today, Andrea.

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Oh, you're very welcome. I'm glad to be here.

Michael Mancini: In one recent article, you highlight that you believe marketing and branding are at the very core of the challenge Canadians face, and that Canadian companies tend to compete on cost instead of the intrinsic. What do you mean by the “intrinsic”.

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Well, what I mean by that is Canadian companies and Canadian products in general tend to compete on price, versus competing on the value added of a brand and marketing. For some reason, we're very happy to be a kind of, as I say, “no logo nation”, where we prefer the no-name branding and the kind of anonymity of a commodity, even when it may be a consumer product, over actually trying to market and brand our products.

Michael Mancini: So why is it so important then for Canadian companies to establish a defined international brand?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Well I think it's critical because the rules of the game have changed, in terms of global markets; and these days pretty well anything is a commodity. And we're used to thinking of commodities as oil and ore and wheat, but really almost anything is a commodity, even a computer is a commodity, even a printing machine is a commodity these days; and unless you add some kind of intrinsic value in terms of a brand, in terms of how you market that product, you will be competing on price regardless. So you need to be able to add that brand to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

Michael Mancini: I just want to pick on something you just mentioned. You say that the “rules have changed”. How exactly have the rules changed for Canadian companies?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Because essentially, you know, you're now competing against these low cost geographies in China or India or wherever. So the idea of just competing on price is a losing proposition. Our history really has been to arbitrise (sic) the differences in currency and prices between ourselves and the Americans. What I argue is that we've offered ourselves as a cheaper version of an American. As somebody in my book calls us not American, they call us Mexicans with sweaters. So in some ways we’re a little bit higher up the value chain then Mexico, but we're essentially offering the same kind of advantage in that we sold based on the fact that we're right next door but our currency has been significantly cheaper than the American dollar and we tend to pay our professionals much less. So that has been our kind of value proposition up until now, but because of global markets it really doesn't matter where you are located anymore. Up until now the advantage we've focused on has been our location. But location, less and less, matters.

Michael Mancini: So then, what challenges will companies without a global branding strategy face in this globalizing (sic) world?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Well, it's a huge challenge, because if you aren't thinking about going international, and you aren't thinking of your product as having a customer base that’s international, if you think that you can only rely on the Canadian market, that is I think a recipe for disaster, because there used to be a time where we used to think that at least the Canadian market is ours, or that the American market is ours. But when you're now competing against China and India and South-East Asia, and wherever, none of those things are guaranteed. Not even your own market is guaranteed anymore, so you have to start thinking outside the box.

Michael Mancini: So now what are the key components of a brand? What is a brand?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: The interesting thing is that, I think, people—especially in Canada—we get mixed up in the sense that we think that a brand is only something that you can see on the side of a purse, or is the kind of sneakers you wear, and is something very obvious, that you see on television. But a brand really encapsulates so many things. You can be a commodity and still have a brand. I talk about a company out of Vancouver called Methenex that sells methanol, and methanol looks like water, it's a petro-chemical that's clear and it is the epitome of commodity. And yet it has a brand. It has a brand because it’s invested in... It’s decided that its value added proposition is going to be customer service, and they have built a global platform where they custom tailor the transport of their product to customers around the world. They don't just sell to a middleman and have Japanese trading companies selling their product for them around the world, where they don't know their customer base. They've decided that they're going to own their brand and they are going to be the best at what they do, in terms of providing security of supply and tailored transport of their product to their customer. So that is a brand as well.

Michael Mancini: So, would you say that it is always necessary to have a brand and to develop a brand?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Frankly, I think it's pretty critical. Even if you're only, you know, one link in a supply chain, you still need a brand because what is going to differentiate you from somebody who can copy your product and make it in China for half the cost. So unless you are willing to add something to that in terms of, as I say, that intrinsic value, whether that's a certain reliability, a trustworthiness, a quality of product; and not just doing it, but actually trumping it up and promoting that. It makes it increasingly difficult for you to compete.

Michael Mancini: So how does establishing a concise brand and marketing strategy then add value to a company?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Well I mean that's, I think, the difference between... I think going forward is going to be the difference between surviving and flourishing in a global economy, and struggling to make ends meat. Of course, the obvious example that we all look to, which is Research In Motion, that's a company that does not... I mean they still manufacture here in Canada, but they don't compete on currency, they don't compete based on tax advantages that are able to procure in Canada, and they don't really compete on price. I mean, it's a luxury item, and it's expensive. What they compete on is innovation and branding, and that's why they've been able to flourish and do so well, because they’re not trying to arbitrage, as I say, currency or the tax regime.

Michael Mancini: Now, through your numerous interviews with Canadian companies, how receptive have you found both large and small firms to establish a cohesive brand? RIM is a large company, how are SMEs doing with this challenge?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Well, I mean, RIM didn't start off as a large company though. That's the thing. And I think the great thing about branding is that I don't think you need to be a massive company to do it. There's lots of great examples of smaller companies, let's say... there's a company in Quebec called Fruits & Passion, for example. They decided from the very beginning that there was going to be a massive branding component to what they were going to be offering. You know, they started like every other small company starts, in a warehouse in a nondescript industrial suburb outside of Montreal. It's just a decision that is made. I think the big challenge for Canadians is the fact that they rarely think about it to begin with. They don’t attach a lot of value to it, because you know we're very good in terms of engineering and coming up with product, but we attach very little value to such things as branding and marketing.

Michael Mancini: You mention examples like Fruits & Passion and RIM. What was their motivation to grow their brand globally?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Well, in speaking with the owner of Fruits & Passion, for example, he from the very beginning decided that his company was going to be international. So a company like Fruits & Passion from the very beginning decided the world was its market. So that's why, for example, the owner told me that despite being a French company they said the name of the company is going to be English, so that it will have international appeal, and from the beginning they were selling into the United States, they were selling into London. And now they have franchises all over the world, China, Morocco, you name it. So as I say it doesn't matter the size of your company, you can be international from the beginning, and in many ways that's a huge advantage over the way markets used to work 30 or 40 years ago.

Michael Mancini: What are some other things Canadian companies can do to really become international?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Well, one of the things I point to in my book is that I think one of our biggest competitive advantages is the fact that we’re multicultural. And we should be tapping into what I think is an amazing resource of people. I interviewed a company called Bioware, which is a video game company based out of Edmonton. And they had dozens of different nationalities working for them in Edmonton and when they thought about producing products for the French market or the Japanese market or the Chinese market they simply would go to their programmers who came from those countries originally and said, “How do we tailor our product to appeal to that market?” So they were able to really tap into this amazing resource that I would argue Canada probably has more of than almost any other country. And so I think that companies that are thinking about going international and thinking about markets that they’d like to enter, they should be looking to that resource here in Canada, they should be looking to new Canadians to see what they have to offer in helping them bridge into those markets. Frankly, we’re a market of 30 million people, and there’s already plenty of people in Canada who have Canadian experience. What these people offer is their knowledge of other markets, and that’s what we should… from the very beginning our mindset has to change, and we have to be looking for those skills. And they’re really not hard to find in Canada.

Michael Mancini: Now, is it always about marketing products with a specifically Canadian brand?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: No, I don’t think so at all. I mean, when it comes to wines, that’s an example of a product that usually is connected to the country of origin; but if you look at another company, like Alimentation Couche-Tard, which is a convenience store company out of Québec, they emphasize brand but the brand changes depending on the country they’re in. I mean, in Québec they’re Alimentation Couche-Tard, but in Ontario and western Canada they’re Max Milk, when they’re in the United States they’re Circle K. The issue is, the point is, that they emphasize a brand, and sometimes what’s great about Canadians is because we are so multicultural and in many ways we have this kind of history of being kind of malleable in a way, it allows us to kind of adjust ourselves more easily to different cultures and countries. So that’s something that can be used to our advantage. I remember interviewing a French Canadian gentleman who said to me, “When I’m in Québec, I’m a Quebecker. When I’m in the United States I’m an American. When I go to Europe, France, I can be French.” So, you know, we can use our different halves as well to our advantage.

Michael Mancini: How difficult is that to do?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: I don’t think it’s very difficult at all, as long as you take the time, as I say, to understand the market that you’re going to be selling into; I think it’s critical. As I say, in the case of wine you’re marketing based on your country of origin, but in other products, I mean, what is critical is that you actually in many cases appear to be local.

Michael Mancini: So, on a final note Andrea, why did you write your book, Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Well, I wrote my book because I felt that Canada and Canadian companies just had so much more to offer. And I just felt that we were underestimating ourselves and we were undervaluing the products that we could offer the world. And I felt very strongly, having spent ten years in Latin America, that if we continued to look only internally, or if we relied solely on one other market—that being the United States—that in the end, that this would end up really being potentially very damaging to us, because it would mean that we had no ability or no knowledge about how to do business in other jurisdictions. And increasingly, as we see, it’s becoming critical to be able to do business in China just if you want to be able to sell into the United States. So we need to start nurturing those capabilities, to be able to operate and function and succeed in other markets. And that’s really why I wrote the book.

Michael Mancini: Thanks for speaking with me today, Andrea.

Andrea Mandel-Campbell: Oh, you’re very welcome. My pleasure.

Michael Mancini: I was speaking with Andrea Mandel-Campbell, author of Why Mexicans Don't Drink Molson. She’s also a veteran journalist who specializes in international business and global competitiveness.

Well, that’s all for this podcast edition of CanadExport. Stay tuned for the second part in our branding series when I’ll speak to one Canadian company that is walking the branding talk you’ve just heard. But in the meantime, if you’ve found this show interesting and you’re currently preparing to do business abroad, or if you are already, give the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service a call. It is Canada’s most comprehensive network of International Trade Professionals. We can offer expert advice, problem solving skills and, as I spoke about with Andrea, a global network for contacts which include experts which can help with branding and marketing. So check us out online at tradecommissioner.gc.ca to learn more about the benefits of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. While you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe to CanadExport, our free twice monthly magazine. You can also download our other podcasts at iTunes with the search word “CanadExport”. We’d like to hear what you think of our podcasts, so write a review on itunes, or drop us a line at canad.export@international.gc.ca, your feedback is appreciated. I’m Michael Mancini, signing off for now.

To download our other episodes, just go to www.canadexport.gc.ca or go to iTunes and use the searchword “CanadExport.”

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