Canadians Suck at Marketing

The behaviour that's costing you sales opportunities

Written by Chandra Clarke

Did you know that Canadians were responsible for the Java programming language, life-saving insulin injections, and even the humble egg carton?

I bet you didn’t, because one thing Canadians suck at is marketing and promotion. And that’s a shame, because it means we’re leaving a lot of money on the table.

I live in a small city, and recently, a major movie theatre chain built a new facility on the edge of town. It’s a great venue with, in theory, a great location. But, while the theatre is located in a high-traffic shopping area, its owners aren’t capitalizing on that. When you drive by, you can’t see what movies are playing. The marquee is too small and too far away from the road, and there isn’t a big sign closer to the parking lot entrance.

This is a classic example of a failure to take advantage of an opportunity to boost brand and visibility.

When I emailed the movie theatre company about this, a representative told me that the company wanted people to visit the theatre website or use their mobile app.

This rep’s single statement carries so many assumptions that it’s hard to know where to start. First, it assumes that patrons will automatically know the URL for the theatre’s website. The company does have a pretty straightforward web address, but even so, there are dozens of ways for a potential customer to get it wrong.

Second, it assumes that the theatre’s customer base either has web access or smart phone technology, will know about the app, will have the right OS to use the app, and will have the app installed.

To be fair, these aren’t completely unreasonable assumptions to make in 2013 about the demographic likely to most frequently use the theatre: teens and young adults. But how much revenue is the company losing by failing to optimize its signage to take advantage of all of that drive-by traffic and encourage impulse buys or top-of-mind presence?

The movie theatre company is also assuming the potential customer will remember to look up what’s playing at the theatre when making entertainment choices. Given how much competition there is for our recreational dollars (the local cocktail bar, the bowling alley, DVD rental, Xbox, iTunes, and so on), this is a big mistake.

This signage snafu can be looked at as a metaphor for the Canadian approach to marketing: we rarely take the opportunity to promote ourselves. It may be a cliché to accuse Canadians of failing to toot their own horn, but it happens all too often.

Read The 4 New Steps to Effective Marketing

Another small town near mine is the birthplace of a famous Canadian author, whose works are taught in English literature courses around the world. But you would never know it. The author’s former home sits unmarked on an anonymous side street. There’s no museum or

learning centre. There isn’t even a notice on the town’s entrance signs proclaiming that it’s the proud home of the author. And this means more than just a few extra dollars left behind: the town is slowly dwindling away to nothing, and needs the tourist money if it is going to survive.

We Canadians love to sneer at the American penchant for hyperbole—a “World Series” that doesn’t involve the rest of the world, garish and loud styling, and merchandising overkill (think bobbleheads).

Yet, we tune into the Superbowl every year, change our hockey arena names from the John Labatt Centre to Budweiser Gardens, and use Adobe Photoshop way more than we use CorelDraw. Why? Because Canadian companies consistently fail to market properly and then get severely outgunned when it’s time to compete.

Canadians must get over the shyness, or reserve, or modesty or whatever it is that prevents us from making our accomplishments known.

Instead of laughing at the Americans, we could learn a thing or two about the science of persuasion from them. Indeed, if you do nothing else to improve your business this year, learn how the Americans in your industry are promoting their companies.

Because in business, marketing isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

Read 4 Keys to Marketing to Canadians

Chandra Clarke is the president of, an award-winning, ISO-certified company that provides document-revision services to corporations and SMEs around the world. She blogs about the issues particular to female entrepreneurs at

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