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Brought together by Arlene Dickinson – one of Canada’s most recognized and respected business leaders— Zync joins the other original agencies Venture Play, Revolve and Brightworks as Believeco.

Along with Argyle, one of North America’s most respected engagement, communications and reputation advisory agencies and Castlemain, a leading Indigenous advisory firm, we are collectively Believeco:Partners. Believeco:Partners owns, operates and builds the foremost marketing, communications and engagement agencies in North America. Together, we offer clients the talents of more than 300 marketing and communications professionals across North America.

Together, we’ll help clients navigate the incredible pace of change—providing solutions and a culture that is good for our clients, their customers and stakeholders, our people, and our local, national and global community.

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Brad Breininger & Marko Zonta

Zync - Journal | The most influential brands in Canada 2021.

Discussing 2021's most influential brands in Canada.

The most influential brands in Canada 2021.

What are the key atributes of the top brands? 

Ipsos recently released their list of “The Most Influential Brands in Canada” for 2021″ – so we’re talking about it with the author and storyteller of the list: Steve Levy. Our discussion will expand on the multiple elements that drive influence. 

This year, Google again tops the list. But, most of the Top 10 have a very strong digital presence, regardless of their industry. The three biggest gainers are TikTok, Skip the Dishes and Loblaws. 

Below, you’ll find this year’s list in order of appearance:

  1. Google
  2. Amazon
  3. YouTube
  4. Apple
  5. Meta (Prev. Facebook)
  6. Microsoft
  7. Netflix
  8. Visa
  9. PC Optimum
  10. Walmart

Also available on:

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Recorded on March 4, 2022.


Brad Breininger: 0:00
Hi everyone, and welcome to this week’s everything is brand. This week we have a special guest. It’s Steve Levy from Ipsos. He is the storyteller and author of the most influential brands in Canada. So buckle in, here we go. Alright, Steve, thank you for joining everything is brand. We’re really excited that you’re here.

Steve Levy: 0:29
It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for asking me.

Brad Breininger: 0:31
So we want to get into it and talk about the most influential brands in Canada. So what led you to create and conduct the list of the most influential brands in Canada? And what was your kind of modus operandi on that?

Steve Levy: 0:42
Well, to answer that question, I have to take you back 11 years. So 11 years ago, the ICA that’s the association that really represents the major ad agencies. And who run Adweek asked us if we would be prepared to do some pro bono polls for them as content for Adweek. And they wanted us to cover issues like do Canadians value Canadian content? Do they recognize the degree to which the advertising industry contributes to the economy? You know, a bunch of issues like that? And at the time, we said, Sure, we’d be happy to do that. And we did. And they did use it as part of Adweek back 11 years ago. Anyway, fast forward the following year, they said, Would you like to do the same thing? And we said, No, I think we’ll take a pass. And they said, Well, is there anything else you’d like to do? Is there any other content that you think might be interesting during Adweek? And we said, Yes. We think that we should create something with you for Adweek where we’d be joined at the hip. And so that was how the most influential brand program was born. Now, it’s changed since then. And we no longer partner with the ICA, we now partner with the Globe and Mail, the ACA, which is the association that represents advertisers, publicists and the CMDC. And so that kind of group of people now for the last, I don’t know, six years or so, that’s where the program came from. And that’s where it is today.

Brad Breininger: 2:11
Awesome. Yeah. So we take a look at the list every year. I mean, we’re we’re very much focused on brand. And we take a look at the list, because we’re really interested to see how things are moving, how things are changing. One of the things that we noticed this year in particularly, but over the last several years is that the top 10 are primarily billion dollar tech based brands. Why do you think that they’re the most influential? What’s your thought process on that? First, I think that billion dollar Tech brands is, in all honesty, too broad a term. Right. And to be honest, I think that it’s too easy to characterize them in that way. I think I’d probably break them down more into, you know, entertainment brands, as in YouTube and Netflix. Social media, as in Facebook. For want of a better word, maybe consumer devices, as an Apple. B2B enablers, as in Microsoft, and of course search with Google. And then of course, there’s, there’s, you know, Visa, Walmart and PC optimum, which don’t fit that characterization at all. Yeah. And secondly, I’d say that the reality is that global brands, global billion dollar brands to use your expression, have more scale, more scope, more access to capital. And in practice, they actually also have more access to talent. And so when we do see local brands in the top 10, either here or in any other country, for that matter, that’s special, that’s really special. If I was a smaller organization in Canada, I mean, obviously, it makes perfect sense of what you’re saying around why they would get into the top 10. But what can smaller brands and midsize brands learn from what they’re doing to help achieve greater influence? They might not hit the top 10 for all those reasons that you pointed it out. But what can they do to kind of be a little more special based on what they can learn from these folks?

Steve Levy: 4:11
Well, if they have access to the detailed findings, they can take a look at the category and sector within which they operate. And they could consider what the most influential brands in that sector are doing – what contributes the most to their influence, what specific attributes those brands in that sector perform well on. They can also consider the dimensions where no players in their category are making a play and think about whether or not that’s a white space that they should be playing for. Of course, they need to subscribe to the study in order to do that. But that’s kind of my answer to that to the question. Hopefully that kind of covers it for you.

Brad Breininger: 4:53
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think it’s really about understanding where the influence is coming from. Let me just say you can go to Ipsos.com, the link is in our description, where you can download a pov of the report and find out more about subscribing to the report and getting some of the detailed information that Steve is talking about. So, Steve, moving on, you talked a little bit about this idea of the global brands influence, and that some of them are rating higher than some of the Canadian brands. But some of the Canadian brands are doing very, very well. Who would you say is kind of a leader on the Canadian side? And who should we be taking a look at? And what is making them special to make the list?

Steve Levy: 5:31
Well, I think there’s a couple of things I’d say, Yeah, first is, you know, ranking systems can be a little misleading, because you don’t actually know the difference between each rank. And in some cases, you know, they could be really big differences. In other cases, that gap might be very small. And I’ll tell you now that the gaps from one rank to the next by and large, are marginal. They’re very, very small. And so you know, when you consider that fact, there are indeed, as you just mentioned, a number of Canadian brands that while they’re not in the top 10, they are in the top 20. So if you know Shoppers Drug Mart, the number 11, Tim Hortons at number 12, Canada Posts at number 15.

Brad Breininger: 6:17
Yeah, that was surprising, I have to say,

Steve Levy: 6:20
You know, think about the role that Canada Post plays in Canada. I mean, they play an important role, you know, Canadian Tire at number 17, the CBC at number 20. President’s Choice is that number 18. I mean, President’s Choice, here’s a brand that is the largest food consumer packaged good in the country. This is a brand that essentially sets the food agenda for our nation. So that, you know, there are very influential Canadian brands, and they’re not far from that top 10.

Brad Breininger: 6:55
Yeah, one of the evaluations that we were looking at when we were looking at the list is that, you know, PC optimum is in the top 10. And we talked a lot about branded blowback, the optimum program being aligned with such an influential brand like PC, it has to affect it, right, it has to affect that influence. And so, you know, maybe it’s not President’s Choice, specifically, that’s in the top 10. But PC optimum is there and, and the scope that they’ve been able to expand to from their early days as just a PC points program. It really says a lot about the Canadian marketplace.

Steve Levy: 7:30
Yeah, I mean, PC optimum is much, much more than a points program. In fact – it really is. The same is true for airmiles. They’re much more than points programs, they are at the very root of what many brands use from a loyalty perspective. And PC Optimum, in particular, that combination of what used to be the shoppers program, and of course, a Loblaws program. And of course, the fact that their Loblaws LCL is a media conglomerate now with PC optimum at the heart of it. It’s really it’s an enormous driver.

Brad Breininger: 8:02
Yeah. And it’s interesting, because through Loblaws, digital, I think that they’re really starting to take that more digital approach to how they kind of come into the marketplace with a lot of the various brands that are under their blanket. This is a good transitional point to ask you a little bit about how important you think digital capability and savviness is to creating influence. Do you think it’s a real factor?

Steve Levy: 8:26
I do. I mean, I think it has been important in past years. And it continues to be important. And of course, COVID accelerated that in many respects, brands want to move in that direction, partly because it’s less expensive. In many cases, it’s more efficient. And because the public wants it, it generally results in more convenience, and lower costs. So you think about a skip the dishes, you think about what some of the grocery retailers have been doing in the last 24 months. You think about what streaming services are doing and the fact that actually we’re in a streaming war at the moment between Netflix prime and Disney, not to mention what the banks are doing. So yeah, I mean, I do think that digital is a capability that is incredibly important, but it’s not singular, to what you referred to earlier, as you know, the billion dollar tech companies. It’s much broader than that.

Brad Breininger: 9:23
Yeah, definitely. On the other side, kind of away from digital. Do you think that emotion connecting brands where they can kind of create that consumer connection? Do you think that that has a real influence on influence?

Steve Levy: 9:38
I’m not really sure what an emotion based brand is. But more than that, I think that there are many different emotions – there isn’t one. And I think that brands that utilize all of the tools in their marketing arsenal effectively often use emotion to their benefit, when and where it’s appropriate.

Brad Breininger: 10:03
I guess, when we talk about emotion based, there are some beloved Canadian brands. I mean, you know, Tim Hortons has has walked that line, better sometimes and worse other times, but I think they’re gearing more towards the beloved side at this point in time. But you know, Canadian Tire is probably another beloved brand. And I would say PC as well. But these are, you know, showing up as highly influential brands in Canada. And so when we look at your list, one of the things that that kind of resonated with us was this idea that either digital savviness, or emotional connection seems to be really strong influencers on influence.

Steve Levy: 10:46
I think they both are, I think they both are. I think that emotion is a broad area, and I think it fits better with some brands than others, I think it’s easier for a brand with lots of Canadian Heritage, like Canadian Tire, like Tim Hortons to exploit that angle than it is for Walmart to do the same thing. And as I said, I think that, you know, emotion plays out in many different ways. Yeah, for sure.

Brad Breininger: 11:13
Do you think that in order to be highly influential, you need to strike a balance among all audiences and generations? Or do you think that specialty is okay, where do you kind of sit on that differentiation?

Steve Levy: 11:27
Well, you mentioned generations, generations is something that we could have spent this entire podcast talking about. For the past decade in Canada, we’ve actually had six living generations for the first time in history. Now, most marketers only focus on four of them. Gen Z, the millennials, Gen X and the boomers. And as I said, we could talk about this for the entire hour. The fact of the matter is that any brand that wants to generate a lot of influence, as in a top 10, has to have generational harmony. Now, they might start by generating influence with one generation as Netflix did. But ultimately, that influence needs to be much broader. And both Netflix and Amazon are good examples of brands that started to generate influence with one specific generation and have done a number of things, of course, over the past decade, to broaden that.

Brad Breininger: 12:27
Yeah, I mean, you know, one of the up and comers or one of the rocketing brands on the list is Tik Tok, which I think is a really good example of what you’re saying, Tik Tok, really, in the early days, it was all about the younger generations kind of coming to the platform and dancing and singing. And it’s really become more than that. I think that their influence has grown, because they’ve done exactly what you just said, which is appeal more to that wider range. Do you think that that’s helped with their influence? Do you think that that’s a factor?

Steve Levy: 12:56
I do. Yeah, I do. Absolutely. And as you said, they, in the past year, they were one of our kind of fast gainers. They weren’t the only one. But they were a fast gainer. I think it’ll be interesting to see where they go from from here. You know, we’ve seen brands over the 10 years that have really made huge gains in one year, and then continued to do so which was the case, for example, with Netflix and Amazon. But we’ve also seen brands that have made huge gains in one year and then either slid back or plateaued. I can’t predict where Tik Tok will go, but it will be interesting next year to see what happens.

Brad Breininger: 13:35
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think that now more than ever, and we talk about this a lot from a brand strategy perspective, is that for some brands, there is a lifecycle. But there may also be market influences that change it. For example, if you take a look at Netflix, and you you referred to this earlier, but the streaming wars, Netflix owned streaming for a very long time, and everyone kind of went wait a second, we’re missing an opportunity here. So all of these other brands came out. I mean, that can’t help but affect some of the decisions Netflix is making, some of the market decisions that they’re making. But they still are influential. They’re still on the list. And I think that they will continue to be for a long time.

Steve Levy: 14:17
I do too. But I think it’s 2021 was an interesting year for them because their subscription base did not grow in 2021. That’s why they’re now in the gaming business as well. And that was a clear effort to reframe the situation.

Brad Breininger: 14:35
Yeah, it’s the speed of innovation is so much different now than it has been in the past. And I think we talk a lot about it on the podcast, but the requirement for these brands to constantly be having their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the marketplace and understanding that it’s not like the good old days where you’re GE and you just continue to buy different organizations. You really have to be thinking that, you know, your audience could get up and walk away. At some point, if you’re not diversifying and taking the brand in new directions. The thing I love about the list that you author is that it really is a little bit of a report card for brands to look at how much influence they’re having, with their audiences and in the marketplace and make adjustments. I know, for brands that we work with, I use it as a tool to say, you know what, here’s what you need to be doing. And again, earlier to what you were saying earlier, about smaller brands, not just the big brands that are kind of in the top of the list, but even looking at who’s in the mid list? And even who’s at the bottom of the list, and why is that happening? And what can smaller brands learn from everything that these folks are going through? One of the things that we’re predicting is going to become more and more important, as we come out of COVID is this idea of corporate citizenship. How important do you see corporate citizenship playing in influence – things like environment, social justice, governance, all of these kind of elements of corporate citizenship.

Steve Levy: 16:09
So corporate citizenship is, is one of the six dimensions that contributes to influence and has been since we started the program 11 years ago. And just to be clear about what I mean by that. It includes things like supporting the community, being socially responsible, promoting racial equality, taking steps to reduce environmental impacts, leading sustainability efforts. And above and beyond all of those things, inspiring a sense of Canadian pride but – And here’s the big but, the degree to which this dimension contributes to influence varies dramatically, by category and by brand. It really does. It’s a fairly big issue for telecom, for banks, for airlines. And for traditional media in this country. It’s much less of an issue for global multinationals that operate in this country. So good corporate citizenship, is something that Canadian organizations are likely much more able to leverage than global multinationals.

Brad Breininger: 17:25
I mean, that’s a really good point. And I think that if you are a Canadian brand in the Canadian marketplace, you need to keep that in mind, you need to be considering that if influence is an important part of where you want your brand to be.

Steve Levy: 17:38
Yeah, I think the fact is that a lot of Canadian brands, indeed, a lot of brands period, have developed for want of a better word, you know, an approach to cause marketing. The question is, which ones are doing that effectively, which ones are staying the course which ones have a cause that’s aligned to their own culture and their own strategy and which ones are flip flopping back and forth between one thing and another, depending on what’s hot in the media?

Brad Breininger: 18:06
That’s a really great point. And we talk to brands about this all the time, the idea of authenticity, to use corporate citizenship as a tool or a timed kind of objective is not going to get you where you need to be. And in fact, it will work against you. So I think that what you bring up is a really great point is that any kind of corporate citizenship has to be tied to the authenticity of your brand, the realness of your brand, the connection of your brand, it can’t just be a tool that you bring in and use because you think it’s going to help drive influence or drive you up the list.

Steve Levy: 18:38
Yeah, I agree. One thing that you might want to point your listeners to. And indeed you might want to check it out is that I had done a series of interviews with the CMO’s of each of the most influential brands, is that they all now reside on our website. So feel free to go check them out.

Brad Breininger: 18:58
Awesome. Yeah, we’ll definitely put those links right in the description. So yeah, thanks, Steve. That’s a great idea. Last question. And I think that this is really a looking ahead kind of question. How do you see brands earning trust from Canadians and building influence moving forward, particularly in a post COVID world? Do you think that there’s a post COVID factor? Do you think that we’re going to reset? What are your thoughts on that?

Steve Levy: 19:22
Well, I’m going to preface my answer by saying that there isn’t one answer, because it does vary by category and by brand. But if I were going to answer the question there would be maybe four or five generic perspectives that I think are relevant, the first is that you know, brands that intersect in a relevant way with moments that matter for you and I, those brands are going to be more influential brands that have the ability to read the room, to understand the consumer and to adapt quickly. Those brands are going to be more influential. Brand that create an exchange of value. That’s meaningful, like PC optimum does. Those are brands that are going to be more influential. Brands, as I said earlier that are able to generate generational harmony, they’re going to be more influential. And if there was one last point, I’d make – a point that my colleagues in public affairs continue to remind me about. It’s that brands that are cognizant of the context within which they operate – they’re going to be more influential. So I’ll leave you on that last thought perhaps.

Brad Breininger: 20:38
Yeah. Well, Steve Levy your insight is fantastic. We love the list. We take a look at it every year. We use it as a tool. As I said, I can’t wait to talk to you next year to see where we end up with the new list. But thank you for your time. This has been Steve Levy, he is the author of the most influential brands in Canada go to Ipsos.com. Take a look at the videos. All the links are in the description. Steve Levy, thank you so much. And remember listners, everything is brand and if you want to be influential, pay attention.

Steve Levy: 21:10
Thank you very much, Brad.

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