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Profile: Serge Lapointe (continued)

Sounds like you’re having a blast.
I sleep well at night.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Staying at an advertising agency for too long. [laughs]

Well, I started off as a direct marketer, and the only solution was direct marketing. At the time, advertising and other media was a bunch of “crap” and had no real place to play. That was a mistake. There’s no one thing that gets you to your end objective – it’s a combination of things. Using the word “assume” is a mistake.

Marketing is not a science. You make mistakes all the time. The idea is that you learn from them, and if you don’t, you’re not going to get anywhere. And your career will be short-lived.

What is the biggest challenge you’re facing right now in your role?
Getting everyone on the same page and sharing the vision with people who aren’t marketers. I deal with actuaries. Getting a fact-based actuary to believe in what is a bit of a dream - and willing to commit long-term dollars - is an ongoing struggle. As my former boss used to say, “In the land of the hunch, the biggest title always wins.” So, how do you bring facts to the table?

In this economy, brand budgets are a really big target. You have to re-justify, remind everyone why we’re here, why we’re there. I sit on operating committees, and it’s interesting how quickly discussions move on to IT projects that cost millions of dollars, last years and years, and deal with lots of people… how quickly they’re willing to forget the consumers’ perspective. And that’s what we do [in Marketing]. We represent the consumer

Do you have to love the product?
It’s never about the product for me. It’s always about solving the problem. I’m passionate about delivering on the brand promise. I wouldn’t go out and sell porn or other questionable, unethical products. But I don’t need to be passionate about a product to do what I do best. For me, the product is just the thing that you wrap everything else around.


Corporate Culture

What type of organization best suits you, in terms of industry, size, and culture?
For me, what works best is a company that has the size to be able to fund work, and enough vision to allow you to experiment and try different things. That allows lessons to be learned. You need the size, depth, and the commitment from executives that building brands is essential to the business.

Thoughts on corporate marketing vs. agency work?
I’ve worked in a lot of businesses across a lot of industries. I got to a point [after years at various agencies] when I needed a different challenge. The advertising challenge is lots of fun, but I didn’t get the kind of in-depth engagement that I do on the client side - understanding all parts of the business and how marketing can have an impact.


Let’s Talk About You

What’s your latest rant? What gets you going?
In any brand promise, you need proof points. If you think of insurance, it’s probably the lowest of the low in terms of interest. So, what’s a differentiating proof point in an insurance business? What’s the thing you can tell customers that will change the way they perceive the business such that they want to deal with you? We’ve spent tons of dollars on this for a year and half. It’s a tough one!

What bogs you down?
Paperwork! And financial planning. I’m a marketing guy - I like pretty pictures!

Also, the one thing they don’t teach you about in school is people. How to manage people; how to motivate people. I spend a fair bit of time doing that. I’m not as close to the action as I used to be. In a way, that’s disappointing. On the other hand, it’s really nice to give someone else the mission, coach them, and see them succeed. A year ago, I felt like that bogged me down, but now I’m getting more comfortable doing it.

What industries or people do you pay attention to?
Banking is a very competitive business. I watch high-tech and cell phone operators closely. They live in the most competitive environment with the most challenges in brand differentiation challenges, sustainable advantage, cut-throat pricing. I have a lot of respect for those folks.

I also watch Apple very carefully. I understand how they manage and apply consistency in their communications - all the time. Consistency is paramount. I have a lot of time for reading about and discussing that kind of company.

Who or what inspires you?
The CEO of our company, Ed Clark. The guy is just absolutely awesome. Our previous CMO, Chris Armstrong, changed me the most. He taught me more about the art of communicating than anyone else in my career.

What’s your favorite time of day?
Early in the morning. That’s why I get here so early. I love that first hour when you’re alone - you can be productive, and you can actually think. You’re busy all day, and then you go home and you’re busy… You are raising a family of kids who need to go here, go there… they need money…

What would surprise people about you?
People are probably most surprised that I’m a biker. [Laughs] You walk down the halls, and because you carry a title, people jump out of the way. Every conversation they have is considered. They have ‘update meetings’ with me and get dressed up for them. And then they find out that I'm out riding my motorcycle after work.

What kind of bike do you have?
BMW. I’m not a cruiser. I’m more into the techno biking kind of thing.

What do you love about biking?
Biking allows me to escape. I’ll go 100 miles early on a sat morning or early on a Sunday, and I’m home before anyone’s up. I get a lot of pleasure out of that. Also, there’s an element of danger and speed there. It’s a great exercise in defensive driving. You’re very focused; you see everything; you look at every car and see every intersection. You feel everything. You have to be attentive every second. Fender-benders don’t exist on motorcycles! It’s my meditation.

Serge Lapointe leads marketing planning, marketing communications, customer communications, and online services for TD Insurance, a unit of TD Financial Group. Over the last 13 years, his various marketing roles with TD have included brand and product advertising, direct marketing, retail merchandising and collateral, as well as brand development and marketing sponsorships for TD Canada Trust, TD Waterhouse, TD Securities, and TD Commercial Banking. Before joining the world of FS marketing, Serge supported a wide range of industries through advertising agencies Young & Rubicam, BBDO, and Cossette.

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