Search Interviews:

Jeremy Weisz  13:46 

So the customer journey gap is also built into the physical space. So like if they’re moving across, they can go well, it kind of follows a logical — what I’m gonna go stomach all over the place, right? And so it’s like, oh, here’s the appetizers and goes towards, like, where you should be going in the order of the meal type of thing.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  14:08 

Yes, absolutely. And more importantly, when you look at the physical and digital transformation happening in the marketplace, when we did our seamless study for the banking industry, what we identified is that digital transformation actually ends at the retail door. It doesn’t continue seamlessly into the physical environment. And so most organizations, retailers and financial institutions in the service industry have really put a lot of emphasis, accelerated by COVID had their digital transformation. But they stopped at the door. Right? And the reality is sales happen at retail. So enabling and empowering the staff to have the right information at their fingertips about their customers, and their customer preferences was missing and this is what we’re driving here for M&M It’s making that seamless experience from online to pick up at the store. And we did store pickup way before COVID. And so they were well prepared during the pandemic to meet the needs of their customers. But that’s because they had a seamless experience. And so when you think of grocery shopping, is it seamless? On your mobile device, when you’ve selected the items that you plan for the week replenishment and also for meal solutions, is that connected to finding those products in the store? No. Right? The reality is that they’re separate. Retail, you think a supermarket, their apps are really focused on either online, delivered to the home or pick up at the store, or self-serve yourself at the retail, there’s a disconnect between those. And I think retailers who connect those two elements are going to succeed because that’s the problem that customers are faced with. It’s this kind of seamless experience that connects everything together from there. And we talked about that with the banking industry. And we feel, you’ve done a really good job of driving transactions and making that experience seamless. But how’s that tied to advice? How does that drive financial advice, reducing the anxiety of customers who are banking with you? And the answer is very little. And that’s the unfortunate thing. It doesn’t happen in the branch. It’s a product-driven, focused, engagement model that financial institutions have. And that’s where they’re missing the boat. That’s where the big opportunity is. And that’s where the ThinkBlink process comes into mind. What are those unmet needs? And how do we deliver it from a physical and digital experience? And actually human experience, the role of the staff?

Jeremy Weisz  16:53 

Yeah, and I want you to walk through what you did with Regions Bank. I mean, I want to just emphasize this process applies to any industry, like, any industry, I would think, wants to understand the customer journey wants to decrease friction points in that journey and everything like that. So if someone’s listening like, well, I’m not a supermarket. Well, it doesn’t matter. Right. What did you do with Regions? How did this process apply to Regions?

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  17:22 

Yeah, before I jump into Regions, great point you bring up so we’re the agency of record for PepsiCo for Kraft for Nestle healthcare brand. Somebody asked us, what is your position and value that you bring? And so we deal with, you know, corporations in the rebranding of retailers in the rebranding banks and also CPG consumer package brands, in our kind of place that we play is when change is required transformation is required. How do we manage that effectively? And so in the case of regions, they’re the largest regional financial institution, they are looking at expanding into non-regional markets, markets, where Regions brand doesn’t, isn’t known or isn’t established. And to do that, we really need to create an environment we call the project beacon, where the branch would stand out, we didn’t need as many locations, because we created these destination locations for the financial institution with large drive-throughs. And the combination of wealth and conventional banking in one center. And this is an example this is a branch in St. Louis, this is a market where they were penetrating. And so we developed for them a defensive strategy, entering new markets and a defensive strategy protecting the markets they have. And part of that exercise is the fizzy digital looking at what’s the newest technology and ATMs and ITM some work? Where do those technologies play in the customer journey? And then how do we convert the kind of the journey from a transaction-focused journey into one that’s more help and advice? How do we empower these CSRS consumer representative agents into Universal bankers? And then what’s the role of digital? How do we make it tetherless? How do we break down those barriers? where the customer is willing to sit down and have a conversation? How do we eliminate the queue lines, where customers feel comfortable, they know where they are in the queue, but they’re comfortable reading information about the company or services because we know through research, that when customers are sitting down, they’re more apt to read information about the organization. And so that was the entire journey. They’ve been transforming their branch network. We did this about seven years ago. And we developed a channel strategy we looked at, flagship branches, suburban branches, drive-thru branches, self-serve branches, where there’s no tellers And then micro branches, these are small community branches in line on a high street location. So giving them the toolkit that allow them to deliver those experiences consistently across all of those moments of truthfulness for their customers.

Jeremy Weisz  20:16 

JP, when we first got, we’re just talking through a few points, and how have you been able to remain relevant? Right, looking back a couple of decades ago, and I think I had Michael Gerber on, and I forgot what the Small Business stats are, but most don’t last a year or five years, like the percentage has greatly decrease, and you’ve been at it for a couple of decades. How have you been able? What were some of the evolutionary things you had to put in place to remain relevant?

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  20:51 

Well, first thing is we normally do we a trend analysis for our clients, but we do one for our company. So every year we review, what are the needs that our clients have that are not being delivered by their other partners? I use PepsiCo, as an example. We started the relationship on the Tropicana business we’ve evolved from Tropicana to there is a record for all the packaging on all the brands, both food and beverage. And then we saw an opportunity to create life, a digital life for their brands. So we got hired to develop their website for Tropicana and Motel You Water. And then they realized that we have this thing called think, which is strategic and positioning. And so we got involved in a developing positioning program for some other brands. And we also run their innovation fair, who says we have capabilities to create these built environments, these physical experiences? So why don’t you apply those principles to our annual innovation fair that we have that they host every year? And so it’s about doing an assessment of where are those needs that our clients, and challenges our clients are having. And a lot of those insights come from our research, we do like we did a research for one of our clients in the CPG brand on the circle economy recycling, we did a big study for our CPG clients on rewards with the impact rewards on purchase behavior. For banks, and retailers, we’ve done a lot of work on digital, the effectiveness of digital signage employee engagement, training, to seamless experience. And so these studies that we do for our clients in the industry are also studies that we look at where are those unmet needs that we can fill within our capability, range of capabilities that we can fill those needs. And that’s kept us relevant. We’ve been doing, Jeremy, we launched podcast, called Design Lounge 20 years ago, when people didn’t even know what a podcast was, you talked about our SLD website, we were one of the first firms in Canada, in our industry to have a website, people said, why would you want a website? What would you use the website for? And I said, it’s all about creating relevance and visibility in the marketplace. And you’re right, and we get approached, you know, the most recent was $20,000 for domain name not as much more than, than the dollars.

Jeremy Weisz  23:28 

For sure. Talk about how you design these studies, right? You’re doing them for your clients, you’re doing for yourself, what’s the method that goes behind actually coming out with the study?

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  23:39 

Yeah, so we sit down with the client, we look at what, based on that we map out the journey of the project, we identify the key insight, and then we do a discovery. And we look at what information is available for us to be able to deliver that experience, that transformational experience. And very often there’ll be gaps in the information, they don’t have clear personas for their brand. They don’t have a clearly defined segmentation, or maybe the segmentation was done 20 years or 15 years ago, no longer relevant. And so we identify, here’s the information we need, here’s the gap. And then here are some of the tools and so depending on the budget, and the level of risk, we lie there, we have tools internally that we use, we have access to half a billion consumer respondents globally will also use companies like hot specs, which we’ve been working with them for the last 25 years. They invented the emotional research, they built tools to understand the motive factors driving consumer behavior, which lines up with our brand. And so we’ll work with the client base on budget, the level of risk, what kind of inside tools for the bank in China, you shine bank where We were building a branch of the future, which was radically different than what was out in the marketplace, we convinced the client to do neuroscience and virtual reality. And so, about a month before the branch opened, we brought 20 bank customers into a cafe. And we used virtual reality goggles, and neuroscience caps. And we asked them to go through the journey of that branch experience, evaluate where there could be some friction points, or some anxiety points. And actually, we then took them because the branch was no fun, but it was complete, we took them through the physical branch with the cap on but without the goggles, and then we correlated the same journeys, first validate the findings and invalidate the technology. And we found out there was only a 10% difference in the variance between the real world and the virtual world. And variances really resulted in smaller rooms where they could navigate around the desk that created those mental barriers that they didn’t have that issue in the real world. But other than that, great response. So again, that’s your question, Jeremy, we take a look at what are the gaps in the insights. And those insights are also to help drive and eliminate biases, most clients compete with a challenge. And they already have in their mind what they think the solution is. And it may be the right solution. Very often it isn’t. And so our role using Insights is the debunk some of these biases. So we get them on the right journey. The case of Dairy Queen, DQ Grill and Chill. Their bias was they thought developing a better burger experience similar to Burger King, that they would win at the food. When consumers thought of Dairy Queen, they never thought of them as food, they were like 21st on the line, when it comes to purchase decision for food, we had to move them to number one or two or three. So we did study where we evaluated the Burger King like and about five other concepts, and one of them was grill and chill and grill and chill won. And using those insights, we were able to educate the franchisees that the Burger King knockoff wasn’t going to get them to where they need to be but the Grill and Chill did. And that proved us to be 100%, right? We tripled their sales, and they’ve been growing every year for the last 17 years in a category has been declining. So that’s the power of insights. And it’s the power of aligning everyone’s thinking to one direction.

Jeremy Weisz  27:35 

I want to talk about change management for a second. And we were discussing it. And making the change, first you’re doing discovery, now it’s the execution and not only execution in one, but across all of these places. How do you have that like, in the Dairy Queen example, actually, or in the bank example, this advice and the actual process has to be put out across all of the people and the branches?

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  28:09 

Yeah, so we did a big study in 2019, called Fizzy Digital, for the banking and then one for the retail, one for healthcare. And what we found out is major transformational programs typically are run by one department, maybe it’s marketing, maybe its operations, maybe it’s facilities. And the challenge with that is that, this siloed approach to transformation. This is their project, it’s not our project, we’re tagging along to their project. And when you start having that language internally, that is their project, it’s the marketing project or the operations project, you’re going to create some resistance internally, that transformation because transformation means risk, it means change. Why do I need to change my processes for marketing? Or why should I change my policies for human resources? Or why would I change my sales choreography, because the facility changed? What’s in it for me. Now, although we think altruistic about organizations, in reality, most organizations are very siloed-driven. So the task is to create a task force that brings all of these diverse individuals into one room, and to create a journey that allows input along the entire process by all these stakeholders. So I always say the ultimate goal of transformation is no longer idea. And it’s no longer the idea of the champion department that brought us in. It’s the idea of the organization that everyone had to say that this is going to move the entire organization, not just a department, and that’s where transformation is successful. Where it fails, is either it’s top-down driven, we’re going to do it this way, my way, or that it’s aligned to a single group within your organization, where other people are involved in advice, but they don’t have a stake. And then finally, what gets measured gets done, what gets rewarded gets repeated. So one of the key things we do at the front end of this is identified, the key metrics are going to drive transformation. We call that the trust ladder, we identify during this transformation that is done in steps, what are the metrics we need to measure that allows us to move to the next level of change. And those metrics across the entire organization, NPS scores, employee engagement, customer engagement, margin, contribution, sales, increase visibility in the marketplace, social engagement, all of these things play an important role in taking the brand to the next level of transformation. And we make those transformations into steps. It’s not one big step like JC Penney did. They lost the franchise lost their customers, we do them in incremental steps towards a final vision.

Jeremy Weisz  31:08 

For your organization, how do you get everyone working and rowing in the same direction? What are the things you do?

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  31:16 

Well, we have four pillars, one of our pillars is inclusive. It’s been there since the beginning of the company. And so if you came into our studio, you would see that we intersperse account people with creative environmental designer that we call branded environment designers, visual designers, graphic designers, strategists, they’re all mingled together. And it’s — we put teams together on a project. And we solicit, if during a brainstorming session, we solicit input from everyone from the accounting department, to the strategy team, to the creative team to the account team. There’s no bad idea. And there’s no ownership of where those ideas need to come. And I think having that inclusive culture allows for diverse points of view. And I will say one of the other factors of failed transformation is that the organization didn’t include diverse points of view, they’ve kind of filtered people who believe in the same thing, which is wrong, you need some challengers in those ideas, to kind of set the agenda in the right direction is good to have people against what you’re trying to do so that you can understand what is driving those challenges so that you can find out, do we need to do a course correction? Or do we need to do a better selling job of the benefits of what we’re trying to do? And so internally, it’s inclusive.

Jeremy Weisz  32:46 

JP, let’s go back to the beginning, when you first started this, right, what were some of the client milestones right now? You work with huge brands? Right? What was it like in the beginning? What point did you have your first big breakthrough client?

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  33:02 

That’s a great — Jeremy, that’s a great question. So the vision was always to be a global agency. So we work in — we’ve done work in about 40 countries. But we didn’t have a vehicle or a client that allowed us and I still remember, it was my birthday, August 18. About 35 years ago, just at the beginning of that company, Kodak came to us and they told us they are launching mini labs. And you know, when our photo labs, you remember those. And they want us to do the branding. And I remember, my cloud was Ted Knight, he was head of promotion, said Ted, there’s a bigger opportunity here, why don’t we brand the experience called Image center? And why don’t we license the right to use Kodak brand equity in return for selling 80% to 90% Kodak products. He says that’s a brilliant idea. So we pitched the idea to the head office in Canada. And they liked the idea and the hardest to come up with some concept so that we could then pitch Eastman Kodak on developing that program. And they slammed and they bought in on the concept by some member of the opening of the Marriott Hotel This is quoting had a major conference, we built a prototype of the aquatic image center at the conference. And we launched the program and we did 180 stores in the US we did throughout Latin America. We did cut a commit centers we did work in Asia for them. We were about to open stores in Russia. And obviously Canada we did 600 stores in that journey. And so that allowed us to get on that kind of an intranet or the flavor for international work that just continued from there.

Jeremy Weisz  34:51 

So Kodak was a pivotal one. Yes, talk on the hiring side. Right? That happens to an agency. It’s amazing. But now there needs to be, you’re smiling because you know what I’m gonna say, that has to come with people too and help release this talk about how do you manage? Bringing on a big client with the company and hiring?

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  35:17 

Yeah, so I think the first thing, Jeremy that, in my career, my journey, I think a lot of the culture of the company and kind of the vision of the company is driven by the founder. So I’m constantly always trying to improve myself, I’m a feverish book reader. And when I interviewed people, the first question I asked them, what’s the most compelling book you’ve read in your life? What book are you reading today? To me, it’s a bellwether of art, are you someone who has appetite for growth? Having said that, we have, I would say, 70% of the people in our company have been with us for over 10 years. I have, I’d say 10 people who have been with me for 25 years. And they stick with us, because we provide them with a diversity one day they’re working on a bank in China, the next day, they may be working on an immersive experience in New York. It could be working the phone, we kind of packaging project, or a new identity program. And creative people like change, they like different challenges. They don’t like doing the same job over and over again. And that’s what we bring to the table. But we also look at, what is the ask from the client who’s the most qualified from a standpoint of fit for that client’s tasks, and then we’ll look at our team and assign those individuals. But the reality is from a strategy side, and it’s the same team working on strategy, and why that’s important is, I call it learned behavior, the more we can learn from different projects and different client challenges, the richer that library of execution becomes or that library of strategic insight comes. And that’s really what we focus on.

Jeremy Weisz  37:01 

What were some of the key positions you had to put in place that you had to hire for, like early on, I imagine it was a few people. What were some of the key positions you put in place throughout the years?

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  37:13 

I think the two critical positions. One was a CFO. I spent my time in meetings, presenting, strategizing, traveling, I need someone who’s going to watch the pennies, right? And most companies fail because their cash flow, it’s not because their sales are not there, because their cash flow is terrible, right? So I wanted the CFO to, you know, hold me accountable. Tell me, no one is appropriate and tell me yes, one is appropriate. So that was a key hire. And I made that person, a shoulder in our company, or a principal in our company, the other ones to have a head of creative that bridges all of our disciplines. So that we can break down the silos, the worst thing I could do is have a VP of brand environment a VP of Digital a VP of graphics, a VP of strategy, but nothing linking them together and ensuring they work together. And so Richard joined our company 25 years ago, and I made him EVP of creative and innovation in our company, and he’s also principal in that company. Those are the two critical hires. And then obviously, as we evolved, we hired somebody for digital a long time ago and continued to hire for that category. We have some brilliant people, both technology scientists, and digital content. And then obviously, strategy, if I look back, we were always a strategy-first agency. But I look back 15 years ago, 20 years ago, I was running strategy. And I had the account team helping me but I was leading that now we have an entire strategy team.

Jeremy Weisz  39:04 

Talk about the CFO for a second as an example. What’s your thought on hiring within or looking outside? I know some people like to cultivate people and they’re moving them up as opposed to bringing someone in from the outside into that position.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  39:22 

Well, we didn’t have anybody. Well, first of all the role that was there, the young lady that I had passed away and cancer so we were forced into a situation where we needed to search for somebody and we didn’t have the talent in-house they were all Junior. They’re executors if you like very talented, but executors so we needed somebody from the outside and I prefer to look at someone that had our industry experience. They’ll bring somebody from the banking industry are from the retail industry. Yeah, they’re very talented, but we’re an industry that sells intellectual material and like non-tangible material. And so having someone who’s been in and understands those dynamics is really important. So if you’re going to hire a CFO and a critical role, I would look for, are there gaps within the organization, in our case there was, and number two is, hire someone that can build on your weaknesses, your personal weaknesses as a founder, but also can help you manage those transitions. I mean, thank God, we had a CFO, 2008, and if I look back, COVID, magic, cash, all of those things, we came up profitable through COVID, which is unheard of. So understanding where your weaknesses are, and having the right person is really important.

Jeremy Weisz  40:50 

JP talk about managing projects, these projects seem very big, very complicated. I’m curious from maybe, how do you run them as far as the teams go, do certain pods or how do you how do you break that up? And then, from a technology perspective, are there certain technology like using like, CRMs, and project management and SOP type of things, on those two fronts, the people side, and then the technology side.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  41:23 

So we’re very much a client-centric agency. And so clients want to deal with one individual within an organization. And so we will always assign a key lead on the project. And the good news is our account team have, again, similar to designers have diverse experiences. And so our head of account management on brand environments, has strong digital experience, strong packaging experience, so they can run a private label program, they can run a digital program, and they can run the architectural part of the program. Right. And so we will always have a single point of accountability. Now, if it’s a huge project, we will assign other account team members at the execution level of the project, but there will always be one lead, and the client then has can focus on that individual. They have support within the organization, if that person is on traveling, or that person’s at another meeting, there’s always a team here that the clients question get answered. The second thing is that but we asked clients that define our business. 24 years ago, we did a private label program for the second largest retailer in Canada Sobeys. Now Sobeys, located at the time and Stilton, was this small town, it was a mining town, about two and a half-hour drive from Halifax, which is a three-hour flight from Toronto. And we were doing 3000 SKUs, stock-keeping units in a period of 17 months. And so intense Communication Management a project. And so as we pioneered web, we launched a thing called Team client. And Team client was a web-enabled project management platform that track everything we did from briefs, estimates, briefs, timesheets to content management, email management, and that has stayed part of our system, there’s nothing else like it, you know, it’d be easier for us to license some of these platforms, there’s nothing like it. And we are in the process right now of moving out to the cloud. So it’s gonna be a cloud-based anywhere because we do work in China, we want to be able to have access to the network cloud base. So that’s where we’re at now. And it’s called Team client tracks everything.

Jeremy Weisz  43:56 

So there are internal — you built internal tools, essentially, to manage it.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  44:01 

Now we use external CRM, we use SharpSpring. For our email marketing, we add Salesforce. Now we use SharpSpring. Because Salesforce is a great platform, but it’s geared towards large companies, not for small firms like us. We also use Nimble, which is another CRM platform, content management for Salesforce. And then we use a social media platform called Meet Alfred, which is fantastic. That allows you to connect with your clients on social media like LinkedIn or Twitter.

Jeremy Weisz  44:38 

JP, I want to know — you’re mentioning being an avid learner. I’d love to hear some of your favorite books, and also, mentors throughout the years but starting with books, what are some of your favorites, that you recommend other business people to check out.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  45:02 

Yeah, we did. There are lots of books that kind of fill your called the gaps. And then there are what are called transformational books, books that have changed the way you operate. And one of them is called The Challenger Sale. And it’s a series of three books. I think it’s The Challenger Sale, The Challenger Client and The Challenger Experience is written by a consulting firm that have a very unique model. And it’s the foundation of our insights and that is where the gaps in the marketplace how do you provide a contrarian or a unique perspective that would help aligns to your services, but then would solve a problem pain point for your clients? So that definitely, Traction is another great book, Creating These Rocks I think it’s a great software was written by someone who specializes in software but it’s obviously a great book. And then I’m just reading one on Selling, Believe It Or Not, I’m just refreshing myself on the techniques and selling. Everything from telephone conversations to email marketing, it’s always good to refresh because the market is changing so rapidly and I’m hungry always to stay relevant. Stay in the know on what’s happening.

Jeremy Weisz  46:28 

Do you have a favorite on selling for I don’t know what that one. If you remember the title of that one.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  46:34 

Oh, I have it here. Hold on. Let me so my iPad up.

Jeremy Weisz  46:38 

Check it out. No, as you’re doing that. Yeah, the Traction Gino Wickman. I actually had him on the podcast so people could check that episode out that I did. With Gino and off to check out The Challenger. I think a couple other people have mentioned that one. I haven’t checked it out yet. So The Challenger book sounds really interesting too.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  46:59 

Fanatical Prospecting by Jeb Blount. And then there’s a great, you know? Well, there’s a lot of books. There’s one book by David Baker. But David Baker is an expert in our industry. You asked me the second question do to mentors and coaches, I would say the Blair Enns Win Without Pitching and David Baker, recourse are two industry gurus when it comes to connecting and guiding us. And then there’s Collective 54, which is a podcast, which really talks to the Collective 54 is the designation for consulting firms, design firms, lawyers, all of that. And so there’s another great platform. Yeah, those are.

Jeremy Weisz  48:07 

That’s funny, you mentioned that because someone in one of the last episodes, just recommended the book from the person who started Collective 54. And The Boutique, Greg Alexander.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  48:24 

Yep. Yeah, I’ve got here I finished reading that book summary book. Yeah, there’s no lack of, if you’re a vertical that’s consulting, where you’re selling intellectual capital, then there’s, you should focus on those because it is very different than being a manufacturer selling widgets.

Jeremy Weisz  48:47 

What about maybe colleagues, so mentors, the kind of colleagues that have helped you are you’ve collaborated throughout the years?

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  48:57 

Yeah. Well, Dave Baker did an assessment of our company 10 years ago and gave us a roadmap, just kind of reality check is humbling. He can be a real humbling guy, believe me. But we for 10 years had Tillman who Bruce Hunter, who used to be my client at Kraft, ended up leaving, he was part us Head of Acquisitions and marketing at one point. And he was my coach. I’d meet him once a month. But he also joined our management meetings for 10 years. And he held us accountable for like, we have a fantastic employee handbook. Right? Help us codify our processes helped us restructure the company, hold people accountable and clarify the definition of roles and responsibilities, like the real fundamental stuff that we take for granted that it’s intuitive, but it works against us because of it not qualified, being an entrepreneur, we like change. What’s the new hot toy? So having those foundations is really important. It gives consistency to you to our colleagues. Our clients. Yeah. Great guy.

Jeremy Weisz  50:18 

JP, I want to be the first one to thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey, your knowledge, I want to encourage people to check out and to learn more and more episodes of the podcast and JP thanks so much.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix  50:31 

Thank you. Thank you Jeremy. Have a great day.