Cultivating Brand Advocates – Four Remarkable Communities

Perhaps the pinnacle achievement in marketing today is to build such a strong relationship with your brand’s biggest fans, that they become true advocates – speaking so enthusiastically and positively about your brand, that others might think they actually work for you.

It is, indeed, a rare accomplishment to develop such a relationship. In part I believe that many companies do not recognize the opportunities and benefits associated with nurturing and enabling fans to become true advocates. Nor do they fully realize the path they must embark on.

Serving as a guiding light, here are five brands that have done it right:


Hands up anyone who would’ve thought that Fiskars, a scissors brand, would be able to develop a successful online community? They make scissors! Scissors! But guess what? They recognized a core and common passion that many of their fans have – scrapbooking – and they built a community around it. In fact, the thriving community has evolved to include a variety of different artistic categories. See

The lesson: A successful community doesn’t need to be centred around your brand. Find a common passion your fans have, related to your brand, and build a community that truly unites your fans provides them with value.


Intuit is an award-winning developer of business and financial management software, having developed a variety of leading products including TurboTax, online income tax software, as well as QuickBooks, accounting software for small business. The company truly has excelled in developing a customer-centric approach to their business. For example, when using TurboTax, people have access to an entire community of other TurboTax users – to ask questions and gain insights as they fill out their tax returns. Moreover, people can also enter into a private chat with income tax professionals, before they have even paid for TurboTax!

The lesson: Brands should do what they can to pay it forward. Provide value to people before they have even paid for your product or service, and imagine the loyalty, enthusiasm and sense of community that can be be generated.

Genius Crowds

Here is a company and a community with a big twist. The community creates the company’s products, and in essence, the community is the brand. Genius Crowds is a community through which people can submit their ideas for products they’d actually like to see manufactured and sold on store shelves. The community collaborates on product ideas submitted, in an effort to help improve them, and then they vote on their favourites. Genius Crowds then reviews top voted ideas, and selects a few that have the potential – based on a manufacturing and marketability assessment – to be sold in stores.

This is a great example of crowdsourcing. In fact the first product, the Speed Bather (a dog squeegee) is now ready to hit store shelves!

The lesson:  Companies can benefit from letting their customers collaborate and participate in the development, and evolution, of their products and services. By tapping into the collective intelligence of their customers, they create opportunities for innovation.

Disclosure: I was a Community Manager for Genius Crowds when I worked at Chaordix.

Vancouver Canucks

Sports franchise brands and social media go hand-in-hand, as social media provides an amazing opportunity for fans to bond with their favorite team – regardless of where they are in the world. Canucks fans have turned to social media to share their experiences and emotions, expressing themselves through compelling content ranging from short tweets to engaging videos. At the same time, the organization itself has really excelled at leveraging social media to encourage fan participation and build loyalty – and there is little doubt that the strength of the Vancouver Canucks brand has been significantly augmented as a result.

The lesson: Be open to having your fans generate content, and help them share it on social platforms. Doing so will result in increased loyalty, and will aid in building your fan base.

Are you aware of any remarkable online communities that have helped a company cultivate true brand advocates?  Does your company have one, or have you considered developing one?

Why Every Vancouver-based Marketing Professional Should Consider Leaving

I am a Vancouverite. The city is my true home, and will always be near to my heart. I was born and raised there, my beloved family is there, I have many dear friends there, and I literally live and breathe the West Coast lifestyle – the mountains, the ocean and yes, even the odd yoga class

It was for all of these reasons I diligently tried to build my career, in the wonderful world marketing and communications, in Vancouver. I worked hard, and was fortunate to gain significant experience in both B2C and B2B marketing through progressively senior roles at Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company, Ethical Funds and Texcan.

However, there was an underlying problem which at first I ignored, but in reality would have to face head on.

Vancouver is a small city that is not at all conducive to career growth and opportunity for marketing and sales professionals.

I first thought about this when my first boss and mentor Frank Dennis, the President & CEO of Swiss Water, recommended that I move to Toronto to advance my career. Through several subsequent information interviews that I had with marketing and advertising professionals, with experience in both Toronto and Vancouver, their advice was consistent: “move east, young man”.

A few years later, after spending a couple of years too long in Vancouver and an an awesome stint with Chaordix, a Calgary-based startup, I find myself writing this from my apartment in the the High Park area of Toronto. I have a job that I love at Asigra, and have settled nicely into my new city.

If you are in Vancouver, or in another small city looking to develop a career in marketing, I urge you to at least consider moving to a city that will provide you with better opportunity and resources to flourish in your career.

More Opportunities

Canada is unique, particularly compared to the US, because so many tier one and tier two companies are based in the Greater Toronto Area.  With so many companies operating here, there also are numerous ad agencies, communication firms and startups doing work with notable brands. In Vancouver, one can easily count on one hand the number of employers that have large marketing and communications departments.

It is true that competition for jobs is fierce, given the area’s population base, but Vancouver honestly just does not even compare to Toronto when it comes to opportunity. Not even close.

Consider Your Future Lifestyle

There are plenty of smart people in Vancouver, some of whom have cultivated great, rewarding careers in marketing and communications. However, there are also a lot of “consultants” – which honestly means there are a lot of people in Vancouver who are looking for work.

Sadly, salaries are also suppressed in Vancouver. It is a “destination” city, and that fact combined with fewer opportunities and lots of people looking for work means that employers just don’t need to open the salary vault. Simple economics, actually.

In a city which the Economist magazine recently ranked as the most expensive to live in in North America, the math starts to become dangerous – particularly when it comes to assessing one’s lifestyle and savings over the long term.

With a fair degree of certainty, I can say that marketing and communications salaries are higher in Toronto – I estimate by as much as 15 to 20%, when compared to an equivalent role (if you can find one!) in Vancouver.

Learn, Learn, Learn

I have found that both Toronto and Vancouver are rich when it comes to opportunities for learning and meeting people through networking events and seminars. I relish the opportunity I had in Vancouver to contribute to the BC Chapter of the American Marketing Association, and I always enjoyed attending social media events such as Third Tuesday.

However, there is a very distinct difference when it comes to the opportunity to career-related learning opportunities in Toronto – particularly with respect to social business and digital media.  In Vancouver, there are far too many people who profess to have social “expertise” without any proven, tangible business results to support their claims. These are also the people, in some instances, that are speaking at events. Sorry, I have a problem with that!

In Toronto, because of the size of the marketing and communications ecosystem, the people who who speak at events are able to do so leveraging tangible knowledge that they have developed through experience with top tier national brands.

Through events such as Social Media Week, PodCamp and Third Tuesday Toronto, and through many information interviews I have had since my arrival, I can honestly say that my rate of learning has greatly accelerated over the last year – for which I am very thankful.

Having said all of that, I can honestly say that the social life in Toronto isn’t all that bad either. Actually, it’s a very active, rich and culturally vibrant city. Yes, I am missing the outdoors lifestyle – the mountains and the ocean can’t be replaced. By hey, one can always make do with what one has access too.  Here’s a post I co-authored with Toronto native Debbie Horovitch on how to establish social roots in a new city.

I hope you found this post to be helpful. If you have any questions about making a move for career purposes, or about Toronto in general, please feel free to get in touch –

A Rewarding Corporate Culture

I truly believe that a fun, collaborative, team culture – one which rewards excellence and motivates employees – is a key, fundamental building block for strong corporate performance and competitive advantage. It seems obvious. Yet, from my perspective, such a culture is elusive to attain. I Love Rewards, a Toronto-based company, is an organization that understands the importance of a healthy internal culture.

Their business focuses on providing results-driven rewards and recognition programs for companies worldwide. Yet they do far more than that. They walk the talk, they live their values – the company works hard to infuse a strong sense of passion and commitment amongst their own staff members.

Last Tuesday I had an opportunity to visit with Rob Catalano, Marketing Director at I Love Rewards. My primary purpose, in meeting with Rob, was to hear his insights and perspectives on marketing – and some of his learnings with respect to career development in today’s fast-paced world. It was also a chance for me to learn about what makes I Love Rewards tick.

This video gives a great inside peak at their culture:

I noticed the culture right from when I entered the building, prior to my meeting with Rob. The open-concept office area was abuzz with happy, busy staff members, a couple of whom warmly greeted me. Throughout the office there were notable inspirational quotes painted on the walls. Not in small letters, but in big, bold writing, enabling visitors and staff members alike to take notice.

I Love Rewards, like my current company Chaordix and one of my favorite entrepreneurial successes of all-time, Zappos, were all recently recognized by WorldBlu – a non-profit organization that promotes democratic workplaces – as being amongst the top 52 most democratic workplaces worldwide. That’s quite an accomplishment!

According to Rob, “People define the culture” at I Love Rewards. “Our recruiting is so rigorous, we hire based on fit – everyone is aligned.”

Right now it seems that companies like I Love Rewards are the exception as opposed to the norm. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, I will be able to state that the opposite is true. In this blog, I’ve been writing about how companies can become more social and build engagement, leveraging technology, with their customers. The same opportunity holds true with employees.

To gain more insights on I Love Rewards, read their Love Guarantee, posted recently on Cameron Herold’s Backpocket COO blog.

What are your thoughts? What are some companies that you know of, which have an exemplary corporate culture?

Lots of Genius Ideas!

As you can see, I haven’t had an opportunity to update my blog since early September. I intend to rectify that, and will be more active with my blog again soon.  Lots has happened over the last couple of months. Most notably, I moved from Vancouver to Calgary for a new job.

I am now a Community Outreach Manager for Chaordix, a leading crowdsourcing platform and services provider.  Amongst other things, in my role I am responsible for recruiting for and moderating crowdsourcing communities for our clients.  One such client is Genius Crowds, a fantastic initiative through which participants have an opportunity to help create products that actually make it to store shelves – and earn  royalties!

You can actually participate too! Here is a short one minute video on Genius Crowds that I wanted to share:

Crowdsourcing: An Overview

Crowdsourcing is a term that many people have heard of over the last couple of years, yet there still seems to be some unfamiliarity with what it is. I thought I would provide an overview, with some contextual examples as they apply to marketing.

Made possible by Web 2.0 technologies and social media, the term was coined by Jeff Howe in a 2006 Wired magazine article. In essence, crowdsourcing is a problem-solving model in which particular issues are communicated to an audience of unknown participants, as an open call for solutions. The audience submits proposed solutions to the problem, and often times is tasked with sorting through the solutions, selecting the best one. For a full overview of crowdsourcing, Wikipedia has an excellent article.

From a marketing standpoint, executed properly, crowdsourcing can be an excellent method of engaging audiences with a brand. By providing a mechanism for feedback and interaction, brands can foster greater loyalty and sense of ownership. The caveat, however, is that for crowdsourcing to work, companies must show that they are willing to embrace and enact on the solutions that audiences propose. Companies can also go further by rewarding those who submit solutions that are implemented.

Several companies have successfully leveraged crowdsourcing as part of their marketing efforts.

Dell, some time after having suffered an online PR disaster, created a forum for participants to contribute and vote on ideas – The website currently attracts 15,000 users a month. So far, they have implemented over 350 of 13,000 ideas submitted. Here is a promotional video for the website.

Venerable consumer giant Procter and Gamble has also made a foray into crowdsourcing. They host contests on online research and development communities, inviting the public to submit solutions related to product design or new ideas on it’sconnect + develop website. So far, more than 30% of problems posted on InnoCentive, one of the community sites P&G uses, have been solved. The Swiffer, a major revenue generating product, came from P&G’s crowdsourcing initiatives.

Have you implemented or contemplated implementing a crowdsourcing strategy for your brand? Do you have any crowdsourcing examples that you’d like to share?

I would love to hear from you.

Special thanks to Chaordix for providing crowdsourcing case studies. They have more available on their website.