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Waterloo: We can be better at marketing

Before I start, let me say that I love Waterloo. It’s been home to my family and company for 9 years now.  It’s also a great place for entrepreneurs. As a vibrant start-up scene full of support, it makes for one of Canada’s best places to start a business — depending on the business.

As an entrepreneur and business owner myself, over the last nine years I’ve learned a valuable lesson:

If you want to build a digital marketing agency, don’t rely on Waterloo for clients.

Yes, we’ve worked with some great clients in the region, but for the most part, companies in Waterloo don’t get marketing and they sure as heck don’t invest in it. It’s not a Canadian thing, either. Our clients in Guelph and Toronto are considerably more sophisticated when it comes to carrying out and investing in marketing. Here in Waterloo, companies love making things, they just don’t care or know how to tell the world about them. I’ve spoken to frustrated marketers across the region and they agree, the business culture here doesn’t appreciate marketing.

Before you start throwing out names of companies that are doing a great job, let me save you the time. I like North too. I like Axonify, Miovision, and Vidyard. They’re doing some great things with their marketing, but they’re anomalies.

The fact is, Waterloo needs to mature on the marketing front. Here are 5 reasons why I suspect it hasn’t. 

#1: A Business Culture Driven By Engineering & Sales

To a certain degree, Waterloo’s economy is driven by a mix of engineering and sales. Build it. Ship it. Sell it. Overall, I think this is a powerful mix, but companies need to appreciate the mass scale awareness that can be driven by marketing to entertain and delight an audience. Unfortunately, marketing talent in Waterloo is relegated to serve at the beck and call of sales teams. This miscasting of marketers as sales’ underlings creates a negative culture and leads to…

#2: Uninspired Marketing Talent

In some ways, I can understand why companies don’t see marketing as a valuable aspect of their organization, because our community lacks skilled and inspired marketing talent. Something about Waterloo seems to just suck the creativity out of marketers. There’s a general lack of gumption and next-level thinking and I’m continually amazed at how far behind marketers are with basic digital tactics. It’s like we’re 3 to 4 years behind. The talent feels stale, it feels risk-averse and frankly, uninspired. The problem doesn’t just lie with companies, it lies with boring marketers.

#3: Results-Focused to a Fault

When I hear a CEO say they are results-focused, it sets off red flags. I get it, you like results, but congratulations, that’s the goal of business. What they’re really saying is, “I have no patience in building a strong marketing discipline. Please continue hammering our lists.”

The problem is marketing and sales teams take shortcuts early on in the marketing process and it screws them in the long-run. In particular, they under-invest in technologies and tactics that will drive long-term lead flow. They build and blast email lists over and over, with no appreciation for inspiring content strategies to drive a steady stream of organic leads later down the line. THE NUMBER ONE TACTIC FOR LEAD GENERATION IS BUILDING ORGANIC LEAD FLOW! Marketing is supposed to be about finding creative ways to get consistent organic traffic that’s ready to buy. It’s the job of sales to focus on high-value accounts and actual lead conversion.

#4: A Cheap, Bootstrap Culture

I’ve been in meetings with founders of scale-ups who balk at a very moderate price of a new website. I’ve also seen CEOs spend ungodly amounts of time building their own new website instead of spending that time building their business.

Dude, you’re not a startup anymore. Go focus on other things.

I’m not sure how to say this without sounding like a jerk, but businesses in Waterloo are cheap. They’re not cheap when it comes to hiring developers. They’re not cheap when it comes to buying a thousand-dollar espresso machine for their office. They’ll gladly blow the budget on these sorts of things, but when it comes to investing in scalable approaches to growth, they’d rather hack away at it themselves, save money, and sacrifice quality.

#5: A Conservative, Wait-and-See Culture

As much as we celebrate how innovative the region is, or how amazing we are at building the future, I can’t help but disagree. Frankly, I think we kind of suck at it. Sure, there are a few companies with inspiring leaders who see the future, but in my experience, they aren’t supported by visionary talent. Once you get past a few bold leaders, you’re left with a hyper-conservative, wait-and-see culture, especially when it comes to marketing.

Most marketing teams panic and default to replicating the marketing tactics of the past. I rarely see teams take risks and try new ideas. They’re not thinking about what’s next because they’re stuck doing what they’ve always done. They need to move on from yesterday’s tactics and build on them to create something new.

We As Marketers Are To Blame

Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to blame the particular characteristics of the Waterloo region, the heart of this problem lies in marketers. It’s our job to challenge convention and push new ideas. It’s our job to be ahead of the curve rather than simply keeping up with it. More importantly, it’s our job to push leadership to better understand and appreciate marketing.

As a marketing leader, you need to get creative. You need to get inspired. You need to do the marketing of the future, not the tactics of the past.

We’ve spent the last 9 years convincing smart companies to strive for great marketing. We’ve had our successes, but as a community we need to do better.

And it starts with all of us.

Ryan Burgio

Co-founder & Managing Director

Ryan is the Co-Founder and Manager Director of Stryve. As an entrepreneur, he is prone to bouts of incredible optimism and setting unrealistic expectations for his team.

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