Category Archives for "Marketing"

Competitive Analysis – The 3 Essential Building Blocks

Competitive Analysis
Competitive Analysis

An area of sales and marketing that often gets overlooked and underserved is developing a comprehensive competitive analysis.

Most times we know who we compete against on a regular basis, but it’s typically high level. The fact is that most companies don’t invest nearly enough time and energy understanding their competition deeply enough. They also neglect to create a process for feedback needed to keep the information current. In a study by the CMO Council, only 9% of companies surveyed had extensively analyzed their competitors. To make things worse, a surprising number of businesses don’t make it a priority to understand how they won or lost deals by doing formal reviews after the fact.

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”  ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Knowing your competition inside and out will help you: learn what others in your industry are doing; what prospects want; and how to position and differentiate your company with more impact. All of which eventually leads to more sales! If this makes so much sense, why don’t companies do enough of it? Why can’t they sustain it once they have started? Great questions and a few simple answers come immediately to mind:

Competitive Profiles

​ 1. They have glossed through the exercise 5 years ago and feel they still have it covered
 2. They don’t make it a priority and it sits on a long to-do list somewhere
 3. There is no ownership or process to keep the information current
 4. They don’t know how to do it well or don’t have a disciplined process to manage it

#1 Competitive Profiles

The starting point for doing a competitive analysis is something I call competitive profiling. This process is the research conducted to get a complete view of who your competitors are, what they do, and their strengths and weaknesses. Think of this as your “pre-game preparation.” The output of this effort is a “Competitive Profile” – which is a detailed summary of each key competitor you face on a regular basis (usually a 2-page document, or small slide deck).

#2 Product Face-Offs

These usually involve creating tools such as feature-benefit checklists or side-by-side comparisons. Be sure to think about them from the buyer’s point of view since having product attributes that are not relevant from their perspective is a waste of time. It’s a good practice to think about your product comparisons in terms of:

  • Table-Stakes: The features that are minimum requirements. and
  • Differentiators: The features that add more value than competitive offerings

Other critical aspects of Product Face-Offs are quality, pricing, packaging and service and support levels. Going through this exercise will help you understand two important things:

  • The direction your product development needs to take, and
  • How to position more successfully against others with what you have today

#3 Win-Loss Analysis

Thoughtful forensic work on past sales opportunities will help you understand the reasons a buyer selected you, or your competitor. It provides key insights into the perceptions buyers have about your products, pricing, and approach. Even though we call it Win-Loss Analysis, people tend to focus much more on lost opportunities and often ignore the “win side” of the equation. Although it may have been a well run sales campaign (at least in the salesperson’s mind), there is still a great deal that can be learned when you ask people why they bought from you. For more information about the power of analyzing your “wins”, see Win Analysis: A Neglected Hero of Analytics.

How Much Detail is Enough?

Competitive Analysis can be as deep and detailed as you want. There is, of course, a rational balance between what you need to know versus the merely interesting. The level of depth you need for a Competitive Analysis and the types of information you gather, will be determined in large part by your industry and offering. For example, if you sell high-ticket products or services in multi-year contracts, or your products require a high degree of aftermarket support – then prospects will have more interest in factors such as the vendor’s stability, reputation, and service structure. In this scenario, your Competitive Profile will focus more heavily on those things. If the product is a one-time purchase with little post-sale interaction – an increased focus may be placed on factors such as the product specifications, pricing, return policies, etc. Before building a Competitive Profile template, you must decide what things will be most significant in your market.

Who Owns the Competitive Analysis Process?

Competitive Analysis is always a team effort, but typically Marketing drives the process and creates the frameworks and artifacts needed. If your organization is large enough to have a dedicated Product Marketing function, that group would normally be responsible. Sales will play the strongest supporting role in gathering the intelligence. After all, they are in the trenches day in and day out. Also, executives, customer support, service staff and anyone else who interacts with clients and prospects on a regular basis will be good sources of feedback. It’s important to make the process clearly understood and as simple as possible for those who contribute. A good practice it to use standardized templates and forms and make sure they get stored in a place that is easy to access – a folder on your company Intranet, or CRM as examples.

Using Competitive Analysis

Now that you have all this great information, how can it will it be used to help close more business? Marketing will use it for market positioning, messaging, and targeted competitive campaigns. Salespeople will rely on it to help them “position” and focus the prospect on the right factors in competitive sales cycles. The knowledge will also help your salespeople build credibility by showing they know their industry. It’s best to share Competitive Analysis through formal training sessions as new profiles are created. It’s also a good idea to make sharing competitive strategy and best-practices a formal and ongoing part of your sales meetings. There is some subtlety in leveraging competitive information. Sales must always be honest and tactful when contrasting with competitors, and they should never put a company, it’s product or people down! Those who blatantly “slam” competitors will seldom leave a good impression and at times it’s disastrous. Instead, sales should focus more on what’s most important to the prospect, how you positively differ from others, and how your offering will best satisfy the need.


Leads and opportunities are not easy or inexpensive to develop. The vast majority of sales cycles are tough battles fought against one or more adversaries. Competitive analysis will help you win more business if you invest the right amount of time, thought and energy into it. If you don’t have the bandwidth, resources or know-how, you may want to consider outsourcing. For a higher level view of industry analysis and competition, you may be interested in this good overview of Porter’s Five Forces Analysis.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and would love to hear your thoughts about Competitive Analysis or any experiences you can share. Please follow us on your favorite social feed and Contact us if we can help in any way.

Competitive Profiles – Build Them and Win More Often!

Competitive Profiles
Competitive Profiles

​In a recent article titled Competitive Analysis – The 3 Essential Building Blocks, I presented a framework for building a strong competitive analysis.

The three basic building blocks needed to gain a deep understanding of your key adversaries are Competitive Profiles, Product Face-Offs, and Win-Loss Analysis. Any one of these is valuable on its own, but when they are combined, you have the full and powerful picture. Today, we are going to focus on building Competitive Profiles. It should be noted that going through . . .

​“How can you win against an enemy you can’t see?”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Knowing your competition inside and out will help you: learn what others in your industry do; what prospects want; and how to position and differentiate your company with higher impact. All of which leads to more sales!

If this makes so much sense, why don’t companies do enough of it? Why can’t they sustain it once they have started? Great questions and a few simple answers come immediately to mind:

Competitive Profiles

​ 1. They have glossed through the exercise 5 years ago and feel they still have it covered
 2. They don’t make it a priority and it sits on a long to-do list somewhere
 3. There is no ownership or process to keep the information current
 4. They don’t know how to do it well or don’t have a disciplined process to manage it

​Competitive Analysis Overview

​A thorough Competitive Analysis consists of three basic building blocks: Competitor Profiles; Product Face-Offs, and Win-Loss Analysis. The ultimate goals of having this information are to help you win more often, with less effort and better margins. As you would suspect, sales and marketing leverage competitive analysis the most. However, the data will also provide essential inputs into critical decisions that impact your product development roadmap, overall business strategy and potentially M&A considerations.

Competitor Profile Components

Listed below are the typical elements of a detailed Competitor Profile. Not an exhaustive list, but the essentials. Again, some of these may be more or less important depending on your business.

Competitor Profile Components

A Competitor Profile starts with the background information about your competitor’s business situation, structure, and so on. If they are a public company, most of this data will be readily available. If private, then you will need to do more digging. The typical attributes you will want to know are as follows:

  • History: When did the company start? How has it evolved? What was the founder’s vision? What is their current focus?
  • Lines of Business: What other products and services do they offer? What percentages of revenue come from each LOB?
  • Structure and Size: Public/Private? Annual income? (particularly in the areas that impact your market), Number of employees?
  • Locations: Where is the head office?, Where are other offices, plants, and service centers?
  • Leadership: Who are the relevant key executives? (tenure, responsibilities, backgrounds, etc.)
  • Financials: How they are doing financially and how is the growth rate trending?
  • Reputation: How they are perceived in the industry and within your specific battlegrounds? Have they had previous legal issues, negative press, etc.?

Strengths / Weaknesses

​Perhaps the most useful element of the Competitor Profile is defining your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses (SWOT analysis), and this is often the starting point. There is always a subjective aspect in identifying strengths and weaknesses, but try to gain as much external perspective and as many hard facts as possible. Some of the best sources of this data include: learning gained from previous sales cycles; publicly posted reviews (social media, Glassdoor, etc.); and their customers, prospects, and former clients. An entire article that could be (and surely has been) written on how to gather this information, but the simple premise is that the more data and proof-points you have – the better! Making a statement about a competitor that your prospect knows, or believes is inaccurate will instantly dissolve your credibility. The only worse thing is making a comparison that is a distinct competitive slam. Every company has its weak points. If you look hard enough and talk to enough people, you will find them. It’s also critical that you identify and respect their strengths as well, so you can use your competitive strategy in the way that artfully deals with them.

Product Summary

This section is intended to provide a high-level overview of the offerings your competitors have that are comparable to yours. Unless what you sell is incredibly simple, the detailed product comparisons should be created in separate Product Face-Off documents. The information in the product summary of your Competitive Profiles would include:

  • Your competitor’s product names and brief descriptions
  • The name and brief descriptions of your products aligning with those stated above
  • The top 3 strengths and weaknesses of each product
  • An indication of whether your product wins more often, less often, or relatively the same in your deals (percentages would be best)
  • Relative overall quality and pricing comparisons (superior, equal, inferior for example)

Again, the idea here is that the Competitor Profile is a single view of a rival and not a 20-page document. It should give the reader a good “feel “of the products you are competing with and how your offering stacks up.

Target Market

This section is really about several things – who the competitor sells to and where, and how strong they are relative to your company. It also should include your win-rate against them in competitive situations – you can draw this from your Win-Loss Analysis. Some of the key questions to answer here would be:

  • Market Focus: What vertical markets do they target? How large are the companies they target? (small business, SMB, Enterprise, etc.), Are there new areas they are trying to break into?
  • Geographic Sandbox: Where do they sell? What are the overlaps with your geographic presence? How do you stack up in each region (win-rate, regional market share, focus, strengths, etc.)
  • Market Share: How big is the overall industry in which they are competing against you? Can you approximate how much share they own?
  • Customer Base: Who are their major clients? How much overlap is there with your client base? How much direct competition has there been for your large customers and theirs?

Go-to-Market Strategy

One of the more important factors in looking at competitors is how they market and sell against you and others. Knowing this will help you better prepare your go-to-market strategies. It will also help your sales people when going head-to-head against them. Some of the key questions to answer here would be:

  • Positioning: What are they trying to be to the market? (low price leaders, best service, highest quality, premium provider, etc.) What themes and messaging do they use to reinforce the positioning goal?
  • Value Proposition: How do they define their audience, offering, value and differentiation?
  • Marketing Effectiveness: How do you perceive the quality of their marketing program? What does their marketing strategy focus on? How are they building awareness in the marketplace? What tactics and campaigns are they using to drive engagement? How effective is their website, social media coverage, traditional media coverage and analyst recognition?
  • Channels: Do they sell through partners, direct, online, or a combination? How much of their business that competes with you comes from each channel?
  • Sales Team: If they have a direct sales team – what is the structure? Where are the people and are they well-trained? Is there a general style? (consultative, aggressive, etc.)

Finding Information About Competitors

Gathering the information that goes into a Competitive Analysis does take time and energy. Some find it better to outsource their competitive research which will cut down the work significantly. However, the most vital sources of input will come from your sales team and actual competitive situations. Here are a few ideas that might help you get started:

  • ​For competitors that are public companies, leverage readily available corporate SEC (US) and SEDAR (Canada) reports online.
  • Leverage government resources (Statistics Canada, public directories, etc.)
  • Go through your competitor’s website with a fine-toothed comb. This exercise will fill in the majority of your information gaps.
  • Scour online blogs, reviews, press releases and any other web resources related to your competitor and the industry
  • Have a formal internal feedback process to gather real-time input from sales, marketing, and other relevant stakeholders in your company
  • Ask clients or prospects who have dealt with them for information

Finding Information About Competitors

I believe that having the best possible “handle” on your key competitors will help win more business. If you agree, you may want to consider investing more time and energy into it. If you don’t have the resources or know-how, consider outsourcing. Hopefully, you have picked up a point or two here that helps. For a higher level view of industry analysis and competition, you may be interested in this good overview of Porter’s Five Forces Analysis on the MaRS website. Remember the famous words of Sun Tzu “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”

I hope you have enjoyed this article and would love to hear your thoughts about Competitive Analysis or any experiences you can share. Please follow us on your favorite social feed and Contact us if we can help in any way.

Selling Services: “In-House” is the Toughest Competitor

Selling Services
Selling Services

​In a recent article called Competitive Analysis – Know More, Win More!, I stressed the importance of getting to know your competitors.

​It struck me afterward that for those selling services, particularly in the B2B space, the toughest battle is usually fought against in-house resources. It’s often easy for us to lose sight of this vital fact, and I think there is a missed opportunity when we don’t pay it the attention it deserves.

​In-House or Outsource?

​There are plenty of arguments for and against outsourcing. Should manufacturing companies run their own cafeteria? Should legal firms run printing departments? If those activities are not core to their respective missions and strengths, then the reasonable answer is “no.”

There are certainly situations when running non-core functions in-house can make sense, but hidden costs and lost opportunity should always be major considerations. So why do companies hold onto activities that don’t serve a strategic purpose? Some common reasons are as follows:

  • They believe doing as much as possible in-house gives them more control
  • They think they are saving money (in some cases this may be true)
  • They have some capacity available and they want to keep people busy
  • Challenges in finding, trusting and then managing outsourcing partners
  • A previous bad experience with outsourcing – regrettably this can happen
  • For some business leaders, it’s a mix of ego and human nature – “why pay someone else to do it when we have people here?”

​Selling Services More Effectively Against In-House

​The intent of this article is not really to answer the outsource / in-house question. The goal is to get you thinking about the part of your market choosing to do what you provide, themselves.

You should view this group as a unique market segment and in a real sense, a formidable competitor. When selling services to these companies, you should be as strategic as you would when facing an external rival. Here are some ideas that may help:

  • ​Know your industry well enough to get a sense of the size of the “Doing-it-Themselves” portion of it
  • If a high ratio of companies in your addressable market are performing your services themselves, you need to know why and how
  • The insights from the point above will help your positioning and messaging have greater impact
  • If this is your situation, the messaging gets more heavily weighted on “why they should be outsourcing” first – followed by “why they should outsource with you”
  • Focus on clearly articulating the value of outsourcing – help prospects understand how they win!
    • Build a business case and use cost-analysis tools showing ROI and the advantages of leaving it to the experts. There is always interest in saving money and doing what makes sense for the company. It’s important to show the many hidden costs as well.
    • Point out how your prospect can focus on other aspects of their business that are more strategic. For example, if you are an IT hosting company, your message may be something like “Ms. Prospect, you are accountants. Rather than investing time and money managing servers, networks and storage – let us do that! You can reduce headcount and get IT working on internal and client-facing applications that will improve your business and help you differentiate.”
    • Show proven results and metrics from similar companies using your services. Leverage testimonials and case studies. – a sure way to gain the attention of your “in-house” prospects.
    • Build the “value of outsourcing” story into your presentations, sales talk-tracks and other collateral, and lead with it
  • Think about the migration path and be able to show them how they will transition. Again, use real-world scenarios and map out the processes you have in place to make it easy and smooth.

​Some of this may seem obvious but make no mistake – selling services requires a different kind of positioning. And, if you have a large portion of potential prospects written off because they don’t outsource now, you are missing a significant opportunity! Change your approach by heavily educating these prospects on why outsourcing makes sense. If not, your pitch will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.

Please share any thoughts or experiences you may have with this topic. Contact us if we can help you with your marketing in any way, or point you in the right direction.

Effective B2B Marketing -  6 Things you Absolutely Need!

Effective B2B Marketing
Effective B2B Marketing

Building an effective B2B marketing program can be a long, tough road. But, when investments are made the returns on your effort and patience will be generously rewarded.

How much thought do you put into your marketing plan – is it enough? Do you have clear, realistic goals? Do you have everything you need to execute properly?

My experience has been that many companies miss on one or more of these essential elements and end up being underwhelmed by the outcome. Getting great results from marketing is not an accident, and although there are many success factors, I believe six are most critical.

6 Key Ingredients of Effective B2B Marketing

#1 Strategic Planning

This is one of the most crucial components and the starting point of effective B2B marketing. When not enough time, focus or thought are invested in creating the plan, the rest won’t matter. The main aspects of good planning include:

  • A reliable process and a standard framework for mapping out your plan.
  • Research and analysis of the key inputs that should be used.
    • Internally-focused information including the value proposition; business objectives; budget; available resources; and historical results.
    • Externally-focused information including marketing segmentation and competitive analysis.
  • In-house planning expertise and skills – if you don’t have these, consider getting help.

#2 Realistic Goals

The budget has to be substantial enough to align with your goals. Determining this number can be difficult, but you have to do it. Looking at past results can help. Also, the objectives themselves need to be achievable in the timeframe you’re working with. Important considerations are:

  • The time-to-impact must be understood. What you do now will not bear fruit until some point in the future. This is particularly the case when sales cycles are long and/or complex.
  • Don’t underestimate the time it takes to develop ideas and execute. It takes longer than people think. When you’re involved in the more creative parts of marketing, inspiration isn’t something you can turn on like a switch.
  • Don’t forget about “foundational” work that still needs to get done such as administration, training, implementing tools, managerial duties, and sales support. These activities need to be accounted for.
  • Build at least a small buffer into your plan for unexpected requests and opportunities that may arise during a given period.

#3 Effective Prioritization

It all comes down to choice. Knowing what to focus on is a constant battle, but when research, data, and past results are used as guides, you increase the odds of better decision-making. Here are some other ideas that may help:

  • Determine what percentages of effort, time, and money you want to allocate to each major initiative. For most organizations, between 3-5 large-scale activities in a quarter makes sense.
  • Don’t focus on activities for the wrong reasons. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should. Develop sound rationale when picking your mix. Know exactly why you should do what you’re planning.
  • Rank your top priorities and weight them accordingly. For example, in a given quarter you may decide to invest 40% of your marketing resources into building a new website because yours is outdated or your bounce rate is too high.
  • Don’t succumb to knee-jerk reactions and change your plan mid-stream. it’s easy to get side-tracked by “shiny objects,” but you must resist. Unless something new comes along that’s a sure winner – stick with the plan!

#4 Execution Excellence

It all comes down to choice. Knowing what to focus on is a constant battle, but when research, data, and past results are used as guides, you increase the odds of better decision-making. Here are some other ideas that may help:

  • Pay attention to detail in everything you do. Missed steps and sloppiness lead to poor results.
  • Don’t spread your team too thin – this approach usually leads to mistakes and frustration.
  • Build room in your campaigns for experimentation. Today’s technologies help us explore options before making larger investments. Pay attention to the data – if the first wave of a campaign fails but you believe you’re on the right track, you can still adjust.
  • Capture and nurture sales leads and be sure your follow-up process is iron-clad. Don’t waste potential opportunities you worked so hard to create!
  • Leverage everything as much as possible – this includes automation technology, your CRM, content re-use, etc.

#5 Continuous Improvement

Well-run marketing departments pay attention to the numbers. They use data to refine their approach, messaging, promotions and other tactics. Be sure to track, measure and analyze everything relevant to your program and focus the following:

  • Don’t waste time tracking metrics that don’t matter – this is a common trap for some.
  • Stop doing things that don’t work. I’ve seen marketers do things year after year that add no discernible value. Sure, you need to give things time. But, know when to cut your losses.
  • On the flip side, press the gas pedal harder when you find things that work. Keep track of your trending, though – with some activities, you reach a point of diminishing returns and may decide it’s time to re-adjust.
  • Keep learning and growing. It’s a fast-paced, competitive world. You need to keep up with the trends and technologies that impact your marketing. Always look for better ways to do things.
  • Understand that what really counts is how your marketing program helps create leads and opportunities. Marketing KPIs showing progress are important, but always remember that the ultimate goal of marketing is to help increase sales.

#6 Determination and Consistency

Finally, creating an effective B2B marketing program is not a one-shot deal. It’s cumulative and must be sustained over time to work. This is particularly the case with social media. If you are not looking at marketing as a long-term investment, save the money and do something else because you will be disappointed otherwise. The good news is that with solid planning, execution, and continuous improvement – marketing will pay for itself many times over once you create the momentum.

The Optimal Marketing Mix? Let Your Target Audience Decide!

Optimal Marketing Mix
Optimal Marketing Mix

Choosing wisely and in the right proportions is difficult. But, it plays a significant role in determining how well your marketing investments will pay off.

In every marketing planning process, it comes down to two simple questions. What should we do and how much should we do it? With limited resources and budget, marketers need a solid rationale for their choices. The strategy will be less effective if it’s based solely on the latest trends, last year’s plan, or guesswork. Like virtually all things in marketing – focusing on the target market will help you develop the best possible scenario.

In this article, we’re going to look at the optimal marketing mix in more detail and why basing it on target markets is so important. While there is seldom a perfect blend, the goal is to get as close as you can.

What is the Optimal Marketing Mix?

Although they are central to the overall strategy, we’re not talking about the traditional “marketing mix” – product, place, price, promotion, etc. Here we refer to the specific campaigns and initiatives you will execute over a given period. It’s the precise definition of the amounts of time, energy and budget you will spend on each primary activity.

The good news is that there is a fairly limited choice when it comes to marketing. If you think about categories of activities such as brand building, lead generation, channel development, or sales enablement – the list is not that long. The challenge is picking the work that will have the greatest impact. If you choose well, your results will be stronger with less effort and cost. If not, the opposite will come to pass. There are other key factors – such as competition, or the complexity and price of your offering. While these are important, they too revolve around a target market.

Why Target Markets Matter

Planning your initiatives in the context of who you are selling to, will always be more productive and fruitful. It seems intuitive enough, but can be easily overlooked when caught up in a busy workload and trying to stay afloat. If you have done a reasonable job with marketing segmentation, you have a good understanding of the characteristics of each target audience. Here are some typical attributes used in defining a target market.

  • Are your prospects B2B or B2C, government, or not-for-profit?
  • Are they small to mid-sized business or larger enterprises?
  • Where are they located?
  • How many companies or consumers make up the target market?
  • Is there a typical type of person who buys your product or service?
  • Where do they meet or communicate with peers?
  • How do they get information to learn about products and services such as yours?
  • How do they buy? What is the buying criteria? How often do they buy?
  • Are there trends in the purchasing processes they use?

How These Factors Impact Decision-Making

When focused on the breakdown of a target market, it should naturally lead to thinking about the approach in specific ways. Here are a few examples and the impact they have on selecting an optimal marketing mix. The list can on and on, but you’ll you get the idea.

  • If you sell B2C to a broad audience, digital and traditional advertising will be a healthy part of your mix. If you sell a complex technology to a well-defined market of a few thousand companies, more direct campaigns will likely be best.
  • If your typical buyers are young and heavy social media users, you will invest more in this area. An activity such as telesales will likely not be high on the agenda.
  • If you’re in a mature, price-driven market – sales and promotional tactics may play a vital role in your plan.
  • If you have a high concentration of prospects in certain cities, in-person activities such as seminars could be wise choice.


Choosing activity based on what you know about your prospects will significantly increase the odds of creating the amount of awareness, attraction, and action needed to achieve your goals. This approach will be more efficient since you won’t waste time and energy aiming your marketing in the wrong places, or at the wrong people. If you don’t understand who they are and what makes them tick, how can you possibly figure out how to engage them? As a side benefit, It will also help you refine your messaging so it resonates most with the people you want for customers.

When you build your next marketing plan, try to look at all your decisions through the lens of your target audience. When a target market guides the thinking in selecting your optimal marketing mix, it’s bound to improve the results.

Please share any ideas or thoughts you may have on this topic and contact us if we can assist in any way. To get notified when new articles are published, please hit the button!

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Randy Fougere, President, Think2Grow Marketing
With a passion for building brand awareness and lead generation, I started Think2Grow for B2B clients looking to accelerate growth through better marketing strategy and execution - something I have been doing for more than 30 years now.

CASL and B2B Marketing – What You Need to Know!

CASL and B2B Marketing
CASL and B2B Marketing

Ever since Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation or CASL came into effect, it has been a source of fear and loathing for Canadian marketers relying on email to help fuel growth.

A common fallacy is that CASL applies mainly to Business-to-Consumer (B2C) companies.
Some believe the rules are more relaxed in a Business-to-Business (B2B) context, but this is not the case! With the risk of hefty fines, tarnished brand reputations, and future civil suits expected to increase, Canadian business operators cannot afford to ignore the rules.

CASL Basics

CASL (Bill C-28) passed into law in late 2010, to replace the Electronic Commerce Protection Act. The Law is Canada’s attempt to follow in the footsteps of similar European regulations and the far less rigid CAN-SP​​​​AM law in the US. All are meant to cut down on irrelevant or offensive commercial emails filling personal and business inboxes.

Automated website scraping programs make it easy to harvest huge numbers of email addresses without consent from their owners. CASL was meant to crack down on this, along with other related forms of intrusive and misleading marketing practices. The law is a direct response to Canadians fed up with spam. A 2015 survey by itracMARKETER found 54.5% of Canadians would consider legal suits under CASL for spam violations. Since it’s inception, CASL has been a phased-in approach. Enforcement began on July 1, 2014 and the final provisions went into effect on July 1, 2017.

Governing Bodies

The three agencies overseeing CASL include the Canadian Radio-Television and Communications Commission (CRTC), the Competition Bureau, and the Office of the Privacy Commission. Each jointly enforces different aspects of the law regarding Commercialized Electronic Messages (CEMs). A CEM, according to the CRTC, is any email or SMS message delivering text, images, voice or sound that promotes a product, service, property or person for the purpose of sales or subscriptions.

The rules for CEMs, according to the CRTC, apply to “all communications sent by Canadian companies to other Canadian businesses or messages routed through Canadian Servers.” In other words, CASL applies to any organization sending CEMs within Canada or from elsewhere but through servers located on Canadian soil. Canadian companies sending CEMs to the US or other countries will need to comply with privacy laws in those respective jurisdictions.

Legal Impact

Violating CASL is not good for business. Penalties start at $200 per violation and scale to a maximum of $1 million a day for individuals and $10 million a day for organizations. Given that online marketing campaigns can contain thousands of emails, CASL fines can rack up very quickly. Regulators have already levied hefty fines on several Canadian businesses for non-compliance. The biggest penalty to date was a $1.1 million fine handed down to Compu-Finder, a Quebec-based B2B company which at that time had accrued a quarter of the spam complaints received by the CRTC’s Spam Reporting Centre. The law also imposes liability on those who “permit” spam. So if you’re a CEO or manager, you may be responsible for any employee-related CASL violations that occur under your watch.

The CRTC and Privacy Commission ultimately faulted Compu-Finder for: being negligent in its record-keeping; not using an adequate unsubscribe process, and sending promotions unrelated to the work of numerous recipients. For instance, Compu-Finder, which delivers lessons mostly in French in two Quebec cities, sent promotional CEMs to people thousands of miles away. One complainant reportedly included a government scientist receiving Compu-Finder emails about lessons on improving business profits.

The CASL Chill Effect

A key point of controversy over CASL concerns how it differs from its US counterpart CAN-SPAM – the latter is an “opt-out” system where users must indicate they no longer want to receive promotional emails. In contrast, CASL is “opt-in”, where marketers must acquire proper consent from potential recipients before clicking that send button. The onus is then on the sender to prove consent is granted or inferred.

CASL critics, including many marketing firms, consider this opt-in feature to be highly restrictive, putting Canadian business at a disadvantage. A major issue is that CASL contains few mechanisms for dealing with foreign parties sending spam into Canada from countries with weaker anti-spam laws, including the US. Critics also claim CASL’s severity creates a “chill effect” that especially hurts small-to-medium-sized companies who rely on eMail marketing as a cost-effective channel for lead generation.

The law has proven to be double-edged. Research published by the network security firm Cloudmark, for example, found that a year after CASL went into effect, Canadians received two-fifths (39%) less spam and over a quarter (29%) less email. This is a good thing when it concerns workplace productivity.

However, of the Canadian businesses surveyed, almost half said CASL had hampered their promotion efforts (39%) or had impeded their ability to compete with US companies (48%). Ten percent said they had stopped sending commercial emails entirely – while another 30% stated they had significantly paired down their email lists.

B2B Boundaries of CASL

CASL does contain several intentional caveats meant to lessen the burden for B2B marketers. These include exceptions for family members, friends, and a few other groups. The most salient of these exceptions are conditions regulators lump into a category called “implied consent.” In brief, implied consent includes conditions when:

  • Conspicuous Publication – email addresses are publically available in online directories, websites or trade magazines as examples.
  • Disclosure – an email address was provided – i.e. someone gave you their business card or email address.
  • Existing Business Relationship – there has been a transaction, inquiry, application or written contract for the purchase or barter of products, goods or services.
  • Non-Business Relationship – the recipients are members of your organization, or they provided volunteer work, a donation or gift.

These exceptions provide B2B eMail marketers a few situations exempt from CASL’s opt-in consent requirements. But they’re still open to some interpretation. In a January 2014 Privacy Bulletin, the Canadian law firm McMillan concluded a B2B business could use these exceptions as a rationale for cold emailing possible clients. The same bulletin also warned CASL’s implied consent rules contained many fuzzy spots that will take time for courts and regulators to iron out. In the interim, the firm recommended caution – a message many businesses have taken to heart in cutting back their email lists and campaigns.

Key CASL Take-Aways

  • CASL is just as important for B2B as it is for B2C.
  • The laws are here to stay and in another year they will be even more stringent.
  • On July 1, 2017, individuals and businesses will have the right to sue for CASL violations. Also, B2B email lists containing contacts with “implied consent” status will need review as some will no longer be eligible. Between now and then, companies need to clean up their email lists.
  • Canadian B2B marketers should familiarize themselves with CASL’s exceptions. An excellent resource about this is available on the CRTC website. It’s also worth visiting the Canadian Government’s page and Deloitte’s FAQ.
  • Carefully documented opt-in lists and record-keeping are also important aspects of CASL compliance.
  • B2B marketers must understand what the law considers “implied” vs. “expressed” consent (reference the links above for more information)

As bad as it may seem, there may be a bright spot with CASL. Adapting your B2B digital marketing strategy to CASL means moving away from mass mailing tactics towards highly personalized email campaigns focused on providing value. In other words, providing education and thought-leadership content to people who want it. With the right customized content, you generate better results more efficiently, because readers are more likely to be interested in what you have to say. At the end of the day, this all drives towards one of the most important tenets of marketing – relevance!

Disclaimer: Nothing stated in this article can, or should be considered as legal advice. The research and ideas presented come with interpretation and are intended to be purely informational.