Community is your brand: a conversation with Ryan McKee, Brand Director, MEC

In today’s landscape, understanding your brand’s community and learning to tell their story is key to diversity and inclusion; it’s pushing marketers and brands to have challenging conversations, both internally and externally. To create real connections around real issues, brands must question themselves (along with their marketing and communication strategies) and understand the concept of representation, perspective, agency, and characterization.

As Canada’s most trusted brand, MEC has realized how critical upholding values of inclusion is for their brand and community. And in this episode of Words Count, Ryan McKee, Brand Director, MEC, shares his experience in doing just that. From award-winning documentary films to internal inclusion committees, McKee reveals how marketing today is not just about launching new initiatives but about establishing new frameworks and mental models.

Show notes

1:04 – Personal background in sports marketing

2:20 – Importance of carving out your personal brand

2:50 – Universality of fandom and common themes in sports communities

3:12 – Using a grassroots approach to compete with the NHL (National Hockey League)

4:50 – The coinciding rise of social media and the MLS (Major League Soccer)

6:30 – Responding to a fluid product (on and off the field) in an always-on era

6:55 – Lessons from the AFL (Aussie Rules Football)

7:50 – MEC as the Canadian version of REI

9:38 – The role of a brand director and Ryan’s breakdown of team responsibilities

10:32 – Mission-driven initiatives and brand building

11:30 – Concepting and theming vs. distribution and engagement

13:15 – Programs that establish/strengthen trust with customers

15:00 – How company values should underpin digital initiatives

16:05 – Marketing sustainability and accessibility

17:20 – Prioritizing diversity and inclusion through self-reflection

18:10 – Using film and the community to showcase atypical outdoor enthusiasts

19:30 – Analyzing the exclusionary practices of the outdoor industry

20:10 – Looking inward and evaluating internal practices

20:30 – Diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a business imperative

22:15 – Geographic, multicultural, and gender representation in Canada

22:44 – Documentary films and the power of first-person narratives

27:00 – Highlighting people of color

28:20 – D&I being more than just race and gender

29:20 – Brands worrying about perfecting a grand strategy instead of asking important questions and telling honest stories

31:10 – Finding guardrails and frameworks to anchor efforts

32:30 – The CEO pledge as a turning point

31:00 – The op-ed letter as a bold statement; “Diverse Outdoors” as a rallying cry for the industry

32:40 – Acknowledging where MEC had fallen short as a brand when it came to multicultural marketing

33:15 – A line in the sand to articulate a larger point of view and wrap internal efforts

33:45 – Presence in the media and taking a stance on issues like climate change

34:40 – Being accused of virtue signaling during the global climate strike

35:30 – Auditing content/photography retroactively and engaging staff within the organization

37:20 – Remove biases with technology or by auditing content retroactively

38:00 – Find a way to uncover your own biases

39:00 – Notion of allyship and what that means today

40:00 – How to lead from the back and shine the light on others

41:00 – Takeaways from Sean

41:40 – D&I steering committees (D.I.S.C.O.)

42:20 – Asian and Chinese stereotypes in the outdoors

43:10 – Why plus-size models are predominantly female (not male or transgendered)

44:10 – Assuming best intent

45:45 – Essendon’s Purple Bombers and creating a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in professional sports

48:15 – Upcoming trends in diversity and inclusion

52:20 – How content plays a role and why rich stories are so effective

54:15 – Why we need to hear from the indigenous community

Image: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

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