July 4, 2020

EP14 - What do Denny's, Sandman Hotels and The NHL's Dallas Stars have in Common?

Listen in to Manoj Jasra as he shares his stories and opinions as an authority on how to transform organizations like Northland Properties, build internal agency capabilities and redefine the role of the CDO and CMO.

Northland Properties Corporation is the force behind such brands as Sandman Hotel Group, The Sutton Place Hotels, Moxie’s Grill & Bar, Chop Steakhouse & Bar, Denny’s Restaurants, the Dallas Stars, and Northland Asset Management Company.

Every once in a while I come across  an organization that I had no idea existed, you know, we've all had that experience where we're looking up a stock symbol, we're watching a financial news show, we find out one of our friends or colleagues or neighbors work somewhere. We ask them what they do, and it's like, what the heck is that? I didn't even really know that existed!

Well, last year I was in Vancouver and I was speaking at a session for one of my favorite technology companies, Adobe, and I had an opportunity to meet an individual, Manoj Jasra, who was exactly in one of those situations, working for an organization in this really cool role that I seriously had no idea existed. The company is Northland Properties, and I had never heard of them.

What I did know were all of the brands and assets that roll up into it. So it was just this weird, interesting conversation. And so I asked Manoj to join me on the podcast to talk a little bit about himself, a little bit about his really interesting role and a little bit about his really interesting company, Northland Properties.

Recognized throughout Canada as one of the most trusted names in hotels, restaurants, sports, and construction, Northland Properties Corporation is the force behind such brands as Sandman Hotel Group, The Sutton Place Hotels, Moxie’s Grill & Bar, Chop Steakhouse & Bar, Denny’s Restaurants, the Dallas Stars, and Northland Asset Management Company. Proud to be 100% Canadian-owned and operated, with over 50 hotels across Canada, the UK, Ireland and the USA, they have head offices in both Calgary and Vancouver, and employ over 12,000 talented individuals across the world.

In the role of Chief Digital Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, Manoj is tasked with transforming this legacy business, building out internal marketing agency and digital capabilities, while growing revenues and enhancing the customer experience across all of their properties and brands.

Listen in to Manoj Jasra as he shares his stories and opinions as an authority on how to transform organizations, build internal agency capabilities and redefine the role of the CDO and CMO.


What do Denny's, Sandman Hotels and The Dallas Stars have in Common?

 [00:00:00]Corby Fine: So every once in a while I come across  an organization that I have no idea exists, you know, we've all had that experience where we're looking up a stock symbol, we're watching a financial news show. We find out one of our friends or colleagues or neighbors work somewhere. We ask them what [00:01:00] they do.

And it's like, what the heck is that? I didn't even really know that existed. Well, last year I was in Vancouver and I was speaking at a session for one of my favorite technology companies, Adobe, and I had an opportunity to meet an individual, Manoj, Jasra, who was exactly in one of those situations, working for an organization in this really cool role that I seriously had no idea existed.

But what I did know were all of the brands and companies and assets that they rolled up into. So it was just this weird, interesting conversation. And so for today, I've actually asked Manoj to join me on the podcast to talk a little bit about himself, a little bit about his really interesting role and a little bit about his really interesting company, Northland properties.

So Manoj, welcome to the show. , and as an introduction, I'm an OT is the CEO and CMO. So the chief digital officer and the chief marketing officer [00:02:00] for Northland properties. Welcome.

Manoj Jasra: Thank you for having me Corby. Uh, it looks like it'd be a great. Yeah, we did meet a few times over the past couple of years in the last one being Vancouver. And we were all able to kind of be together , less a summer or so

Corby Fine: Yes. Well, I'm now back on the, , center East coast and you are still sitting in, , you know, the, the beautiful West coast. So I would normally say jealous, but the weather finally, , got good here. So anyway, fair, fair game.

Manoj Jasra: you deserve it. You had some crappy winters this past year. Yeah.

Corby Fine: We did. So, , why don't you, , tell everyone a little bit about the company first, again, one of those organizations with a lot of different brands, and I think people will be surprised when you describe it.

Manoj Jasra: Yeah, totally. And it was surprising as I was interviewing for the role last year. And I'm like who's North lands. And then until the executive recruiter told me and you peel back all the layers and you're like, Okay, this is a big deal. , so it's a amazing family owned Canadian business, , started in the late sixties, 1967 by Bob Galardy.

So it's the glottis or [00:03:00] the family who own the company, and it's a kind of a parent company to a variety of different brands. So it's got the hotel group, which has salmon Sutton, and there's almost 60 of those, , mostly in Canada, but also in the U S uh, Also in UK and Ireland as well. We've got the master rights to Denny's and Canada.

So we've got we own Denny's Canada. , so it's mostly corporate owned along with the franchisee as well. , and then we got a couple other cool brands that you've heard about as well. So we have Maxis. , axes restaurants, we got shop steakhouse, shark club, , recently last year, , we purchased grouse mountain resorts, , which is, uh, a major resort in Vancouver here.

I think it's one of the most heavily visited, , resorts there is in Vancouver. , we also in Revelstoke mountain resort, which is like a Whistler style resort in Revelstoke, British Columbia, small town, but the best scheme there is, and then the family owns some sports teams. Like they've got the camel's blazers and the WHL.

And then they own the NHLs Dell stars as well. In addition to that, they've got construction real estate. So we build our own hotels and renovate our own hotels [00:04:00] to keep things interesting. And that's why we're, I think so successful is because the kind of the ecosystem is kind of managing 10 by the entire company.

So my role spends marketing and digital. So on the marketing side, I've got internal, external comms. I've got day-to-day marketing ops, including brand strategy, all the campaigns that run. And on the digital side, we've got basically looking at the customer facing experience. E-commerce digital media and analytics as well.

Some transformative transformation work that we're looking at, , with a variety of different brands as well. So my vision is to just operate like an internal agency and try to build as much scale and efficiency of the can across the brands. So that's me in a nutshell.

Corby Fine: So I can go skiing. I can spend the weekend. , watch a hockey game and have a two 99 special for breakfast of bacon and eggs the next morning. All, all within one organization.

Manoj Jasra: That's right.

Corby Fine: Yeah. So it's, it's an amazing, you know, mashup of, of brands and assets that all have their own sort of rapport with different audience segments.

[00:05:00] Talk a little bit about when you say build an internal agency, , and structuring how you operate in that organization. , there's a lot of,  strong brand presence from each of those different groups. And I can imagine that someone running an NHL hockey team from a marketing and audience development perspective, Is going to have a lot of desire for autonomy, , especially when compared to someone running, you know, a QSR like a Denny's or a hotel chain from a branding perspective.

So how do you think about each of those different brands and their own marketing leaders and yourself being sort of the central cog and building a team to support them all? How do you structure that and how do you get buy in from each of those brand leaders to truly partner with you and not feel like they're losing some control and autonomy?

Manoj Jasra: Yeah, and I, I don't think we're perfect by any means. And if I pushed the sports teams to the side for a second, because they've got their own kind of management with the NHL and WHL and the systems that exist there, but with the rest of the folks that go. So the idea is that we've got this, we got [00:06:00] two people, said the CEO and the president.

Who are basically the leads of , all of the divisions. And so we, and then we have divisional presidents. So we got one for resorts, one for restaurants, for hotels, and then each brand has its own brand president. , and then from a centralization perspective, we've,  centralized my group it and then finance and accounting, just as a starting point from a heads of department perspective.

And then what I've done is it's definitely not easy. Right? So each brand president definitely has their own vision and wants to go one way or the other. So what we've done is under my group, , I've tried to have a brand marketing leader attached to each brand president. So it's all they do is a live, breathe and eat that specific brand because I think it's important to have that.

Consistent focused. And that's what you wake up for to drive success with all day long. , we have some, , kind of key resources that are attached to that brand leader. And then I, and then what I've done is I've tried to centralize, , certain aspects of, of my department. So I've recently in the last, as I've only been there about eight months or so, but I've centralized digital already.

So digital marketing, digital media, it made [00:07:00] sense to do that because there's a huge opportunity from a buying perspective on the media side, as well as the analytics and then the execution of it to make sure. Make sure that we do that centrally. Otherwise I think we're just, I'm losing out on a scale and probably spending more money than we should on the cost perspective.

So we did that and then my next kind of focus is how do we do that for other parts of my business, which will be, I think, creative and social media. That's what I'm thinking about next. I think there's a huge opportunity to centralize that content development, that managing of creative resources and team members there.

So we can become this engine. Of execution across all the breads as well. And then we'll just continually progressed. So as I see opportunities, perhaps, yeah. Perhaps we do that for social media. Perhaps we do that for things such as loyalty. I think that's going to be a huge play for us. , , you kind of mentioned that you can kind of play within all of our brands and I think loyalty will be a big part of that going down the, , down the road as well.

So that's how I've set up my team as well. Like it kinda mentioned, I, I like to use an agency model. Each brand, each brand has its own. Budget and we have to be able to [00:08:00] intelligently use all those budgets. We're applying value there and then giving the brands as much support as we can, , with cost and value in mind.

Corby Fine: So I've worked in a few organizations that have followed somewhat similar models with, I would say, less complexity in terms of the distribution and variety of brands under the umbrella. Some have had three, some have had two, none have had as many as you you're currently responsible for, but, but maybe talk a little bit about.

Irrespective of, you know, 10 brands, five brands, two brands, or even one brand. Where do you see the future of this concept? You mentioned of, you know, bringing it in house versus, you know, the pure outsource model. And maybe I'll give you the real tough question early on in this conversation, in that sense of doing this, as you think about moving more in house and centralizing core capabilities, what do you see as the future of the agency as a support mechanism to organizations going with the more inhouse route?

Manoj Jasra: Yeah, we, and we've had a lot of discussions with our existing agency partners. So [00:09:00] in addition to my group, there are agencies involved in, unfortunately, I think we have probably too many kind of agencies involved. Like every single brand has an agency attached to them and that's just not good from a scale perspective.

So we're looking to find great partnerships and that's what we've been working on for the last three or four months. And then I think we've identified who those folks are, but obviously in, like in our pastorals in your roles that you've been at and I've been at, we've had big agencies attached to us. I think the model is starting to change where rather than a complete outsource model.

I think it's turning into more of a hybrid approach where you're using agencies as, as needed and specific end to end capabilities. And I think agencies realize this and they're starting to also pivot. Their capabilities not to be as much execution, but also to be as much educators as possible so that people can bring value in house and they're having to change their cost model.

So to be more outcome driven versus the typical, here's my standard hourly rate or my standard kind of media rate, I think they're having to flex because,  I see a lot of groups trying to [00:10:00] bring talent in house as well, but I see this as a, as a hybrid model, at least for the next couple of years, as we, as we transition.

Corby Fine: So let's, let's explore that a little bit with regards to digital specifically, I would say the most interesting and innovative things I've seen lately from the agency world are things like agencies, creating new business units under the umbrella of the parent company that are very, very specialized. So things like.

Amazon focused agencies, right? So helping different companies, market merchandise create better funnels of acquisition in other people's platforms in the Amazon ecosystem, irrespective of whether they have direct e-commerce or not. And agencies who can amalgamate skillsets from creative to copywriting, to search optimization, to merchandising, to all of the elements.

That maybe a traditional organization who hasn't gone into, let's say an Amazon ecosystem, get them started to your point, educate, but also [00:11:00] execute to some point. , that's something I've seen. Interesting. And it, it is very digital focused. So when, you think about your, world and where you started to centralize very, very digital oriented things, right?

Analytics, , content, which is often derived against, you know, the search benefit and things like that. , where do you see digital. , in your organization, 12 months from now, 24 months from now, , you've talked a little bit about some of the synergies. Where does it stop? Like how far do you go on truly centralizing digital capabilities in a multibrand organization.

Manoj Jasra: and there's so many aspects of digital. , obviously from a, like, you can make it like the actual experiences and you can make it the media side. You can make it the content side. But I think with us, I think it's an untapped opportunity. So we're very kind of traditional business, which hasn't put a lot of emphasis into the digital world.

And just for some context, I believe we touched around 10 million Canadians in terms of an interaction perspective in a given year. So at that point collectively we've become a fairly big deal, , independently. I think if you looked at just a Moxies or just hotels group, I think it's a [00:12:00] medium size, small to medium sized business.

But when together I think we become very powerful. So I think to your earlier point, I think there's a huge opportunity in our digital space for that people can stay, they can eat and they can play with our brands and you can stay within that ecosystem altogether. And we'd love it. If you, once you enter our world, you never leave the world as well.

So I think along, along with my partner in crime, that mother, the CIO, I think our vision is to really bring ecosystems together. , so I think. We're going to be heavily investing into things such as a CRM or a customer data platform. , there's a huge opportunity to collect different data sets.

Understand that Corby is the same guy who ate at Denny's, who also stayed at the hotel, but when, , at the resort as well at the same time. So we don't know that today. And that's a big problem in a way. And unfortunately we don't know today because of our legacy experience that you stayed at a hotel Vancouver, and you also stay at the same hotel in Toronto, so huge opportunity just to get modern.

So part of the reason I took the role that I think we can go from zero to a hundred, a fairly fast in the next 12 to 24 months. And we have to, , , because of the pace at which digital [00:13:00] changing. , so I think that's an investment we're going to be making big time. , and that takes a lot of logic and science in regards to how you.

Stitch together that customer. So it's simple from a customer experience perspective, but we handle the complexity, basically the ecosystem we're creating in the background. And the other big one for me would be the content engine. I think, as you know, like we, I think someone said like we scrolled meters and meters of content with our thumbs each day might be like, Hundreds of hundreds of feet, whatever it is.

But if, if we can't become relevant and understand the various micro moments that are happening, , if I just attach that each to my, each of my brands, I think we just become too slow. So I want focus there in regards to an antenna experience where you can copyright create video, you create, , whether it's content for social, YouTube, whatever you want to, and then amplify it with the right media.

If I can. Do that intend, I think, and do it across the brand. I think we can get some scale and we become relevant in a space that's highly crowded, but obviously it has all the eyeballs on it too at [00:14:00] the same time. So those are the two areas I hope to put a lot of focus on cross brand.

Corby Fine: It's difficult enough for most organizations to do what you just described within a single brand or a single organization. And you're talking about doing it across multiple, that, that journey of micro moments being able to identify and then trigger certain content types, irrespective of format. In different platforms through different channels, with different media weights based on the outcomes that you expect to get.

So that sounds like a really daunting feat. Maybe break it down and say, there's, there's people listening here in much less complicated scenarios in their, in their jobs. They're digital, they're marketers. It's, it's the people that listen to my podcast. Maybe give one or two things that you would advise people in the same situation as yourself, but maybe a little less complicated with maybe a single brand focus.

We're where do you start? Like, what are the first two or three things you need to do to really break down how to even begin to think about, , identifying those [00:15:00] micro moments, tracking them and putting a bit of a strategy behind it? Like where do you start?

Manoj Jasra: Yeah. , and I think, , we can relate to that because we've got these, essentially these are independent hotels as well. Um, as the manager with any region and there's restaurants within that as well, , I think people should probably forget that you need massive enterprise licenses to do this effectively.

And I'll give a small example in a restaurant business, right? So there's the, the world of takeout and delivery has become massive for us. That's basically all the business that we're doing right now. So if I was a restaurant tour, it's very simple to jump onto things such as a skip and door dash. I think those are platforms you have to.

I think the bigger picture is looking at where demand exists. Right. So demand exists on those channels, but I think there's a huge opportunity to create partnerships and there's, there are amazing companies out there that can do commerce for you at the scale of a single restaurant or a single entity versus at a, at a massive kind of a company like ours.

So if you want to do commerce, there are companies out there that can build you a very quick kind of [00:16:00] menu and operating system that connect with these platforms. So you can do take on delivery on your own website very, very easily, , and you pay. Per for performance, you pay per transaction. There's an, there's a less license fee.

So you're not tying into your capital each time you can get a lot of value. And fortunately it's actually way more, it's way more affordable than the demand platform such as skipping door dash, which is, which is nice to understand as well. And then from a,  , I think the key one is once you've got customers into your ecosystem and that's just like, you know who they are like, you know, it's Kirby, you know, his email address, you know what he ordered.

Which comes standard with some of these platforms. And I'll, I'll say a couple of them on the restaurant side, there's like, there's smooth commerce. Does it? There's a ready pay. Does it? There's a company called Eckstein by AIGA and they do it. So these are all platforms that you can implement immediately.

And then a simple as like creating an email system that's automated. So whether it's MailChimp or campaign monitor, being able to reach out to your customer. So every other day you are top of mind versus. You're getting peppered with Domino's and [00:17:00] McDonald's or wherever it is. I think those are easy wins for, for restaurants as well.

And I would say, say, make sure your processes are very tight airtight. Like people want to be able to pick up. And in doing a meaningful way. So it's contactless and these ecosystems provide that. And then the rest of it is just your, your processes, right? You're the fact that your health and cleanliness focus with gloves and masks, things like that.

And I think once you get these kind of core pieces of, , , , implementations in it's, it's not like you have to be a massive business spending millions of dollars to do it. So that's a restaurant focused example, but I do believe, , anyone can do that.

Corby Fine:  I think sometimes we do think about, you know, this massive end solution to a problem. That's really not that complicated and could be solved with, with sort of simpler tactics. So on that you've got two hats, you've got a digital and a marketing hat. How do you focus your time?


Manoj Jasra: Yep. Totally. And I think you've nailed it. If I don't prioritize, I could be spending. My time in all the wrong places very easily, because it's all interesting. Right. So I know that for example, our [00:18:00] hotels business is the, the revenue engine of the company. So I have to spend more time there. And a lot of my time also has to be spending and helping team members unblock, , get unblocked in regards to their day to day tasks as well.

, but in terms of KPIs, I like to look at, uh, momentum rather than a moment in time. I think that's highly important. If you look at a moment in time, it's like you look at seasonality. And it's hard to get a read based on all the microbes that are happening in a moment of time, how you're performing. But if you look at it in regards to like the last three months or year over year, over the last few months, that momentum is, is highly important.

And I think the two or three KPIs I look at from a CTO perspective, I think it's self-serve transactions. , it's, , the ability to drive, , revenue, , self-serve in terms of self-management. In our case, online, ordering and e-commerce and hotels of self booking and they impact that has to cost. So I think self-serve transactions is important to me from my marketing hat slash digital hat.

I think it's growth and acquisition. I think if we aren't driving incremental business, then I don't know why our team exists. 

And then I, [00:19:00] and from a customer experience perspective, I think it's effort and the effort is difficult to manage. So I'm gonna try to break it down in regards to how you can start to do that.  really there are moments in each journey. Each one requires a time effort in order to accomplishment. And I think the, the, the friction is high in certain areas of, on your journey.

So the least friction you can have is each part of the journey. I think it's good for us as the owner of the companies and things like that, but it's good for the, for the, for the end guests and consumers, because that's how they deal with the world today. They want effortless experience so that they can just accomplish their task.

And it requires us to look at. Data with regards to transactional, it requires customer feedback quantitatively. And it also, sometimes it requires us to just do a time series understanding of what's happening from moment in the journey to moment. So if you can really understand customer effort and make that easy, I think there's, there's so many wins in unlocks as well.

 Corby Fine: , those are really good. And I think they apply universally to pretty much any anybody's business. 

So, , As we get to the end, , you know, I'd say given your [00:20:00] role, given the company, the one thing I really want to understand because your, your organization touches so many different points in the life of a, of an individual consumer entertainment, food, dining, travel, vacation business,  your across the gamut, , , in your, , eight months there, what are, what are a couple of the things that you've learned by looking at the analytics and looking at customer behavior that have maybe surprised you a little bit about the way in which, , Canadian particular, but Americans, , Are actually interacting with your brands.

Manoj Jasra: Yeah, um, with, with us, , I was actually on the hotel side, I was, I was surprised and you can easily see if, what happens if you don't have an amazing frictionless digital experience. How much you can actually spend on demand channels that are really expensive. Right? And it, it kinda, it's interesting. The hotels have restaurant space very different, but they have like the same situation going on on the hotel side.

And this is similar to my airline. Back on the West jet, you have these entities like Expedia booking.com who would love to take your content. And we have to use it for distribution in general auto seller inventory, but it comes at a big price tag. . And. If [00:21:00] you don't invest into that and you don't have this ecosystem of, , Acquiring your own set of customers.

I think it becomes a losing game on the cost side.  and you basically don't even have the ability to communicate because that, that ownership, it actually belongs to Expedia more than a belongs to the hotel side. And I feel that the same situation is happening to restaurants today. So this happens to be UberEATS and skip and door dash and fedora and all those types of situations.

They're doing an amazing job for demand. You need it. But it comes at a massive price tag and restaurants, Mark on a margin perspective, don't make a lot of margin versus like the hotel side. So it's hard for us to afford that unless we can do across a lot, so opportunity. So I think that is the biggest lesson I've learned in that, , If you don't slow down that growth from those kind of indirect channels, it's actually, it will become a very, almost an uphill climb in regards to getting that back.

So we are putting some systems in place now, uh, some of these may have went in for other businesses that are our competitors years and years [00:22:00] ago, but I feel that. During the pandemic, we've been forced to accelerate that big time. And if we don't do that, where we will be a laggard in regards to versus a company that's resilient coming out of this as well.

So I think that's the biggest thing I learned.

Corby Fine: Interesting. So on one hand, your core business is being sort of disintermediated by all kinds of different platforms and enablers that can get in the middle between yourself and your customer. Uh, whether it's restaurants and ordering and delivery, whether it's hotels and sort of room, you know, aggregation buyers and so on.

And at the same time internally, you're trying to figure out how to create. , a centralized service as well to almost disintermediate some of the legacy services from agencies and maybe partners that are not adding as much value. 

, but you know, I, I think it sounds like you've got at least a direction of strategy, right? Uh, you understand what you're trying to achieve? You've got, you know, key KPIs focused on growth and acquisition. Um, last question in all, in all in all of the things we've talked about, you've talked about metrics, you've talked about [00:23:00] strategy.

You've talked about efficiency and operating models. Where does customer satisfaction sit like at the, at the end of this, to your point? And you've, you've talked about the customer and the journey, but at what point do you measure and say, is this working for you customer and how quickly do you adapt and change based on the results of that?

Manoj Jasra: Yeah, I would say that we are very immature in that regard right now, but, , My, my goal and vision, I think that needs to be front and center. I think in addition to customer satisfaction, I think the right way to do that would be as you have to somehow do it at the various moments in the journey as well.

Uh, if you don't understand that and you collect a say, whether it's a NPS at the very end, what you get is a. A score that might not understand what's happening across each touch point. And I think if you optimize each touch point based on that customer satisfaction or NPS, I think you're way more effective versus just looking at an antenna.

Because if you, I don't know, you've booked hotels and flights and restaurants, things like that. If you were to, I don't know, 30 days later, try to give us a customer satisfaction score. [00:24:00] It's not really a true representation of how you felt in the moment. And if you can't capture the moment, then it's hard to optimize that specific area.

And that's how I, I do want to get there. And that's how I look to get there with, with technology that we're looking at. But I think traditionally, if you're just doing a guest feedback survey one or two weeks later, you might as well not do that because you're getting a fake version of what the actual satisfaction and the qualitative results are.

Corby Fine: So I expect that the, , customer effort in my ability to go to a local Denny's, which there is one in downtown Toronto, there was always someone standing outside in a, , oddly enough bacon outfit trying to give away coupons. And it makes me smile and makes me think about the restaurant every day. That the next time I go in for my breakfast special, I expect some sort of a customer satisfaction survey, because I actually want to tell you how to make it better next time.

And, uh, I I'm waiting for that. So, uh, There's a task. Um, listen, uh, Manoj, uh, my notes, Joshua, the chief digital officer and chief marketing officer [00:25:00] for Northland properties, , living the dream in Vancouver, , looking at the mountains probably right now from your window. Very, very jealous, but  , I really appreciate you spending the time with me today, , giving some of your insights and, ,  , helping others really understand some of the challenges that we're facing.

 in terms of the, the intersection of, of, of digital and marketing and how it's affecting really every business. So, uh, really appreciate your insights and time today.

Manoj Jasra: Yeah, thank you very much, Corby really enjoyed it. , good luck to you with the podcast and good luck to you, , here on in as well.  , thank you very much.

Okay, cool.