Sabaina Malik On Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Be authentic: Authenticity is critical for a strong brand. Embracing what’s unique and compelling about your business makes it interesting and attractive to your target audience.

As a part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Sabaina Malik.

Sabaina Malik is no neophyte to the world of branding. She’s gone from helping launch Old Navy in Canada as a former leader to strengthening Kiehl’s — a L’Oreal brand — and their position in the luxury skin and body care arena. After four years of exciting work, strategic victories and non-stop travel from Toronto to New York, Sabaina switched gears and began to take on her own clients. But before she could put her fledgling business in sixth gear, she was headhunted by Apple and asked to oversee the Apple Store, managing multiple facets of the tech company’s retail operation in Ontario while leading a team of 150. After five amazing years of constant adaptation and innovation at Apple, Sabaina once again set out on her own, this time launching M Industries, a business venture that would enhance brands’ success via better content. Today Sabaina uses everything she has learned in operations, branding, and marketing strategy to collaborate with agencies, consultants, and creatives to elevate her clients’ businesses.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ofcourse! I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart, and naturally, that drew me to great brands and marketing. I had the privilege of working for some of the most coveted brands, like Apple and L’Oréal, where I truly learned what it means to be a world-class brand. So, when it was time to open my own business, branding and marketing were the natural choices.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This presents a challenging scenario, as marketing missteps are far from humorous; they are mortifying and carry significant financial repercussions. We exert every effort to prevent such occurrences.

Nevertheless, there are memorable instances of marketing blunders that have made an impression. For example, consider Pizza Hut’s billboards proclaiming, “We have pizza,” or Burger King’s tweet on Women’s Day stating, “Women belong in the kitchen,” promptly followed by, “Only if they want to, of course.” These messages were subsequently retracted, and apologies were issued.

This underscores the point: marketing errors are seldom a source of amusement; they typically stem from an oversight, a deficiency in perspective, or sheer negligence. The imperative lesson here is the importance of vigilance to avert such errors.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What’s unique about M Industries is that we bring big-brand expertise to medium and small-sized companies. One of the main reasons I founded my agency was to provide smaller companies and entrepreneurs with the branding and marketing intelligence that big brands have mastered. Our approach is not based on a singular idea or experience. We offer a wide-ranging, global perspective.

Additionally, we operate as a partner at the table with our clients. We immerse ourselves in their culture, products, and services, and craft our strategy from that vantage point. This is why each brand we build is unique and possesses longevity.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are constantly engaged in exciting new projects at M Industries!

In our latest endeavor, I recognized the necessity for an additional vertical within our organization. Consequently, we have inaugurated M Media, a creative agency specializing in branded content, conceived and designed by our talented creative team. This launch marks an exhilarating development, allowing us to extend our advanced branding expertise to clients seeking to elevate their content and marketing strategies.

Moreover, M Media serves as a platform for us to explore our curiosity and push boundaries. Our creativity knows no bounds, and M Media offers the perfect outlet for its expression.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

A brand is an experience that resonates emotionally and cognitively with individuals. It exists within our hearts and minds, appealing to our collective sense of identity and shared aspirations. It transcends mere ownership or possession, embodying aspirations and, thus, making brand marketing an inherently intuitive endeavor.

In contrast, a product is acquired to fulfill either an actual or perceived necessity, with the purchasing decision often influenced by the brand behind it. Product marketing adopts a more straightforward approach, emphasizing the benefits and the anticipated satisfaction post-purchase.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

The most effective way to distinguish between the two is as follows — Developing a clear and strong brand helps to articulate your unique value and position in the market. Even within a saturated market, a well-defined brand can set you apart and influence consumer decisions. Once the brand foundation is established, your marketing efforts become more effective, as they resonate more clearly with your target audience, helping them to better understand what you offer.

A brand serves as the cornerstone of marketing and advertising strategies, significantly enhancing the return on investment for your marketing endeavors.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand?

My top 5 strategies for building a trusted and beloved brand would be —

  1. Have a vision: A clear and compelling vision is the foundation of the most cherished brands. It guides everything they do and resonates with their audience.
  2. Be authentic: Authenticity is critical for a strong brand. Embracing what’s unique and compelling about your business makes it interesting and attractive to your target audience.
  3. Be adaptable: Successful brands demonstrate adaptability across a wide range of marketing communications and applications. Flexibility ensures your brand remains relevant and engaging.
  4. Have a point of view: The most impactful brands have a clear stance. They represent a significant idea, strategic position, a set of values, or a distinct voice that sets them apart.
  5. Be Discerning: Brands that maintain their value and appeal over time are those that understand the power of restraint. Saying ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’ prevents dilution of the brand’s essence.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

So many come to mind! I personally adore iconic brands that have stood the test of time.

Gucci is a brand I greatly respect for its exceptional ability to adapt to the ever-changing, trend-driven landscape of the fashion world without losing its essence. Gucci transitioned from an extended period of outdated cruise wear, which lasted a decade too long, into the iconic Tom Ford era. After a somewhat flat phase, it made a triumphant return under Alessandro Michele’s leadership. Michele reinvigorated the brand, dominating streetwear, becoming a staple in hip-hop culture (evidenced by the ‘Gucci Gang’ phenomenon), and redefining everyday luxury.

It’s truly a remarkable story of creativity and bold exploration, all while maintaining a steadfast commitment to the brand’s core ethos.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

While brand building and advertising work hand in hand, their objectives and results are very different. A brand-building campaign aims to create awareness, gain trust with its target audience, and drive choice. It opens new doors, clarifies a company’s value proposition, and secures the desired market position for the company.

All of these efforts ultimately lead to higher sales and engagement.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media can significantly influence brand perception. In the past, companies had to invest considerable effort and funds just to reach a small audience. Social media enables brands to connect with millions at a fraction of the time and cost. It also provides brands with the opportunity to generate their own press and tell inspiring stories.

When executed properly and with a strategy that aligns with the brand’s essence, social media can propel a brand’s positioning, reach, and likability to incredible heights.

Social media is powerful. In fact, I have recently launched a branded content creation agency, M Media, that focuses exclusively on producing high-quality content.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The concept would center on kindness. I frequently contemplate how the world might change if we all became a bit kinder, more understanding, and less reactive.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote, which I will always cherish, is the principle that we should strive to leave everything — and everyone — better than we found them. This philosophy guides both my professional and personal life, providing immense satisfaction. It serves as a crucial reminder, especially on challenging days.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would relish the opportunity to share a coffee with Charles Khabouth (I should call him). I admire the beauty he has brought to Toronto, drawing inspiration from various corners of the world.

Angela Ahrendts is another icon I’ve longed to meet. Her achievements in business are nothing short of incredible. Although we both had tenures at Apple, our paths unfortunately never intersected in person.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Connect with me and my work



Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.