Last week I attended the ExactTarget Connect conference in Toronto, the last of ExactTarget’s three-stop world tour. Several of our clients are global brands with locations in Canada, so I was interested to get a first hand look at the Canadian email landscape to see how it compared with the U.S., E.U., and APAC, and to hear what unique challenges our northern neighbors face.


The State of Email in Canada

ExactTarget Connect TorontoAfter speaking to companies throughout the day, both B2C retail brands and B2B companies, what I learned is that the sophistication of the email marketing programs is lagging behind the US. Many are still sending emails from an in-house platform, some are just getting started on an ESP, and some have not started email marketing at all. The Canadian marketers I spoke with seem to be more risk-adverse than their southern counterparts.

While in Toronto, ExactTarget released its latest “Subscribers, Fans and Followers” report: The Digital North, which summarizes the digital behaviors of Canadians across email, Facebook, and Twitter. According to the report, 93% of Canadians have subscribed to at least one brand’s email marketing messages, 61% have liked a brand on Facebook, and 13% are following at least one brand on Twitter.

Further, according to The Digital North, “Canadians in general tend to be slightly more cautious online consumers compared with other countries we’ve studied so far. With competition for ‘inbox attention’ already increasing, this selectivity highlights the imperative for marketers to send only relevant communications.” This points to one reason Canadian marketers have not been more aggressive in pursuing email marketing: consumers have been hesitant to accept this digital relationship.

Perhaps another reason for their hesitation to jump into the email marketing space is CASL: the Canadian Anti-Spam Law, which continues to be revised for clarity. Current outstanding issues that still need to be addressed by the CTRC include:

  • The meaning of “commercial” and what is subject to the law
  • The role of service providers in “sending on behalf” of others
  • Legacy data and the status of existing consent
  • The application of the law to cookies

Until there is clarity on these elements, enforcement of CASL will continue to be an issue and the opportunities for retail brands to expand their email marketing programs will suffer, and the associated growth in their overall businesses that effective email marketing programs can deliver will not be realized.


From 0 to 96 kph

Meanwhile, Canadian marketers have observed the email marketing successes of their fellow associates in the US and they are ready to get started. Data from The Digital North report supports this too, stating that 71% of Canadians check email when they wake up in the morning and 54% have a smartphone.

Instead of starting at a crawl stage, I believe these marketers will skip putting their toe in the water and jump right into the walk or run phase. Imagine going from not having a welcome email trigger at all to launching a three-part welcome series with dynamic content designed and built to be responsive; or from not having an email sign up on the site at all, to having an optimized email gate that also collects a mobile phone number and triggers a text message that begins a conversation to collect additional subscriber preferences. That’s the leap that Canadian marketers are ready to make.



There are brands and marketers in Canada that have prioritized digital marketing and are rapidly innovating. This includes Kevin Murphy from Beyond the Rack (a flash sale site) and Mark Daprato from, who were part of a panel during the conference moderated by Mitch Joel. When asked what their top tactical priorities are in the near-term, Murphy cited 1) mobile push, 2) responsive design for email and 3) personalization. Daprato stated the focus is engagement because email is their best converting channel, on par with paid search.

Both agreed that companies need to break down the silos to reach the 1-1 communication necessary for the relevancy that subscribers (especially Canadians) demand. Given the high volume of campaigns from Beyond the Rack, Murphy said relevance is the key indicator, whether that is timing, the message, content or personalization. Daprato spoke about’s integrated social loyalty network and email program, whereby subscribers are rewarded for sharing emails with their friends. But both gentlemen agreed that it has been difficult to identify the most relevant way to tie in the social conversation with email marketing. A local agency agreed, noting that the email team and social team are frequently two different teams, often in two different locations, within an organization. I don’t think this is characteristic limited to Canada, however, we see this at our clients in the U.S. as well.


Mobile is the Center of the Universe

While Canadian marketers ramp up their email marketing efforts, Joel Book, Principal, Marketing Research & Education at ExactTarget, reminded the audience that the website is ground zero and must be optimized for receiving the traffic from email, search, social, etc. According to Gartner, in 2013 mobile phones will overtake PCs for web traffic and according to a recent Google research study, 67% of consumers are more likely to buy a company’s product if its website is mobile-friendly. Mitch Joel further reiterated that marketers have a new real estate – the home screen on your mobile device. We should be asking how we can own that most privileged real estate.

Joel explained how marketing has evolved in recent years. Rather than creating advertising for the masses, you are creating a direct marketing relationship with your customer. Technology today is allowing marketers to speak to customers 1-1, but it requires data for personalization and a shift in thinking to create something of value that augments the brand experience. For example, rather than creating an app where customers can download coupons or play a game with the bear, Charmin created an app called Sit or Squat, which allows the community of users to identify the nearest restroom. Not just any restroom though, select from a location that is family-friendly, or one that has been rated high by the community for cleanliness. Sit or Squat might be the pinnacle of relevant marketing — a functional app created by a brand that approached marketing a commodity by truly keeping the customer’s needs top of mind.


Inspired Marketing

Attendees of ETConnect in Toronto left inspired with an evolved perspective on digital marketing. Each was challenged to approach their marketing innovations from the customer’s point of view, center ideation on the mobile device, and use data for not only true personalization but to deploy the messages in alignment with your customer’s passive or active state. By doing so, you too can create direct relationships with your customers in today’s digital world.

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  • Joe Kuntz

    Joe Kuntz

    8 years
    Well done Cara. I agree with all of your points above. Many Canadian marketers have significant opportunities in front of them, but their risk aversion is keeping some from taking advantage of those opportunities.