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Legendary Leadership Series event delivers brand insights, career advice, and life lessons for marketers

AMA Toronto’s 2024 Legendary Leadership Series of events recently kicked off with a virtual dialogue and Q&A on “delivering brand promise.” Featuring inductees from Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends, the session explored how businesses can effectively meet and exceed customer expectations in today’s competitive landscape, and what it takes to implement a successful brand strategy.

The event, moderated by Jacob Kessler, VP and steward of Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends, brought together 2023 Inductee Lisa Lisson, senior VP of network operations at FedEx, and 2022 Inductee Marie Chevrier Schwartz, founder and CEO of Sampler, a leading product sampling platform named one of Canada’s fastest growing companies by The Globe and Mail. The trio were joined by special guest 2021 Inductee Sharifa Khan, founder and CEO of Balmoral Multicultural Marketing.

Your brand promise is more than just a “marketing thing”

A visionary leader in multicultural marketing, Sharifa has helped brands such as Canada Life, FreshCo and others tailor their brand promises to Canada’s growing and diverse ethnic communities.

“A brand promise is a commitment that an organization makes to its customers regarding the value or experience they can expect from that brand. It’s a statement of intent that encapsulates the brand’s core values, purpose and offering,” Sharifa says.

She further emphasizes that companies need to take a holistic view of their brand promise and understand what is at stake when it comes to delivering on it.

“It’s not just about marketing, it also involves product development, customer service, employee engagement and corporate social responsibility,” she says. “A strong brand promise helps a brand build trust and credibility with its customers and sets it apart from its competitors.”

Get a culture strategy… and a rallying cry

Prior to taking on her current role, Lisa served as the first Canadian and first female president of FedEx Canada, an experience which gave her a unique perspective on what it takes to boost and maintain a brand’s reputation.

“The responsibility of the brand is not just with the marketing people,” she says. “It’s with every single touch point that the customer experiences.”

Now based in Memphis, Tennessee, Lisa oversees nearly 40,000 employees who are key to ensuring FedEx delivers on its promise every time a customer sends or receives a package.

“You can have the best campaigns, but if your message isn’t cascaded down to your frontline employees who interact with your customers, it will fall flat, because if they’re not delivering on that expectation, then it’s a failed brand promise,” she says.

At the heart of any successful company, Lisa adds, is a culture strategy that nurtures and empowers employees to be great ambassadors. It also doesn’t hurt to have what she describes as “a brand rallying cry.”

“For us at FedEx it’s: ‘I will make every FedEx experience outstanding.’ We have it plastered everywhere.”

Show up in an authentic way

Since founding Sampler over a decade ago, Marie has worked with brands like L’Oreal and Unilever to deliver in-home product experiences to more than 50-million consumers around the world.

When COVID hit in early 2020, Sampler’s promise to create personalized relationships between consumers and brands through high-impact product sampling programs quickly came to the forefront.

“When grocery stores started closing around the pandemic, there was a huge displacement as to how a brand would drive awareness about their product and ultimately drive sales,” Marie says.

As a provider of direct-to-home product samples, the offline shutdown was set to be a big accelerator for Sampler. However, it was also a very challenging time to run a business.

“Our employees and our clients were dealing with larger things,” Marie recalls. “No one wanted to talk about a capitalistic opportunity to grow faster [while] there was a lot of social unrest, a lot of crazy stuff happening.”

Marie’s team responded by launching ComeTogetherTO, an initiative that involved mailing materials to customers to sew non-medical grade masks, which were then distributed to the local community to help limit the spread of COVID. The project allowed Sampler to leverage its network in an authentic way to provide support in a time of need.

“It was an opportunity for us to pause from regular business before embarking on what we knew would be very busy times, to do something for the community and feel more connected to what was going on,” Marie says.

Find a mentor, or become one yourself

In addition to discussing brand promises, Lisa and Marie also shared advice on everything from building a career foundation in marketing to the value of a great mentor.

Lisa first joined FedEx as an associate marketing specialist in 1992, and while she says there is a lot to love about being a marketer, she adds “If you want to expand up in your career, it’s important to get out of your comfort zone and learn other aspects of the business.”

In order to really drive your career, she says, you have to visualize what you want to achieve and don’t wait for a tap on the shoulder to plan your next move.

“The most successful people in life write down their goals, but they don’t just write them down, they talk about them and they let their intentions be known,” she says.

To this point, she adds it is important to reach out to those around you.

“Ask people for their career playbook and borrow the ideas that naturally appeal to you,” she says.

Marie launched her career as an entrepreneur after getting a start in advertising with J. Walter Thompson. At every step along the way, she says she has relied on a mix of allies she can learn from.

“As a tech leader, I look to have a mentor or a peer group of people that are one to two years ahead of me and then a peer group that is one to two years behind me,” Marie says.

That dynamic, she says, has kept her looking forward and helped reignite ideas that might otherwise have been lost in the shuffle.

“It gets very lonely sometimes when you’re constantly pushing the ceiling […]. We’re always trying to get after the next challenge, so [it helps] to get that reaffirmation,” she says. “You never know the magic that can happen.”

Delivering on brand promise… with a multicultural spin

When it comes to multicultural marketing, Sharifa says a brand must not only stay true to its promise but also articulate its messaging using a cultural lens.

“Marketers need to see and understand why there are critical differences in behaviour before they begin crafting a relevant and effective brand message,” she says.

One example of a company that has done this successfully is Brita, a manufacturer of consumer water filtration systems with a promise to deliver cleaner, better tasting water for everyone.

In order to make its communications effective for Canada’s South Asian and Chinese consumers, Brita tapped into what Sharifa calls “back home behaviour” related to water consumption.

“The insight was that South Asians and Chinese don’t drink water straight from the tap because they feel it’s not safe to drink. Moreover, many of them are heavy tea drinkers and are very particular about taste and aroma,” she says.

Brita leveraged this understanding to craft the message that its filters not only remove contaminants in water, but also result in much better tasting tea.

The result, Sharifa says, was “a great example of delivering the same mainstream brand promise, but communicating it with relevance to the South Asian and Chinese communities.”

Learn more about Balmoral Multicultural Marketing’s work with Brita here.

Watch the full Legendary Leadership Series event recording here.

AMA Toronto welcomes Sobeys CMO Sandra Sanderson for Legendary Leadership event

AMA Toronto’s 2024 Legendary Leadership Series continues on April 11 with an in-person fireside chat with Sandra Sanderson, CMO, Empire Company Limited and Sobeys Inc., hosted by Santo Ligotti, president, AMA Toronto. Join us to hear about Sandra’s remarkable accomplishments and her vision for the future of marketing. Check our events page for details and registration here.

About Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends 

Founded in 2004, Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends honours inspiring Canadian leaders who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of excellence in the field of marketing. The award’s year-round program, created to spotlight the stories, people and brands behind Canada’s greatest marketing successes, recognizes a noteworthy body of work and a life-time of achievements and leadership. Nominations for induction are held annually. Find out more about how we’re celebrating the Hall’s 20th anniversary celebration here.

About the author

Michael Thede is a PR manager and senior writer with AMA Toronto. He recently moved to Toronto after 20 years in Asia where he led international communications for a business school in Shanghai. He has also worked for brands such as Education First, Disney and Porsche. Michael has a BA in Film Studies & Philosophy from Western University and is a graduate of the Writing for Film & TV program at Vancouver Film School. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.

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