Working the reputation game: blog

Departing MiC news editor Sonya Fatah on why big-picture studies about Canadian cities are data points in the business of hyper-targeting.

By: Sonya Fatah

If you’ve been following conversations on social media or tracking the Canada vibe in international pubs, chances are you’ve noticed a resurgence of interest in the federation composed of Canucks. As right-wing politics and fear mongers build their constituencies elsewhere, 44-year-old Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made headlines exporting a different sort of message: one of inclusivity and collaboration. The last time brand Canada earned so much global media, it sonyaFatahwas on account of a former Toronto mayor whose message was less about that aspect of the human spirit.

Nonetheless, Ford and Trudeau aside, the things that Canadians are best known for have built up over the decades: hockey, multi-culturalism, a strong track record (excepting a recent eight-year rocky stretch) of peace-keeping, the Athabasca oil sands and a large and diverse geographic ecosystem. Each of these tap into an element in the planning mix we know matters: reputation.

Which is why when the latest Economist-crunched Global Liveability Ranking report landed in my inbox, I began thinking about how a place’s reputation adds to its sellability. More specifically, what does this quality-of-life adjudication mean for our community of advertisers? How does it impact the ability to sell a place, and more specifically an idea (around a product or a service) to the people who inhabit that space? After all, the drum roll has been ringing for Canadian cities for years. And again in 2016, three Canadians cities joined the elite top-ten list: Vancouver in 3rd spot, Toronto immediately following and Calgary at number six; Montreal comes in at 12.

Having covered the Media in Canada beat for the last year-and-a-half, I tried to wrap my head around the challenges marketers face as they look to achieve that golden target point (right place, right time, right audience). It occurred to me that the liveability report points to a few key urban traits best suited to our age of hyper-targeted marketing. That Canadian cities rank so high globally points to some juicy potential for those targeting buyers in urban areas. Healthy, wealthy places mean a few things: an affluent audience, people with disposable income, a desirable media inventory, advanced tech and innovation culture, to start with.

Moreover, collectively those four cities account for close to 40% of Canada’s population, specifically 12.9 million people, according to StatsCan census data from 2011.

Combining those rankings with the uptick in hyper-targeting has the potential to yield interesting results. Thanks to that wealth of data we can make sense of what it means to target Torontonians based on certain “truths” to which we know they relate: I think of these as emotional truths, ways of connecting with local audiences and building that much-wanted loyal base.

The biggest Canadian businesses have scaled up their hyper-targeting abilities, and specialists are highlighting their skillset with each passing quarter. A good example of that is Yellow Pages, which has expanded the way in which it rolls out its “Shop the Neighbourhood” campaign and acquired Juice Mobile to enhance its mobile-focused efforts, signaling how rich the opportunity is for small and medium-sized businesses as they hunt for local, connected shoppers.

The lay of the tech land in proximity targeting has also expanded rapidly over the last couple of years, making QR codes virtually a thing of the past, bringing beacons to the fore. According to a Magna Global report in 2015, digital OOH in Canada grew by almost 20%, and is expected to grow another 11% this year. Look to small digital-only OOH companies like Dynamic Outdoor, which places its boards before affluent, working-age commuters and picks up data about its audience through its beacon-fuelled intelligence system as cars pass under its boards.

Canadian retailers are behind the curve in employing beacon tech but over 12% already do and this year more are likely using first-party data to understand their consumer base better (and re-target them appropriately).

Another fascinating subset of the quest for that perfect, loyal, repeat customer has set off a whole culture of neuro-marketing firms. Big data companies like Google have invested in brain-research to understand how (emotionally) viewers connect with brands through content. Toronto-based Brainsights launched its brand based on reading the minds of those sampled for its studies. Earlier this year it did a piece on Canadian viewers of Super Bowl ads. The results? Brainwave readers showed that Canadians most connected with Canadian ads (ie. local, relatable context).

Then there is Environics, which like Yellow Pages, has a platform called PRIZM, allowing marketers to hyper-target by geography, to reach the most accurate of demographic profiles it has logged. There’s also Quebec-based Neurom├ętric, which has worked with Quebecor Media to analyze how viewers relate to content (golden nuggets for those in the media and production business).

This brings me back to the liveability report and why it matters. Since geography is everything and where and how we live places us in profile categories like “urban digerati” the overall context of the place we live provides a clear target map for deeper digging. Bring out those hoes and shovels!