What Can Canadian CMOs Learn from the Volatile Retail Industry?

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Toronto Eaton Centre. Photo: WikipediaToronto Eaton Centre. Photo: Wikipedia

Toronto Eaton Centre. Photo: Wikipedia

By Kenneth Evans, Managing Partner, APEX Public Relations and ruckus Digital

The Chief Marketing Officer is fast emerging as one of the most influential roles in an organization, as they are increasingly seen as key agents in repelling and overcoming the disruption sweeping virtually every sector of the economy. It was with these developments in mind that APEX PR, ruckus Digital and research partner MaruBlue launched the CMO Lab project. Our motivation was to determine if Canada’s marketers are genuinely keeping up with the pace of change. Yet, the results are not what we expected.

Despite massive change, new competitive pressures and technological disruption – pressures Canadian retailers know all too well – only one third of Canada’s CMOs have changed or evolved their strategies in the last few years.

There are a few reasons as to why there’s been little change. Canadian operations can be “satellite offices”, with budgets and campaigns coming from HQ in other countries, making Canadian marketing plays more transactional. Some organizations are also still relatively siloed – and are not prone to collaboration between divisions. For others, it’s the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, thinking that there’s more risk than reward when it comes to changing their ways.


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Upper Canada Mall. Photo: Oxford PropertiesUpper Canada Mall. Photo: Oxford Properties

Upper Canada Mall. Photo: Oxford Properties

But conventional marketing no longer delivers the audience, engagement or impact that brands need today, and it’s clear that marketers who are unable to shift from traditional tactics to a strategic and integrated approach are putting their organizations’ brand reputation and customer loyalty at risk.

Based on our own experience, it’s clear that marketers in Canada’s retail sector fall within the one third of those who’ve shifted their approach. Due to the cutthroat competition and the influx of new retailers entering the Canadian market, there’s no room for complacency. This continent-wide competition that the retail sector is facing has compelled its marketers to be extremely savvy when it comes to communications. To be frank, senior level marketers in Canadian retail deserve much kudos for this and we encourage marketers in other sectors to pay attention to their strategies. 


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So what are the one third doing right?

The one third of senior level marketers who’ve changed their approach are adopting an integrated communications strategy. This means more dollars are being spent on digital communications – such as influencers, video production, social media and paid digital, while still driving earned media coverage. Integrated programs allow brands to engage with their audience in a holistic way.

The one third are also effective collaborators. Most have moved away from the hero agency model, and instead collaborate with multiple agency partners across creative, media, digital and PR to strategize concepts and start the ideation process. With this model, the “big idea” for a narrative can come from anyone. When this happens, the different agency partners bring their own strengths to the table to help execute in a coherent way.

Understanding effective content is the final piece of the puzzle. Today, content across all channels must have strong editorial sensibility. Content has to tell a story to drive engagement and create word of mouth.

Keeping up with the retail sector

Walmart Canada is a fine example of a brand that has successfully collaborated with its multiple agency partners to execute its integrated programming. As a leader in sophisticated integrated communications, the brand also played in the digital space with its unbranded web series, Upstairs Amy, which also integrated Canadian influencers.

Canada Goose is another great example. The brand is in the middle of what can be considered a “parka war” with heavy weight players like Mackage and Moose Knuckles. Canada Goose, however, has effectively cut through the noise, with unique campaign elements like a YouTube video series, in-store activations and a partnership with the Sundance Film Festival.


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Three things marketers can learn from Canadian Retail marketers:

Get integrated

Senior level marketers should expand their use of integrated communications to optimize programs, reach more audiences and stand out from the competition. By doing so, they will achieve greater consistency of brand messages, enhance consumer engagement, public and employee engagement while driving sustainable growth.

Scrap the hero agency

Working with one agency could halt the creative process. Collaborating with multiple agencies and allowing them to participate in the ideation phase reaps great results. Giving others a chance to form a brand’s narrative and effectively working together on execution paves the way for a rush of new ideas.

Tell your story

When developing a content strategy, ask yourself: does this content have a strong editorial sensibility? Strong content puts the consumer first, and the brand second. Otherwise, it’s just an ad.

Stay on the lookout for new CMO Lab content from APEX / ruckus Digital and follow the conversation using the #CMOLab hashtag.


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Kenneth Evans is a Managing Partner at APEX Public Relations. A 20-year plus senior corporate communications strategist and communications trainer to some of the globe’s top brands, Kenneth has carved out a reputation for cultivating compelling brand narratives that protect and advance corporate reputations. Follow him on Twitter @kenmevans.

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