We know that Canadian marketers have about 1/10 of the budget of their American counterparts. So often, we hear our clients lament that they can’t afford the big flashy builds so common in major American markets like New York or even across the pond in London. But I would argue that smaller budgets aren’t what’s holding Canadian marketers back from truly harnessing the potential of experiential marketing. Instead, it’s our inherent conservativeness.
We are, by nature, not a nation or risk takers.
I recently ran an event strategy workshop with a client who was trying to establish KPIs for an upcoming initiative. The team had thoughtfully and methodically researched comparable initiatives, calculated reach, and accounted for their potential pitfalls and resourcing issues. With these factors, they had arrived at a reasonable and achievable goal.
The organization had an affiliate south of the border who, in the last year, had launched a similar program with an ambitious mandate. When asked how they had arrived at their goal number they admitted that “We just thought it sounded cool.”
We all laughed at how this encounter perfectly summed up the stereotype of the America as the cool kid, and Canada as its nerdy and studious sidekick.
However, this is not to say that the Americans had it wrong. Though they had not employed the same rigour and care as their Canadian counterparts, they allowed themselves the freedom to be ambitious. And once their goal was set, they were bound to it.
Business Magazine Inc. reports that experiments have shown that participants who aimed for higher (though less likely to be achieved) returns reported greater satisfaction than those who went for the safe bets. Moreover, has there ever been a breakthrough innovation in any sector (and at any given time) that was achieved without bold thinking and the courage to act upon it?
In Canada, we want to do what is tried and tested—precisely why spin wheel activations continue to plague every Canadian sporting event or festival (look out for my next piece on this topic, “Death to the Spin Wheel”).
In all fairness, perhaps it is not that we want to do what is tried and tested, but our cautious nature eventually waters down a blue sky concept until it’s become a ho-hum idea—one that’s an anodyne result of several levels of approvals. Through a thousand little comprises, we lose the nugget of what made the idea special and exciting in the first place.
Conversely, risk is exciting. No one has ever been the first to do anything without taking some level of risk. Once you eliminate that, though, the idea becomes toothless.
We may never see marketing budgets like those of our American friends, but Canadian marketers—both agency and client side—can do their part to shift the culture through the following:

  1. Brainstorm freely. When you begin a brainstorm by outlining a host of restrictions and considerations, you restrict the thinking. Find the insight or golden nugget of an idea first, and then make sure it passes the logistical smell test.
  2. Develop a Diverse Idea Community. Invite people from all corners and levels of an organization to participate in ideation. Even consider bringing in outside vendors or consultants because you never know where a good idea is going to come from. Surrounding yourself with the same people, who think similarly to you, will simply nurture the same vanilla ideas. Different viewpoints and conflicting opinions breed the best results.
  3. Give yourself a long runway. As stated above, doing something new inherently comes with an element of risk, but we can mitigate this by allowing ourselves enough time to properly QA test the experience.
  4. Be open. This is the most vital step, and it is important at every level of an organization. Too often great ideas are killed before they even have a chance to be heard.
  5. Stand up for creativity. Don’t be deterred by pushback. Expect objections and be prepared to demonstrate why a new idea is worth the risk.

New for new’s sake is not the goal. Ultimately, any marketing initiative needs to be serve a business purpose and be rooted in an insight about your intended audience. But we can do better. We can be both smart and bold.
In fact, this combination is even more critical in Canada because with smaller budgets we need to be more nimble, more resourceful, and more clever.
So, with that in mind, no more excuses, Canada! Let’s think bigger, dream more, and take some risks—smartly.