All posts tagged Toronto

Compared to this, taxis suck.

When You Combine Great Tech With Great Customer Service, Good Things Happen…

While you may enjoy white-knuckling it through the downtown core challenging road ragers and over zealous bike couriers for asphalt supremacy, I‘d rather avoid the stress and hail a Beck chariot to drive me to my destination.

It’s easy. It’s fast. And it’s all all so civilized (even if some of the cars aren’t). But it’s not perfect.

The quality is inconsistent, the customer service is non-existent, and payment is a pain. Whip out a credit card and just sit back and watch the driver flutter between administrivial exasperation and technological bewilderment as they negotiate with the gods to get their payment device to connect. (Hint: Shaking it at the sky doesn’t work.)

Clearly, the taxi industry desperately needs to be reinvented.

Luckily, Uber has arrived.

Headquartered in San Francisco with an autonomous Canadian team, Uber isn’t even close to being a taxi. They’re an on-demand private driver in an SUV or town car powered by technology and with amazing customer service.

Here’s why this is a company to watch.

1. Tech to the core.

You can request a car to your location using SMS. Or their mobile website. Or their Android or iPhone apps. The whole service is GPS based so you know where the closest car is, you can visually track the progress as it makes its way toward you and you know precisely when it’s arriving. At the end, you’ll know exactly how far you went, the route taken and what your average speed was. Data geeks rejoice.

2. Giving and getting 5 stars.

Providing consistent customer service is difficult when your front line staff aren’t actually employees. Well, Uber has that figured out. Immediately after your ride has ended, you rate the driver contributing to their overall score. But here’s the best part: Drivers also get to rate customers. This fully transparent system ensures that both parties are on their best behaviour. Drivers get great customers. Customers get great drivers. “We believe in quality control on both the driver-side and the rider-side,” said Lucas Samuels, Uber Toronto’s Community Manager. “It helps us ensure a smooth experience for everyone, and helps drivers connect with our business and their favourite customers.”


3. Easy payment. As in no payment.

No, the rides aren’t free. But because there’s a credit card on file, you’re automatically billed once your trip has ended. Tips are included. No muss. No fuss. No pleading with the driver to take your credit card. An invoice with a complete breakdown arrives in your inbox immediately. The digital wallet may not be here but like the Starbucks app, they’ve built a great work around.

4. You can’t hail amazing customer service.

I’ve only rated a driver below 4 stars once. When I did, I was asked why. Lucas investigated my issue, looked at the GPS data and confirmed that the driver took an inefficient route. My card was rebated the difference between the most efficient cost and what I actually paid. I didn’t ask him to do it. He just did it. But what’s important is that he could do it because he had the data. Not surprisingly, data allows for wonderful customer service by removing the subjective bias that exists in most disputes.

5. A Community Manager who gets it.

In Toronto, Lucas Samuels is an outstanding Community Manager but it’s not by accident. All Uber CMs are thoroughly trained and are paired with a CM Buddy from another Uber city to talk about potential situations and share best practices. They also have a shared CM knowledge base to refer as needs arise. They’ve actually built their own outreach tools and are pretty active on most social channels. They listen, they respond, they solve.

There’s a great lesson in all of this. Lazy industries with bloated legacy infrastructure and substandard experiences can be easily trumped by tech savvy, convenient, and connected startups who put the customer first. Call it what you want. I call it Uber.

(This article first appeared in Dx3 Digest)


Is Liberty Village the next Madison Avenue?

Word on the street is that two large Canadian agencies will be making their new homes in the west end’s Liberty Village. I don’t think they’ll be here until the spring but I hear that Cossette and Draft FCB will be moving in next door. As they should.

King West certainly is the current Ad-Central with a bevy of agencies including recent additions The Hive, Grey Canada and others. It’s also nicely fitted with the Spoke Club, Zoe’s, and Jimmy’s. (Best soy latte in the city if you ask me.) There’s a lot of post production close by, it’s kind of accessible for clients, and it’s socially active. I certainly see why it’s appealing to be there. Hell, I was there for a few years and loved it.

But I think Liberty Village will be the next big agency community.

Come one. Come all. 

Teehan + Lax are already there.

As is Extreme Group. Cartilage just moved in. There’s also Jam3, Fuel, Spafax, Secret Location, OpenFile, Fresh Squeezed Ideas, Plastic Mobile, Curiosity, Channel 500, Indusblue, Matchstick, Tucows, Crucial Interactive, Geneva, soho vfx, Three In A Box, and a host of others. Not huge places but they’re all doing some pretty interesting things.

Agencies always want to be the first, even when it comes to location. Canada’s Madison Avenue used to be at Yonge and St. Clair before people started making their way down to Bloor Street. It went deeper and deeper before stopping at its current location along King / Wellington. Maybe Liberty Village will be next.

Because it’s a self-contained village, I find the sense of community pretty powerful here. You just get a sense that there are a lot of people doing a lot of great things.  Maybe they aren’t but it certainly feels that way. Throw in a few more hundred advertising pros and it’ll be amplified even more.

Will Jimmy’s open a second location or will the ad masses accept Balzac’s and Starbucks? Will the Marketing Awards be held at Lamport Stadium next year? Will West Elm double its revenue as late night workers sprint in to buy anniversary presents?


As a side note, I’m unofficially proud to say that I’ve also made Liberty Village my home.

I’m launching a content marketing agency that works with brands and media properties. It’s called The Tite Group and we have an office at 219 Dufferin. There’s a lot happening. We’re heavily involved in Dx3 Canada. We’re really busy with new clients. And there are amazing things on the horizon.

It’s unofficial because we haven’t had time to finish our web presence. An official launch will occur at a later date.

So mum’s the word, okay?

The intrigue! The drama! The rumours!

Around this time last year, I was beginning to feel like I wasn’t loving life.

Or my job.

I was Vice President and Executive Creative Director at the Toronto office of a well respected international network, Euro RSCG. What was not to like? It was, and remains, a great gig. I absolutely loved my bosses, colleagues and clients. I had a department of talented and fun people. And to top it all off, I had practically grown up with founders Bill Sharpe and Tom Blackmore. Hell, I wouldn’t even be in advertising if it wasn’t for them.

Still I was feeling like I had to make a move.

Simply put, I was frustrated. The industry was rapidly changing and I personally wasn’t doing enough to change with it. So, after much deliberation, I just decided to leave so I could figure it out.
In true Sharpe / Blackmore fashion, the fine folks at Euro gave me a new title, an email address and an office when I needed it. It was all unpaid but little things like that are more appreciated than they ever appear.

So, I set out on a quest much like Karl Pilkington’s An Idiot Abroad.
(Only without the mumbling British accent)

I met with network programming people.
I met with TV producers.
I met with entrepreneurs.
I met with media sales people.
I met with media planners.
I met with content publishers.
I met with senior clients.
I met with junior clients.
I met with academics.
I met with creatives.
I met with agency management.
I met with recruiters.
I met with developers.
I poked. I prodded. I asked. I listened.

And now, I’m almost ready to talk. 
Look for an exciting announcement in the next couple of weeks.

There are already some floating around so let’s add to the rumours. What do you think I’m going to do?

Free stress balls! Free stress balls!

Among us self-appointed cool people in marketing and advertising, trade shows don’t really bubble to surface as a priority. The common belief is usually,

“A trade show? Isn’t that where Dockers-wearing sales people wander past pipe and drape booths to collect free stress balls and celebrate a product launch with the members of Honeymoon Suite?”


I was recently named Chief Content Curator for Dx3 Canada, Canada’s largest trade show dedicated to digital advertising, digital marketing, and digital retail. It’s not a full time job or anything – it’s kind of like being appointed a jury head at an award show. I’ll work with the advisory board (some of Canada’s brightest digital minds) to design and deliver a relevant learning experience for all the attendees and participants.

Admittedly, I haven’t attended a ton of trade shows but I know MY business and we need this one badly. Here’s why:

Talk has to be followed by action.

Trust me, I know how valuable conferences are. Hell, I speak at a ton of them and know critical they are. They allow us to  pause. They allow us to think. They allow us to hear unique perspectives, brilliant case studies, and people we would never get access to. They can shape our thinking, confirm our thinking, or point out that we really haven’t been thinking.

At some point, though, that talking has to translate into action.

Did someone convince you that digital signage is critical to retail success? Great. Now get off your butt and buy some. Wondering what mobile advertising platform you should use? Talk to all of them in one place and get on with it.

The St. Lawrence Market for Innovation

Sure, the peameal bacon sandwiches and loud vocal jarring between vendors is great but what I like most about the St. Lawrence market is that everything is under one roof.

The web is a market itself but when you want to actually meet people, demo a product, negotiate a price, or show off your stuff, you need to visit a technology market every once in a while. And when all the important players have set up shop at that market, it’s even more valuable.

We are better business professionals when we talk and listen. But we’re best when we turn all those those conversations into action.

See it. Hear it. Demo it. Feel it. Play with it. Compare it. Order it. Buy it. And most of all, get on with it.

I look forward to working with the great people running Dx3 Canada as well as the brilliant Advisory Board. Hope to see you there.

Dx3 Canada takes place January, 2012.

Speaking of talking, I’ll be hosting the Art of Leadership in Toronto on June 6th and the Art of Marketing in Vancouver on June 9th. Brilliant speakers, relevant content, and fun all around.

Has Sid Lee sold out?

Image representing Dell as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I was fortunate enough to work on the Dell account for a few years. It’s a tough business. Or at least it was back then. The clients were really nice and respectful and I thoroughly enjoyed working and collaborating with them. But it was tough. With a culture that examines advertising performance almost hourly, Dell’s approach to advertising has historically been transactional in nature.

Remember the headline, “Double your memory. Double your hard drive.”? I wrote that. And about 400 more just like it. There was direct response print, FSIs, catalogues, and a little bit of radio. Not really glamourous, trips to the podium kind of stuff but we certainly added a ton of value to their business and I’m kinda proud that I played a miniscule role in their ascension. While we can all debate whether their approach is best, it certainly is a valid one given their success.

When I heard that Sid Lee won a piece of the worldwide Dell business, my first reaction was “Good for them.” I’m always happy when Canadian agencies do well on the global stage and I think it makes the rest of us better. But the more I thought about it, well… the more I had to think about it.

Sid Lee’s win wasn’t an obvious one.

Sid Lee has been taking a unique approach to advertising for the past few years by integrating architecture, retail design, urban planning, and experiential activities into brand communications. They were recently named Agency of the Year by Marketing Magazine and they’re about to launch the one of the largest global advertising campaigns that Adidas has ever done. Impressive.

But Dell?

Normally, creative hot shops avoid accounts like Dell, afraid that the agency reputation will suffer when the work falls well below the creative bar they’ve established. They continue to fight the good fight, focus on awards, maintain their standards and take on a “Call us, we won’t call you.” approach to new business. Meanwhile, the rest of us sit back and wait for the “jump the shark” moment when they take on a client that is more about the financial rewards than the industry awards.

Well, at the height of their creative reputation, Sid Lee has done the exact opposite of what most of us expected them to.
And hear me now: Sid Lee has NOT sold out. They’ve matured.

Whenever an award winning creative’s ego gets too big, I want to point to Dell and say, “Oh, you think you’re good, huh? Trying making THAT advertising brilliant.”

Well, Instead of whining about the work, Sid Lee put up their hand to try and make it better. And I’m curious to see what they’ll do with it. Congrats to Dell for going beyond the usual suspects to choose Sid Lee and Arnold (another shop with a great creative reputation) for its two new assignments as well.

With offices in Amsterdam, Paris, Toronto and Montreal, Sid Lee isn’t content to do edgy work for a small set of clients. I think they want to play with the big kids. They want to make money. They want to grow.

Some may call that selling out. I call it success and wish them luck as they strive for it.

The Art of Learning at the Art of Marketing.

Image of Wine Library TV's Gary Vaynerchuk.

Image via Wikipedia

Something that keeps coming up in consumer research is what we call, “The State of O”. Overworked. Overtired. Overburdened. Over-connected. There’s a lot going on in our lives and it feels like we can’t jam anything else into our busy schedules.

But we have to.

If we don’t occasionally step back, take a breath and actually think about things, we run the risk of being almost exclusively reactive. That’s not good for our brands, our companies, or our careers. That’s what I love about the Art of Marketing. (Full disclosure: I’m hosting Monday’s event in Toronto). It gives smart professionals a chance to hear from some of the industry’s most forward thinking individuals.

This time, you’ll hear from:

Guy Kawasaki
Jeffrey Hayzlett
Gary Vaynerchuk
Dr. Sheena Iyengar
Avinash Kaushik

I’ve shared the stage with Gary and Avinash before and they’re both incredibly gifted speakers. I’m really looking forward to meeting and hearing the rest. I have 3 tickets to give away to Monday’s event. Here’s all you have to do:

Place a comment below. I’ll get someone else to pick random numbers and give those individual the tickets. Contest ends at 4pm today.