SMAK: Changing The Brand Experience

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As soon as you walk into the Smak office, you are greeted by the words of Sir Cecil Beaton: Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slave of the ordinary.

And after a few minutes of talking to the founder of Smak, Claire Lamont, one can surmise that she is anything but a play-it-safer. Lamont is changing the brand experience in Toronto, and in Canada, and we had the pleasure to talk with Lamont about her ever-growing brand, the Canadian market, and what is next for her powerhouse of a company.

“I think that quote is all about this idea of going against the grain,” Lamont explains. “As a brand, we are rebellious by nature, and when I say rebellious, people think of irreverent, they think of different, and they think of it as something that has to be taken with caution. I think those that pioneer and do things differently are those who push the limits and push the boundaries without it being a huge risk. You can always do things within safe zones of brand guidelines, but still doing something that stands out, and has an impact that is different.”

Originally from South Africa, with a background in marketing at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg, Lamont moved to Vancouver and found that there was a lack in this market for experienced based marketing. She explains this as taking brands and connecting them with the consumer in a meaningful way, which allows the amplification and longevity of the shifting heart and minds of the brands.

In 2003, Lamont started Smak with co-founder at the time, Alan Bedingfield, initially as an experiment. It started with a small day spa, called Bloom Essentials, and they wanted to take a small, relatively unknown business establishment, and showcase what they could do. After their collaboration, Bloom Essentials saw a massive increase in sales as well as community involvement, and Lamont says it really took off from there. Smak then worked with Van City as well as Telus, creating a name for themselves on the west coast and now across the country, with offices in both Toronto and Vancouver.

“We wanted to choose a name that was not just a flat word,” Lamont told us, explaining why they chose the name of the company. “So, if you think about Smak, it’s like smack on the lips or smack on the butt! It’s a sound that actually has an effect.”

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That is evident in Lamont’s vision of seeing brands turn from looking at their audience as passive consumers, to being part of their brand’s stories. She uses Toronto as an example in explaining this model, mentioning Yonge-Dundas Square, with all its messages, searching to connect the consumer with an experience. Brands have an important role, she says, especially today with social media, in how we go about actively engaging with them. In turn, how do the thousands of brands we touch in a day become more meaningful in our lives?

“Smak is that,” she says. “Our agency specializes in aligning brands with their target audiences in a meaningful way, that allows brands to educate their audiences as to why their brand is better. But it also allows for the audience to be able to have an opinion about their experience and share it in an impactful way, through social media. We look at everything that we do nowadays. How do you create authentic, genuine, brand experiences, that actually allow for people to be able to have their comments and thoughts? Our mission then is how do we create these meaningful brand experiences.”

Smak has worked with a multitude of brands, including the Dairy Farmers of Canada. Lamont explains that this marks their eighth year together, with the cheese rolling festival happening in Whistler during Crankworx, which is exactly as fun as it sounds – people chase wheels of cheese down a hill. But, she explains, at the end of the day, it is about the brand experience, and the whole purpose of the festival is to be able to educate Canadians on the importance of eating Canadian cheese. As well, they have worked with Mucho Burrito, BC Hydro, and Movember, to name a few. The relationship with Movember started back in 2007, when Smak brought Movember to Canada, with Lamont and her team doing all the events and PR for Movember from 2007 to 2011.

“The Movember story is an interesting one,” Lamont explains. “I had stepped down as the day-to-day president of Smak this year. Movember approached me and was wondering if I would be interested in applying for their country director position. We have always been friends of Movember and supported it in any way that we can, and this year has seen a shift in our relationship, where now I am leading the team there and Smak has donated PR services to Movember.”

Since they are already established within Vancouver, the biggest focus now for Claire and the Smak team is for Toronto, and submerging itself further into this market. With a lot of brands being born in Toronto, and the ability to witness the growth on a national scale, Lamont admits there is still a long way to go to be able to grow within the market and chase the opportunities here, while still remaining true to what Smak is and what they do. While the industry is fragmenting, changing, and evolving at such a rapid rate, Lamont’s focus is to not deviate away from experiences and the things which make her company powerful.

“I think my biggest goals and opportunities are empowerment,” Lamont discusses, on what is next for her. “I have been able to build a team at Smak. I am growing and nurturing a team at Movember. So, how do I keep pushing that forward – the idea of building leaders and building people that ultimately want to change the world.”

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Follow @wearesmak to keep up with what Claire Lamont and the entire Smak community will do next.