The combined value of the BrandZ™ Top 40 Most Valuable Canadian Brands 2019 is $143.6 billion. Its brands, when compared to other valuation countries, are roughly average in value, though ahead of similarly sized European economies, like Spain and Italy. And when normalized for GDP, Canada’s top brands are slightly above average.
RBC the top brand, with TD Bank at its heels
The two most valuable Canadian brands by a considerable margin are RBC and TD bank. At $23 billion and $20 billion, they stand far ahead of third place Bell Canada/Mobility, which is the only other Canadian brand with a value greater than $10 billion.
Canadian banks are highly unusual in that they derive a substantial proportion of their value—a ratio known as Brand Contribution—from their brands. RBC is not only the top brand in the rank by value, it and TD Bank are also in the top 10 for Brand Contribution. In particular, consumers see them as wise, assertive, and highly socially responsible.
Best to be a bank, and not a telecom provider
While Canadian consumers like their banks, the same could emphatically not be said about their telecom providers. The sector is plagued by a lack of competition in many geographies, a circumstance that businesses have not been reluctant to exploit. While Canadian telecom providers have strong brand values due to their ubiquity and communications, they also top the indexes on less flattering measures, like arrogance (a category dominated by Rogers and Bell Canada), dishonesty (ditto, but add Telus), and uncaring (now add Shaw). Clearly, these brands have work to do if they want to win back customers’ love.
The risk of Salience
Canadian brands, on average, contribute just as much to their businesses as other global brands, but they do so in a somewhat lopsided way that carries both risks and opportunities. As mentioned in the overview, they do quite well on Salience. This is roughly how well known a brand is and how familiar people are with it. It is typically the result of a wide physical footprint or years of investment in advertising.
Top Canadian brands are highly salient. Everyone in Canada, for example, is aware of TD Bank or Molson Canadian, which enjoy virtually universal recognition. No one needs to be reminded of what Labatt’s is or where to find a Dollarama.
Salience is quite important in making customers aware of a what a brand is, what it stands for, and what sets it apart. And herein lies the rub. A second measure, more telling measure of longer-term success, is Meaningful Difference. This looks at how a brand meets a customer’s needs and if it does so in a unique way.
Put simply, Meaningfully Different brands offer something consumers want and can’t get anywhere else. As a result, they tend to grow faster when times are good and are resilient under stress. After recessions, they are also quicker to recover and return to growth.
However, in general, the average top Canadian brand fares poorly by this measure. They tend to trade on their fame and high profiles, rather than their ability to offer something unique. Canadians are especially reluctant to find their brands different. Partly this reflects the dominant categories in the rankings—banks, telecom providers, and retail—but that doesn’t explain everything. Canadian brands also rank rather low on average in metrics like creativity, Innovation, and Experience—factors that work to set brands apart.
Depending on how you see a glass filled to the midpoint with water, this is either a major risk or a big opportunity. High Salience and low Difference have historically marked out brands that are ripe for disruption. Building your brand solely on advertising may make you top of mind, but it doesn’t make you something that can’t be found elsewhere. If a new kid comes along with a better offering, you’ll have to scramble to stay relevant. This is likely why CIBC and Scotiabank have launched two of the most distinct Canadian brands in Tangerine and Simplii Financial, respectively. These moves to protect the banks’ flanks from digital upstarts are certainly smart.
Meaningful Difference boosts brands
While top Canadian brands in general lack Meaningful Difference, some of them score extremely well on the measure. On average, Meaningfully Different brands are 46 percent more valuable than those who trail on this measure.
Who are the Meaningfully Different brands? They tend to be Canada’s most exciting brands, ones that everyone knows, like Tim Horton’s, Cineplex, and Lululemon. Interestingly, many of them set themselves apart by their identification with their home country. Four of the top ten, for example, have the word Canada in their names. Others, like Tim Hortons and Shoppers Drug Mart, are Canadian institutions.
They also show that Meaningful Difference is not a commodity nor a formula. The best brands by this measure come from nearly every category, from telecoms and retail to airlines and fast food. Everyone, it seems has the possibility of building Meaningful Difference, it’s just a matter of being creative and finding an opportunity.
The power of two
Another driver of value in Canada is Purpose. Seven of the top ten brands for Meaningful Difference also make the top ten for Purpose. And Top 40 brands that have a clear purpose in customers’ minds (this latter part matters since people have to know your purpose for it to matter) have 78 percent higher brand value than those that don’t.
We can see the value of Purpose Canadian Tire, which leads the Top 40 by this metric. For those who have never visited the country, the brand is as uniquely Canadian as it gets. Its stores contain a variety of goods ranging from garden supplies to hardware and recreation—all of which are uniquely suited to the Canadian environment. At the same time, the brand is closely aligned with the country’s national pastime, hockey. It sells equipment, sponsors professional teams, and even provides a Jumpstart program that helps disadvantaged youth play what can be a quite expensive sport. This sense of Difference together with Purpose makes the brand among the country’s best known and healthiest.
1 Go Canada
There’s an inescapable conclusion that Canadians like brands that strongly identify with their home market. Nine out of the Top 40 brands reference the word “Canada”, and several others allude to it. According to Canada Monitor, 61 percent of Canadians prefer to buy things made in their own country. And unlike some of its top brands, Canada is a decidedly different place, and if marketers are looking for a way to stand out in its consumers’ minds, they could do worse than cosy up to their home country.
2 Do, don’t say
Canadian brands derive a substantial amount of their value by their communications. While bravo to its advertisers, they shouldn’t rest on their laurels. Canadian brands do not stand out for the kinds of creativity and innovation that create a real difference that leads to premium pricing. And so, the path forward involves getting inventive, finding areas to create unique offerings that set brands apart and ward off future threats.
3 Lead with purpose
BrandZ™ research defines Purpose as making people’s lives better in some way. Canadian brands are definitely seen as leaders in the marketplace, and those that lean into their purpose will resonate with consumers. That will can simply mean doing what you do even better, improving service, or innovating digitally to bring more value to your customers. But it’s important that that Purpose extend from your brand whenever possible. Everyone wants to save polar bears, but that’s a much more natural fit for an outdoors company than a shoe polish. Authenticity sells.
4 CX is always a good idea
Brands globally are succeeding with strategies that remove pain points in customer journeys. Canadian brands by and large lag their global counterparts in Experience, which looks at the total customer journey. Canadians tend to be considered consumers, taking time to make a purchasing decision. Anything that can make their choices clearer would definitely be welcome. This is an area where digital innovation is especially relevant.
5 Lean into pluralism
One of the paradoxes of Canadian brands is that while they don’t always seem different, they exist in a society defined by the many different kinds of people inhabiting it. Canada has long been multicultural—de jure as well as de facto. Celebrating difference is certainly a way to be different and might provide an avenue for brands looking for ways to stand out.