Will Canada Get Some Google Respect?

First published September 16, 2010 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Just in case our friends to the south haven’t driven it home to us repeatedly, Canada is inconsequential. We’re a rounding error in revenue projections. We’re a few scattered bodies somewhere north of the 49th, a far-flung geographic extension of Montana, Minnesota and other assorted northern states. We’re an inconvenient expanse of land separating the mainland from Alaska, bad news for air commuting but good news for the cruise business. In general, we often get the feeling that life would be easier for the rest of you if we just went away.

A Really Soft Launch

But haven’t you heard? Google is investing in the Canadian market! The company is ramping up its sales team here. Well, you can be forgiven if you haven’t heard, because the news was barely a drop in the PR bucket next to the roar that was the launch of Google Instant.

And that, in a nutshell, is the story of our lives up here in the Great White North. You really don’t care. I remember being in Oklahoma once the morning after the Canadian federal election. Naturally, I was somewhat curious who won. I picked up the copy of USA Today that was dropped outside my hotel room and thumbed through the entire paper to find out who the leader of Canada might be. That, by the way, would be your single largest trading partner, not to mention your primary source of oil, wood, grain and several other essential natural resources. But somehow, the vast editorial resources of USA Today couldn’t be bothered to devote even one column inch to the future of your neighbor to the north.

Canada’s Coming-Out Party

Google has had a sales office in Canada since 2002, but it hasn’t been an easy task selling to Canadians. I myself have gone on record in the past saying Canadian marketers may have a somewhat obtuse view of digital marketing, due to their contorted vantage point. We’re a Canadian company that does 85% of its business with U.S. companies because of this lag in our native marketplace.

But Google apparently believes we’re worth further attention. Maybe it’s because Google’s CFO, Patrick Pichette, is Canadian. He boasts of having a picture of a Tim Horton’s sign on his Nexus One. I haven’t had a chance to connect yet with the Canadian ex-pat, Chris O’Neill, who’s currently in transit from Mountain View to Hogtown (that would be Toronto, for you non-Canucks) to unfurl the Google banner. According to his bio, O’Neill is as Canadian as they come. He grew up working in his parent’s Canadian Tire store, for heaven’s sake. I look forward to having a polite chat and a frosty Molson’s to welcome him home. Perhaps we’ll even strike up a game of street hockey and celebrate with some poutine after. A word of advice though, Chris: Don’t forget your toque — it’s getting a little nippy up here in the evenings.

Full Speed Ahead… Maybe

Seriously though, I suspect Google’s timing might be bang-on. I think Canadian business is ready to get serious about digital. I know Canadian consumers made that decision long ago. And once Canadians get over their natural fear of just about anything involving any degree of risk, they do tend to make up for lost time. When you combine these factors, I suspect the Canadian marketplace is ripe for some serious digital revolution. But, to be on the safe side, maybe we should strike a Royal Commission on the subject and wait two or three years for their report.

In any case, it will be great to have a few more voices preaching the digital gospel in the Canadian wilderness. When you have this much room and this few people, it can get mighty lonely up here.

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