On salience, purpose and global ambition for Canada: Takeaways from Kantar’s BrandZ report

Kantar Canada unveiled the first iteration of the Brandz Top 40 ranking of Canada’s most valuable brands at Toronto’s Design Exchange this week, with a series of presentations and panel discussions featuring some of Canada’s leading marketers.

RBC and TD topped the list, while Bell came in third (for a complete run-down of the winners, click here). And here are some of the key takeaways from the report and the event.

1. Canadian brands are salient, but they’re not all that different

Kantar’s brand value scores are determined using three different criteria: meaningful, different and salient. Many of Canada’s top 40 brands derive much of their brand value from salience, meaning they’re popular because they’re “famous and present” in consumers’ minds.

This could be problematic in further growing brand value, says Kantar. Traditionally, the combination of high salience and low difference has characterized brands that are ripe for disruption.

“We have very well-known brands in Canada, but they aren’t as meaningful and different as they could be,” said Paul Gareau, senior vice-president, brand and creative team leader with Kantar Canada. “It’s basically saying ‘People are buying us because they know us, not because we’re offering something that’s super meaningful or super differentiated from the competition.’ Salience alone will not fuel future brand growth.”

According to Cesar Zea, Kantar’s vice-president, insights division, only one-quarter of the brands in Canada’s top 40 are considered “different,” with brands like Lululemon (which ranked fifth overall, with a brand value of US$7.57 billion) and Canadian Tire (22nd overall, with a brand value of $1.3 billion) among the notable exceptions.

“[Canadian brands] tend to trade on their fame and high profiles, rather than their ability to offer something unique,” concluded Kantar, noting that Canadian brands tend to rank low on metrics like creativity, innovation and experience.

Building a brand solely on advertising might make it top of mind, but it doesn’t make it something that can’t be found elsewhere, Kantar cautions. The key takeaway? “Do, don’t say.”

Kantar’s top 10 brands for difference: Lululemon, Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons, Aritzia, Canada Goose, Cineplex, Intact Insurance, Crown Royal, TD, Koodo, Winners.

2. Purpose is powerful, but needs to be brand aligned

Brands are increasingly turning to purpose as a key business driver, and with good reason. According to Kantar, brands that have a clear purpose in the mind of Canadian consumers have, on average, 78% higher brand value than those that don’t.

Kantar’s Global BrandZ database of the 94 most valuable brands in the world found that brands recognized for their commitment to purpose have grown their brand value by twice the average (212% versus 77%) over the past 12 years.

“Consumers today expect brands not merely to provide goods and services but also to reflect their values,” says Kantar. Finding purpose isn’t hard, but the challenge is aligning the entire organization behind it.

But this push for purpose also comes with a risk, particularly as consumers—and millennials in particular—become increasingly skeptical about what they perceive as insincere attempts by brands to align with causes important to them. Not every brand is suited to saving the polar bears, says Kantar.

Canada’s best purpose brands, according to Kantar: Canadian Tire, Cineplex, Tim Hortons, President’s Choice, Canada Goose and Shoppers Drug Mart.

3. Can’t stop the big banks…

Banks account for nearly half (46.1%) of the $143.6 billion in brand value generated by the top 40 brands, with a combined value of $66.2 billion. They also occupy three of the top five slots and five of the top 10. RBC and TD, meanwhile, were the only Canadian brands to rank among the top 100 in BrandZ’s global brand rankings released earlier this year.

Kantar attributes the category’s success to the “outsized role” Canadian banks play on the world stage, thanks to their heavy investment in emerging Caribbean and South American markets and Europe. Canadian banks have also benefited from a strong regulatory environment, which helped them weather the 2008-09 economic downturn than their U.S. counterparts.

Speaking at the Kantar event, representatives from Canada’s largest banks also noted the role of sponsorship in helping solidify their position. All of Canada’s major banks, not to mention upstart brands not listed in the top 40, like Tangerine, boast extensive sponsorship portfolios.

“It allows you to operate at the top of the funnel, to build awareness, connectivity so that when that consumer is ready to create a consideration set for product purchase, you’ve already built share of mind in experience that is important to them” said Mary DePaoli, executive VP and CMO chief marketing officer for RBC.

4. Brand Canada: Ready to take on the world

According to Kantar research, 61% of Canadians prefer to buy things made in their own country, which is reflected in the makeup of the country’s most valuable brands. Nine of the top 40 brands reference the word “Canada,” while several others allude to it.

Yet Canadian brands have largely tended to stay within Canada. However, Kantar notes that several prominent brands including Tim Hortons, Lululemon, Aritizia and Canada Goose all foster global ambitions.

Canada’s outstanding global reputation will help these brands as they look beyond their home and native land, says Kantar, noting that Canada stands for trust, good will and openness in the eyes of countries around the world. “Brand Canada is clearly a welcome asset, and no brand should be shy to use it,” said Kantar.

Paloma Azulay, global chief marketing officer for Tim Hortons, said that the key to successfully exporting its brand involves retaining core values like its embrace of community while adapting more malleable business elements, such as its menu and marketing.

“We could do lazy marketing, and just put maple leafs around and say ‘Hey we’re from Canada,’ but I think in order to do great marketing we need to bring the purpose of the brand to life,” she said.

“The secret formula is understanding that we need to listen, we need to have a menu that will resonate with local guests [but] the heart of the brand should not change around the world.”

5. Global findings and insights

Modern brands exist in what BrandZ’s global head Doreen Wang described as a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Eight of the top 10 brands in Kantar’s global 100 rankings are new since 2006, said Wang, while 52 brands have been displaced in the same time period. While those brands have retained their salience, they are no longer as meaningful to consumers lives or differentiated within their category, said Wang.

Investing in brand is the key to succeeding in such a volatile environment, she said. “Brand-building is not cost, it is the most important investment any company should make,” she said. “It will ensure longterm and sustainable financial success.

“If you’re lagging behind on meaningful difference, salience alone is not going to support brand value growth.”


Chris Powell