I met Jon while interviewing for the role of CMO of the Emirate of Dubai. In this interview we talked about his path to being the chief marketer for the country of Canada. Tomorrow we cover details on how destination marketing differs from more traditional “company marketing”
Edward: My guest today is Jon Mamela. Today, we covered Jon’s path to CMO. Procter & Gamble, Fairmount, Four Seasons, Destination Canada. Jon is now CMO of Destination Toronto, the partnership that’s focused on growing tourism in the greater Toronto area. I’m excited to have this conversation and where it’s going to go today.
Jon, you were Director of Customer Experience at Four Seasons when you got the CMO role for Destination Canada. How did you get that job from where you were?
Jon: The opportunity at Destination Canada presented itself through actually a bit of my past when I was prior to working at Four Seasons, I was with Travel Alberta. An organization who worked closely with Destination Canada at the time. I got to know the National Tourism Group through collaboration, partnership, co-investment in marketing, got to know the leadership and on my time at Destination Alberta, leaving over to go to Four Seasons, I received a call about 2, 2 ½ years into my role at Four Seasons. From then, at the time, the CMO who is ascending into taking an interim CEO responsibility and at the same time they had another individual leave and opened it up as an opportunity to the marketing department and was approached to interview.
The opportunity to take and put on the Team Canada Sweater was intriguing enough to do something. You normally don’t get too many chances in a lifetime to market an entire country. This enthusiasm, I put my name and the hat, went to the process and was successful in landing the role.
Edward: You had destination marketing experience before that role, but in the meantime, you had built out expertise in more end of the funnel even retention marketing. That end of the funnel retention marketing experience at Four Seasons, was that considered valuable or were they really hiring you based on your Alberta experience?
Jon: I think a bit of both. I would say that the opportunity with which I had to work in Destination Canada had responsibilities on both ends. In terms of the experience with Destination, our Travel Alberta which was important for appreciating and understanding the industry and the industry dynamics and that upper funnel engagements and approach and strategies. But at the same time, with which the responsibilities and the work that we did at Destination Canada and is still being done, there is lower funnel activity going on and that’s working with the trade channels and the conversion channels with which where the path leads a customer to make an actual booking is a very important relationship to hold with the likes of travel agencies, tour operators, OCAs and the like.
Having that experience at a hotel side and appreciating that dynamic in mixing and melding the two was invaluable in the time spent at Destination Canada. A bit of both.
Edward: Was there any skill you were missing you took that CMO role that you had to develop after you’re there?
Jon: Yeah. The biggest skill or the opportunity to grow into was the dynamic of when representing a country as large as Canada and complex as it is, the number of partners that we were bringing into the fold to help coinvest and help us go to market was very key. I would say a skill to build was the relationship building and the importance of staying in touch and engaging and building the business case as to why a destination like where I’m now in Toronto to Alberta to Ontario, British Columbia, Vancouver. Why would they come on and market with Destination Canada when they themselves have their own independent brand, they have their own focus strategy, where and how do we add complementary value.
The building the business case and building consensus. Clearly having learned a little bit of that at the hotel level and working at a brand level in the hospitality industry, you’re doing similar commitment behind building commitment with hotels under your management. But a little bit different when these are pretty independent organizations. With different boards and different mandates. That skill of building the business case to bring everyone in together and operating as Team Canada was something that I would say I didn’t have a great deal, a little bit of exposure in Alberta. But during the course of my time was built over my tenure.
Edward: Jon, I want to go back to the path that got you there. You grew up in Canada but you chose to go to college in the United States. Someone who also grew up in Canada, I know that’s fairly unusual. How did you come to that decision?
Jon: It was a pursuit of my interest in playing sports that took me to the United States and there are certainly many Canadian athletes in the US university and college in the CWA system. The opportunity to take my passion playing soccer alongside with the opportunity to go to university took me down to the US. At the time too, when playing soccer while schooling maybe is not as popular as playing hockey in Canada as it still is today. But soccer certainly has grown in popularity. But the opportunity to broaden my exposure to the world, so to speak, in the early ‘90s, getting down to the US, playing on a team of international teammates from around the globe and pursuing my education at the same time got me down to the US at the time when it wasn’t too popular thing to do. But invaluable as it led me to continue on my education and to my MBA and then on to Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati.
Edward: That’s my next question, having done that, you decided to stay in Canada, you went to University of Toronto, how do you think your career path would’ve been different?
Jon: That’s a very good question though. Looking back at it in terms of the interesting and if everyone looking back at their career looks at what doors opened at what points in time and who you meet in the circumstances of it. I don’t anticipate I would probably have a breath of career maybe in terms of the companies I would’ve worked for necessarily. Not that P&G isn’t here in Canada. Clearly my career took me back to Canada working with the hospitality and tourism industry where I am today for a great extent of it. But I don’t know if the same doors would’ve maybe been made available to me. At the same time, a door can open but you have to be able to make an entrance and make an impact at the same time when it comes to your career and working through past engagements and relationships in your network and the successes you’ve had.
I don’t know if I’d be where I am today just based on the nature of where I may have studied and where that would’ve lent to it. To our question, something tells me there could’ve been [...] that I could have landed in a similar path and career. But it’s probably not, I would probably maybe find myself if either maybe in a banking industry, which is pretty financial services which is pretty significant here in Toronto. Or I had stayed out west, maybe in the agricultural sector or something, who knows where it’s quite common.
I look back at it and just bewildered a little bit and turns out things always play themselves out when you take a look back at what’s been across your desk and what passions and enthusiasm you have and what connections can lead you to.
Edward: You started your career at Procter & Gamble. In 1996, you were Brand Manager for Digital Marketing. This was back before even people were even calling it digital marketing. What did you guys call digital marketing back then?
Jon: Interactive. P&G Interactive was the group name.
Edward: So you’re Brand Manager for Interactive Marketing. What were the big problems you were trying to solve back then?
Jon: On the group, I had a particular focus on the consumer market intelligence side of the group’s focus and working closely with everybody in the small team that we were. It was an interesting time in the sense that we were looking at determining with this advent at this channel what would be the migration and the migration strategy to bring brands under the P&G umbrella into those channels and how do we effectively show as this was always being taunted then, their flaunted story that it was the most measurable channel, you can get the ROI, it’s so much better than anything else you could.
The degree of which P&G measures and monitors investment in spend for media and programs is extensive and well documented within the organization. This was an improving ground. We considered it the next evolution in step of the new media channel. Like going from print to radio, to radio into television, and to television to internet. This was a means with which we were showcasing the incremental value that was going to be enabled by two way conversations with customers, the building of databases. Unlike we would’ve been able to build before, the opportunity for different forms of contents, trying to determine the ways with which traditional means of marketing and selling CBG based products was going to work in the ad model spaces and channels that were options that were available then.
It was pretty broad. It was really making the compelling case that we needed to be there and it wasn’t just an environment for new startups and the like be a technology based startups or content plays that a package goods company could capitalize on the creativity that was permitted. The data was now at a level that we didn’t have direct access to before and the means with which the measurement was lining up to similar measures where we would test advertising efficacy all the way through close model purchasing systems that we were very ahead of our time back then.
Edward: Part of what you’re responsible is for is attribution. How did you do attribution back then? Attribution today is hard enough. Back then I imagine the tools you had to work with were pretty limited.
Jon: They were. Attribution primarily done with the means with which we succeeded in it in a very interesting pilot test with a variety of technology players and data panel providers. Working with the legs of AC Nielsen. At the time, there was just starting to become the means with which you could create internet panels which were then cookied or tagged in terms of being able to witness, monitor your web browsing behavior way back then.
A means with which we could close the loop in terms of the investment and spend of the marketing and insurances that in splitting a shop per panel who committed to participate in various research and split that panel in a maybe fashion that allowed us to expose by being able to serve ads to one audience versus another and watch exactly also what they were—these same panels used by Nielsen at the time—would come home and just scan their groceries. We’re doing so in terms of being able to then serve that grocery buying data off their receipts and the like.
We had a means with which a central foreplayers, the advertiser, the shopper in panel, the ad serving media company, and the publishers got together in the means with which we effectively created an online digital close environment for the degree with which we’d be able to adjust spend, expose certain audiences to certain communication messaging and then watch what their behavior was by virtue of what they were scanning and bringing home back from the grocery shopping bag.
Edward: That’s amazing. I was going to say, I feel like now, so much of attribution is based on last touch attribution. I push companies to do more and more randomized control trials. You guys are effectively doing a randomized control trial back in 1996 to measure the effectiveness. Clicks didn’t even factor into it. It was a matter of hey, did these guys actually buy more or did they not? And then you just assume that whatever impact you had on that panel was broadly applicable and then just rolled it out more broad.
Jon: Correct, yeah. Clearly with the modeling on any other means of incremental exposure to other advertising was also considered and factored in, correct.
Edward: P&G tries to keep people around for life. That’s their motto. But you left in 2001. Why did you leave?
Jon: Procter & Gamble, a lot of people make that decision early on in their careers to commit to an outstanding career that can be provided by the organization or people leave at that point of the five year mark and around that five year mark in many instances. For me, it was really taking a hard look where my passion was with the work we were doing in the interactive space. The group itself was, the P&G interactive group, we had a mandate that the need and necessity of that functioning unit inside as an internal consulting group for the brands didn’t need and hopefully it wouldn’t have to exist after about five years that the brands and the organization would and by the growth of the internet was going to make us obsolete and that the need of group, we would just migrate back into other line function opportunities.
I took a look around and at the time, there was the pre internet bubble and at that point a lot of P&G expertise and brand marketing and other functions were leaving to go to Silicon Valley and other parts of the country. Taking a look at what my colleagues were going to and where I was looking to expand my opportunities and my passion of what doing this versus getting on to a brand was a decision of taking a risk of exploring options outside the business.
Unlike P&G-ers being recruited directly to something else, I took the opportunity into parting the organization to assess multiple options to really appreciate whether this was an environment and a place that I was moving into the internet space was going to be something I was truly enthusiastic as much as I was in Procter & Gamble. Inside P&G, the opportunity to experiment, you’re the biggest fish clearly inside of an environment, in terms of the media spend, you’re sought after by so many publishers and so many technology brands wanting to prove their business case on the benefit of what they could serve P&G as a client, and the like.
But when you leave, you’re pretty independent. It was a big change. But it was a risk that paid off ultimately in an interesting way. For me, it was pursuing what I thought was going to be of a long term career in the internet space itself.
Edward: Now, I also heard that you met someone on an airplane.
Jon: Yeah. That’s part of the continuing part of the story in terms of speaking to the doors that opened, so to speak, although we didn’t want to open the door in the airplane at least while in the air. But the opportunity when I left Procter & Gamble and just doing independent work with various brands that I had got to know and organizations, a conversation on an airplane led to a path in a career shift and pivot to the hospitality, tours, and travel space. That just simply occurred by being, you always say, ignore your neighbor on your plane. You don’t want to be the Joe talker and bothering anybody, and it was mutual respect, we hardly chatted much at all in a flight at the time from Toronto to Denver. But having a mutual common interest in sports.
The individual, he was reading the sports pages. The Toronto Newspaper at the time. I struck a brief conversation, it was near playoff time. Through that short conversation, a quick why you’re flying, where are you coming from, led to a love to stay in touch should be back in Toronto and led to an introduction into Fairmont Hotels. Which I didn’t appreciate knowing a lot about even though we’re Toronto based at the time during the merger at a buy out that they were in the midst of. But it led to a great career and a start in hospitality.
Had I not struck up a conversation, I was sitting next to this fellow, I would not be where I am today.
Edward: You hear these stories from time to time about a chance meeting on an airplane leads to something. I never talk to the person sitting next to me. Am I making a mistake? How do you make stuff like this happen?
Jon: As I said, I wouldn’t be the guy that you’d be like, my gosh, tell this guy to shut up and pay attention. I don’t know. It was one of those you don't know in terms of where conversations can take you. The enthusiasm to have and have them, being open to wherever it goes and a lot of them don’t lead to anything other than just being cordial and striking up a discussion. But if you don’t try, you don’t know. You’ll neve realize what could be on the other side of it. I’m not suggesting to everybody to say that’s the secret sauce to driving your career forward. But it was something that worked out at that point in time.
Again, it wasn’t from a conversation of here’s a job. It was clearly the opportunity of introduction that led to further discussion of then let’s your process of engaging with the VP of Marketing at the time for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and the opening they had that my background was a suitable fit. The opportunity presented itself. I would just only encourage when you can strike up a conversation with what might be a stranger or someone whom you might only know by a third degree connection on LinkedIn to where it could lead. You’ll just never know. You just need to be pretty open to it.
Edward: Jon, at Fairmont, you oversaw loyalty. Fairmont’s loyalty program is very different from what people might be familiar with, at say Marriott or SPG. Why was it so different? What were guys thinking?
Jon: Yeah. Certainly, it’s a different structure. Fairmont as a brand still exists, it’s now woven underneath Accor, which is a larger global hotel, hospitality player based out of Paris. But back when I was with Fairmont as an independent company and a brand, it at the time, as I alluded earlier it was an interesting point and its history, Canadian Pacific Hotels had acquired Fairmont Hotels out in the United States along with Princess Hotels in terms of an acquisition. The amalgamation of those three brands led to, at that point, of going forward, three separate programs that were coming in that each hotel brand had a loyalty based program functioned and ran differently. They’re just similar to what the industry had been on a points basis, of a spend, receive X points and the currency and through redemption of that currency was with which the benefits primarily are realized.
Fairmont recognized at the time that this expansion, this opportunity was going to present itself with a unique marketing challenge of which did not sit with a lot of cash on hand to be out there competing with the likes of Marriott, Hilton Heights of the world and that the opportunity to build and engage with customer directly through means of the loyalty initiative was going to be one that which we could do more smartly in terms of the cost model behind it. But at the same time count on the customer to be the voice of the brand and to engage others to speak about the experience they had at the Fairmont.
The avenue we went which was purely based on annulating with the luxury brands, most luxury brands were doing in terms of offering personalized service and attention, doing it at scale, doing it in very large hotels which was a new proposition because we had large room properties versus most property brands or smaller room counts. But doing it with that attention of personal benefit and recognizing that you, Edward, are the same Edward going to multiple properties under the same banner and building upon the knowledge built and understood by one property to parlay that into ways with which we could customize your experience going forward.
That proposition of personalized attention enhanced in stay benefits that we launched in various ways and capacities in partnership with a lot of other brands that wanted to get in front of an affluent customer led to a unique positioning in the market that was welcomed once people understood it was in the program. Clearly, everyone’s comparison to what the industry standard was or what I was getting at Marriott or as I said, a Westin at the time, part of their merger, Hilton and the like. We really found to our customers that it was more meaningful to know who you were, how important you are to our business, and how we personalize your experience with what was most meaningful to you. And not simply just reward you with a cash currency that was sitting as a liability to the hotel company and was looking like everyone else’s programs primarily.
Edward: Jon, what were the biggest failure points in your career? Where did things not go as expected?
Jon: That’s a great question. I don’t think anyone asked that one of me before. I’ll answer from the perspective of maybe first career path and then secondarily maybe from a progress in terms of a success of the work that has led with many successful and talented people. From a career path standpoint, I would say maybe, I’m not going to look at it as a failure, but I look at it as maybe an opportunity. You give up opportunities as much as you pursue and take others. Again, I don’t classify it as a failure, but I do undertake and look back had I stayed in some of the organizations a little bit longer as to where my career would have progressed inside those organizations. Be at Procter & Gamble as we talked earlier, but leaving around that five year mark or sticking around with Four Seasons or a Fairmont longer than I had in the past and building up my career in that capacity.
But I was always leaned in and most attracted to the opportunity of additional growth and responsibility and broadening and enhancing skills. I always felt maybe the accelerator to get that outcome was through a move ultimately. But you can take a look back and see some of my colleges were still with those organizations doing very well and do wonder a little bit.
Classification as a failure, maybe not so much. But opportunity in terms of one given up to pursue another. On the side of that question to the pursuit of what may not have occurred in terms of the production or the delivery of work and success or failure in the business. I look at that one too and I’m a little bit struggling to say I would lean on something, I’m not suggesting by any means perfect hit the homerun every time I’m up to batting. Maybe I always challenge myself with expediency which the work that I’m leading is getting out the door on behalf of the organizations trying to be faster and more nimble and the like.
I look back at the level of accomplishment of maybe not being as either as much as I anticipated we could’ve gotten to or at means with which the work itself was either passing the baton at some point on to others to carry on after I left. But I don’t look at it particularly as a significant failure. But I have to give that one more thought. It’s a great question. I’m sure if I spend more time at it I’d come up with something for you.
Edward: Jon, what are your productivity tricks? What do you do to be productive that most people don’t do?
Jon: One that I find in terms of the amount of information I like to peruse, and keep up to date and read. I have a pretty consistent means with which I organize and file information and a system in terms of the devices and where I hold stuff so that it’s not scattered in terms of multiple devices and content being placed in multiple places. I go through a pretty regimented approach in terms of unifying nomenclature and filing systems, so to speak, on multiple platforms from Evernote to Google Drive and others that I use.
I find that means of quick access and application of something I’ll be there I’ve read in the past. Bookmark red, taking personal notes to be able to ease up access in finding and applying it on a regular database would certainly be a big part of what I find that helps me personally on my productivity side of things. And that being diligent in doing so on that front. Which takes a little bit of additional time because I appreciate the business of everyday life to everything from the general environment to recall something. I read something somewhere, I’ve done something somewhere.
I definitely capitalize on the means while trying to have great consistency and where I put anything I learn, anything I observe, anything I listen to in a pretty consistent fashion for easy retrieval. I try to remember it and apply it would certainly be one of the big things I find from my productivity hack, I guess, if you call it that.
Edward: Jon, this has been great. We’re going to pick this up tomorrow with a dive into Destination Marketing.
Jon: Great. Thank you, Edward.