"We see something very different. We think the Big Shift is transforming Canada before our very eyes into a remarkable, post-national country whose best days lie ahead and whose wealth and tolerance will make us an example for and the envy of the world."
The Big Shift by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson is an excellent thought provoking reflection on Canada’s political landscape leading up to the 2011 election, how the conservatives won a majority, and what this means for Canada’s future. I realize it is 2016 right now, but stick with me here – it’s akin to a chose your own adventure novel but you know the ending. Why this matters to us today as professionals, business owners, and engaged citizens of our country, is because we need to understand what and more importantly why there is a shift happening. There are countless books available on self-reflection, review, and feedback for the importance of our growth. Take this as an opportunity to do a little self-reflection on our great nation (our market) – to know where we’ve come from and where we may be headed. The authors use a mix of engaging statistical data coupled with political commentary to guide us through the Big Shift in Canada.
What exactly is the Big Shift?
"This is the great shocking shift: Middle-class voters in suburban bastions surrounding Toronto and other Ontario cities allied themselves with rural Ontario votes, with rural and urban voters in the Prairies, and with rural and urban voters across B.C. (outside of downtown Vancouver) to elect a Conservative majority government because they all believed that the economy was the overriding issue facing the nation, and they trusted the Conservatives over the other parties to handle that issue."
We (Canada) are not who we used to be, and more importantly, we are likely not who we think may be. As someone who felt like they have followed the last couple elections in Canada and stays relatively caught up on current events, I was pleasantly surprised at some of the trends brought forward. The authors have been able to shed light on some pretty critical movements and trends in Canada that have a deeper significance than one might think. The population and mindset that laid the foundation of our great country as it is today isn’t what it is now. There is a shift of influence to the west and to suburban areas surrounding major cities. Population ages in Atlantic Canada and Quebec are well above the national average. What Canadians care about (healthcare, jobs, aging population, balancing budgets, safe communities) and what they think the government can actually influence (safe communities, resources, trade, R&D) demonstrates the divide in what people care about versus how they may actually vote. This is a lesson for all of us when collecting consumer preferences versus consumer actions. One of the biggest factors affecting this shift is immigration. I agree with the authors when they say not only is it a fundamental part of who we are as a nation, but also what makes us so great today. In order to continue to thrive in the future, to sustain our labour force, immigration is a necessity. This summary won’t do the topic justice in full, but if you are going to take anything away it is do your homework on why this topic is an important one for Canada. The authors dedicated an entire chapter that sums up why the trends, stats, and commentary they’ve laid it out should matter to you, which are laid out in the Insights below.
Is your business ready for The Big Shift?
"So making a profit means building trust. No trust, no sale. Simple really. But in a country where both the faces and minds of consumers are changing so dramatically and quickly, how is trust built?"
Rule Number 1: Pay more attention to demographic market signals
There are a number of resources that are available to us (even free) on the topic of demographic changes. When was the last time your business reviewed and analyzed this data? At current immigration rates, the equivalent of a new Toronto is brought in every 10 years. Do you know who they are, what they like, where they live?
Rule Number 2: Don’t get carried away by Rule Number 1
Make sure you unpack the assumptions you find from the first point. The authors use real estate as an example; this is an area that has had many bubble bust predictions, yet still has still managed to continue to grow. Dig into the trends.
Rule Number 3: The people you need in your business may not live here
Canada has too many of the wrong kind of skilled labour in the wrong places, which is continuing to cause a labour shortage of skilled workers. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce rates this is as one of the top 10 barriers to international competitiveness. We need to better promote and align our education systems to address this, but realistically we will need to seek overseas employees. How will you attract and retain these resources?
My name is Joe, and I am Canadian… still applicable?
"Sales representatives, marketers, analysts, and CEOs who are still steeped in Laurentian assumptions about Canada and who don’t internalize what we’re talking about here are in trouble."
Rule Number 4: New Canadians are Canadians first
There are over 250,000 new Canadians brought in year over year and there is very little data around how to sell to this demographic. Often Canadians are divided into English, French, and Ethnic demographics which the authors argue is incorrect. There is a will to share and adopt a Canadian culture from new Canadians. There is also research to demonstrate that new Canadians are more likely to do business with companies that are involved in their communities. It is complex, but marketers need to be able to balance a sense of Canadianess, local accent, and genuine trust and engagement to succeed.
Rule Number 5: Learn from Politicians
Politicians are in the business of selling values and the authors would say are likely the best at it. They are constantly studying what matters and is valued by individuals and tailor their messages to suit it. Just by listening to what they emphasize will provide insight into what they know. The conservative government figured it out in 2011 to win a majority government and arguably so did the Liberals in October of 2015. Value based sellers take note.
“As with so much else that we talk about in this book it doesn’t matter whether you consider this a good thing or a bad thing. What matters is that you understand it’s a thing.”
The above quote is really the perfect summation of the book and its relevance and importance to understanding our demographic and the shift in influence that has taken place. The rules provided in the Insights provide a concrete outline to help navigate our current and future state as well. Politics can help inform who our demographics truly are and what they value. Understanding the shifts, recognizing trends, and being able to adapt will allow your business to stay relevant and successful. Do a deep dive on your demographic–who are they?, where are they from?, what do they value?, and finally, how are you building their trust?