It's without a doubt, brands reflect the people that manage them. How a company involves itself in a community speaks volumes about the kind of people at the helm. I've had the privilege of interviewing some amazing people that give back in their communities, and Pino Di Ioia was no exception.
A few months ago I was at the YES conference in Montreal for young entrepreneurs, and happened to notice a man who was sitting in the same sessions as me. Talking and mingling as though he was there to share and learn as an attendee of the conference, this gentleman who could easily be confused as Anthony Bourdain's nicer brother, fit right in to the crowd.
Later at a roundtable discussion, I discovered he wasn't just an attendee at the conference, but a regular contributor and board member to the YES organization. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he was also the CEO of BeaverTails. The very same BeaverTails that American President Barack Obama had to try when he visited Canada. Pino Di Ioia has turned BeaverTails into a name that is synonymous with Canadian culture.
(White House photo by Pete Souza)
I was intrigued to say the least by this CEO, who made a brand famous, while contributing to his community's young entrepreneurs. So here is what happened when my curiosity met Pino Di Ioia.
Why do you think BeaverTails has taken off in Quebec unlike any other part of the world?
I believe that Quebecers have a sweet tooth that lends itself well to the product. We also have a strong sense of humor... and the tongue in cheek double-entendre of the name has resonated very well here. Additionally, on a more pragmatic level, our former (Ottawa based) head office was less geographically focused at a time when my team was very focused on the Quebec market. That served us well as we set up strong well-located early stores that helped build the strongly.
What is your involvement in Yes Montreal?
I began as a volunteer and speaker with the entrepreneurship conference and from there got more involved on various levels, including being a board member.
Why have you chosen to work with such an organization?
I try to support the English community in Montreal because I believe we are a vibrant economic driver of this unique and richly multicultural city. Additionally, entrepreneurship -- especially in today's competitive and very flat world is a strong vehicle of empowerment. I believe that helping entrepreneurs equates with helping people to help themselves.
It is evident through your involvement with Yes Montreal that you believe in sharing what you have learnt on your journey. Why does your brand believe in sharing knowledge when you can easily withhold it as industry secrets?
That's an interesting question. On a philosophical level I think that sharing with the community always pays dividends that outpace any remote risk of information falling in the wrong hands. Perhaps I'm naive... or optimistic! But on a more pragmatic level, we are so constant in our innovation that even the information we share today may not be helpful for competitors who face what we will come up with tomorrow!
How is the world of social media helping or affecting Beavertails?
We have really embraced social media for the last few years. We enjoy over 30,000 Facebook fans, and regularly dialogue with that group on meaningful subjects such as what flavors we should be introducing, and where we should be opening new stores. We also share fun and frivolous things like fan photos. This has really helped us connect more with our fans and we're surprised (pleasantly) by the amount of comments and feedback we receive. On a mechanical level, our weekly Twitter roll call tells our fans where our trailers will be for the weekend... so we're driving real clients to real bricks and mortar.
What do you think of brands aligning themselves with causes? Can you please share some insight as to what would be the expectation and benefit for a brand?
I think at the core, strong brands are made up of strong people... and strong people care about their communities. Again, maybe I am being naive or optimistic. But in the end I think company's start by saying they want to give back to their communities. Once that decision is made then I believe the strategic answer is to provide support to charities of relevance to your brand. We've wanted to support children's hospitals and some (cynics?) have said that we are promoting unhealthy eating while supporting medical facilities. I see our product as an occasional indulgence so I take exception to such comments... but I do think the link should be as natural and relevant as possible.
How did you feel when President Obama wanted to try BeaverTails as the one treat that represented Canada?
We were of course completely enthused but frankly we were as shocked as everyone else. We had worked hard to offer free pastries at the Canadian embassy during President Obama's inauguration a few months earlier... and we knew that some comments had made their way to the White House. However we never could have guessed that the man himself would have dropped by for a pastry. It was wildly very surreal☺!!!
Thank you Pino, for such an honest and inspirational interview. I can't wait to see where you take your energy, enthusiasm and brand next.
Do you know any brands that give back? What makes them special?