Everything comes back to marketing

Kerry Knudsen

Kerry Knudsen

Up until 2008, the Canadian secondary wood-products sector pretty much had it made (although we didn’t know it). With a 40 percent advantage on the U.S. currency exchange, we could sell everything we made to the States and laugh all the way to the bank. Price was king.

However, 2008 was four years ago. Those were long years, too. The U.S. led off a global recession with its “free-mortgage” housing bubble, and, as always, when the U.S. got a cold, the rest of the world caught the flu.

Now, it’s time to shake it off. Flu passes, and, as we reported recently, the May issuance of building permits hit an all-time record (as usual, ignored in the popular press) in Canada. Now, the June numbers are out. Dutiful to a T, the popular media are pointing out a 2 percent decline in permits, but are failing to notice that residential permits are up. It’s institutions that are dragging the averages.

We have some new readers, so let me repeat that new residential permits mean new cabinetry, new tables, new beds, new windows and doors, new toys … new wood products consumers. It also means that, as people leave old, possibly multi-family living situations, the old space may require remodeling and replacing of moved or battered furniture.

This means the markets are alive, at least the domestic markets are in Canada. However, approaching those markets as new markets is tough. All the while we were courting the U.S., the domestic builders had to make do with what they had, and those suppliers are now pretty well settled in long-term relationships, and sometimes the only visible way to beat them is price.

In the outside world, the battle for market share has never let up, and otherwise seemingly sane and sober organizations have decided to ignore the ancient, dangerous practice of walking close to the edge in favour of jumping right off.

Take Bank of America, for example. Ad Age magazine recently reported BofA is now charging consumer advertisers (pizza, apparel, etc.) to attach e-coupons to BofA’s customers’ monthly bank statements!!! I can see the boardroom discussion now. Some rising star pointed out that everybody has to open a bank statement, and if it’s an e-statement, the coupon or ad can be placed so the consumer can’t miss it.

I can’t wait until Revenue Canada gets hold of this! Imagine what it would be worth to Pizza Universe for CRA to require the purchase of a 16-inch Supreme before you can get at the signature line. The government could get a slice of the pie, to be allocated back, in part, to the agency that created the opportunity, and Chuck Guité, Jean Brault and the Liberals’ 2006 Sponsorship Scandal (AdScam) would look like a walk in the park. The park, of course, would be on Google Maps, and you could be compelled to buy a soft drink before you could see the map.

The problem with stupid marketing ideas is that they backfire. At least, they backfire in North America. In Europe, there remains a greater tolerance for patriarchal, top-down control of communication. North Americans tend to get pushed about so far, and balk. This distinction is key, since marketing is communication. Nothing more; nothing less. Not all communication is marketing, but all marketing is communication. This causes a problem, because self-appointed gurus at BofA decide they are experts at communications because they have been talking since they were four. Squawking for your dinner is not really advanced communications. Ducks can manage that much, and then they go off, walking in a line, much like the cube farms on Bay Street empty each morning at 11:55. It’s odd a group that has such expertise in financials will ignore expertise in communications.

Walking in a line of ducks is not new marketing. The 63-cent dollar is gone, but the U.S. is not. Neither are Canada’s advantages in labour, resources, transportation and design. Would it be ground-breaking to set up a marketing program based on quality and turnaround, as well as price? The fact is, we had it before, we can’t be too far off now, and the Americans are seeing a boom in a few markets, and growth in most others. North Dakota, for one example, is exploding in economic and population terms, and I am assured some people there are having to share both cabinets and beds because of short supply.

If you want to communicate to a market, you need three things: 1) identify (target) your market. This is the “audience.” 2) find a medium that will get a response; not all media are the same. What happened when Mike Duffy left CTV? and 3)  tune your message. If you haven’t changed your message since 2008, you may be missing the boat.

Canada-Night-belt-buckle

In eight days we will be hosting a special event, Canada Night, at the IWF show in Atlanta. I will be interested to hear, especially from our Quebec readers, how the cancellation of the SIBO show affects them, and whether they consider an American show a substitute. There is no doubt IWF is a must-see, as the biggest show for our industry in this hemisphere, but it’s not Canadian, they don’t speak French, and if anybody focuses on Europe and new designs, it’s Quebec.

Not to over-sell, Canada Night is not a structured, time-stamped effort to cull Canadian bucks. It’s a space and time set up for Canadian attendees to relax a minute after the show, enjoy free food and drinks, including Canadian beer and Canadian music, and to cast an eye on how many of us actually show up for an American event and how much influence we carry. It’s free. You got a ticket to the event if you are an attendee (not exhibitor) and have a Postal Code instead of a ZIP.

The staff of Wood Industry will be there, and we will be anxious to speak with anybody that has an opinion to share.

I especially want to thank a few sponsors that agreed to pick up the extra costs: C.R. Onsrud, Blum, Richelieu, General, Doucet, Akhurst, Stiles, Royce-Ayr, Weima and Akzo Nobel. Just as an aside, look at who is based in or has major offices in Quebec. And the Americans don’t think there is room in Quebec for its own show!

The first 200 invitees through the door at Canada Night will receive a commemorative belt buckle (pictured above) from Wood Industry, but attendance is expected to break 400, so don’t be late.  It’s right on the way out in the Thomas B. Murphy Ballroom.

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