Canada’s Digital Economy: Why Care About Research Funding?

With the July 27 launch of the Digital Marketing Survey: 2011 OutlookPixel to Product has reached the final stage of its research on the Canadian digital media industry.

The good news: Along with the 2011 Canadian Digital Media Economy Report, which profiled Canada’s digital workforce and economy, will come data on how brands are using social media, mobile and e-mail marketing, and where these tools and technologies fit in to their overall marketing efforts. The outcome should help providers of digital marketing services gain insights into brand behaviour.

The bad news: The end of this study likely means the end of the projectand future research — due to lack of funding.

I  interviewed Pixel to Product’s Justin Kozuch to learn more about this latest research initiative. And to present a call to action to Canadian businesses — from big to small — to actively support ongoing research efforts.

Pixel to Product assumes research mantle abandoned by government

Over the last year, Pixel to Product has provided the most extensive, relevant research data on Canada's digital media industry.

Shouldn’t research on the country’s expanding, profitable digital industry be a no-brainer for the Canadian government? Apparently not. That’s why in May 2010, Toronto-based Pixel to Product announced the start of a multi-wave research project under the management of Justin Kozuch, lead researcher and 2010 Mesh Prize winner.

The official press release challenges the government lack of interest and lax research methodology:

“Our various levels of government cannot be relied upon to help us understand the size and scope of our industry. Through Statistics Canada, obtaining data about our industry is costly and difficult at best. Their data collection process occurs every five years, with the next round of surveying is slated to begin in 2011.

… we know very little about the needs and trends of buyers of digital media services. In Canada, there hasn’t been a unified effort to understand how much clients spend annually on these services, how much is outsourced vs. in-sourced, and other business trends.”

Pixel to Product remains equally adamant a year later.

Just three lines into the recent e-mail publicizing the survey launch comes the terse reminder, “Too often we’ve been forced to rely on U.S. numbers to make informed decisions for our Canadian clients.  Too often we’ve had to rely on outdated, expensive and inaccessible data to help us better understand the trends in social media.”

I absolutely get this, and wish others did, too. Kozuch’s position mirrors my own when trying to locate relevant market data for Canada. I shared my experiences with him in our first interview, Canada’s First-Ever Digital Media Workforce Survey: A Digital Call to Arms.

An eye-opening interview with Justin Kozuch, Pixel to Product

On behalf of other social media marketers and small businesses, I recently talked with Kozuch about Pixel to Product’s latest research initiative.

Alison Cummings:  You haven’t really stopped since the survey results were released in late May. So tell me, what is this latest wave about?

Justin Kozuch: We are on the last wave, the last iteration of the research study. Once that’s done, we will release our final report. And then start to look at what types of funding models exist for the next iteration. Which is where it’s probably going to die.

AC: That’s not good!

JK: No, it’s not … But this kind of think is not attractive to people. And I don’t know why.

AC: You mean this type of research or people participating?

JK: Most people are amenable to participating in the research. It’s the funding side of things that’s going to be an issue. The only option left to us at this point is the OMDC research grant (Ontario Media Development Corporation). But I’m not confident. We will exhaust every opportunity, but at the end of the day, if everybody says no …

AC: I’m surprised at that … digital/mobile is where everything is headed.

JK: Yes, it’s a growing industry, and you’d think people would 1) want to participate or 2) at the very least, want to see what the results are, what the industry is worth and what it looks like. The participation side is not an issue, it’s having that knowledge. You’d think there would be people that would be all over this, but for some reason or another they’re not. And it is what it is.

AC: Sorry to hear that. On the positive side, I wanted to close the loop with you on  the 2011 Canadian Digital Media Economy Report. Now that survey results have been published, looking back on all the work you’ve done, I would like to know — was it worth it?

JK: Absolutely! It was very much worth it. And it’s not about what I’ve done, it’s about what we’ve done collectively. We’ve done something that’s never done before: We managed to pull together, share some interesting data about who we are and what we’re doing as an industry, and provided context into what this industry does. And that’s something no one else has done in Canada.

We’re at the forefront of what’s happening with digital, and I think that’s very encouraging. I think there’s a lot of potential for future iterations of this research, but we now have to look at what funding models exist and where we can attract some interest and some attention.

And hopefully, we can attract some investors who see the merits behind this kind of knowledge and understanding.And see what we can do. This is the beginning of a legacy, but I think this is a stepping stone for us. This is that first opportune moment, and we’ll keep working at it, keep plugging away.

Too often we’ve been forced to rely on U.S. numbers to make informed decisions for our Canadian clients.  Too often we’ve had to rely on outdated, expensive and inaccessible data to help us better understand the trends in social media.

AC: What about the Digital Media Economy survey results surprised you — and what didn’t surprise you?

JK: What surprised me was the number of youngsters in the industry. About 68% of the survey sample was 22-36 years old,which is a pretty significant percentage. What didn’t surprise me was the gender bias issue, when you split male vs. female. Tech is been a very pro-male, dude-heavy industry. So seeing for one that nearly 60% of the industry is comprised of males and that women are still experiencing a greater percentage of bias or greater deal of bias than men are, wasn’t surprising.

AC: Anything else you would change for the 2012 survey?

JK: Having a e-community manager to help with the outreach would be great. To keep pushing hard, and make the value behind the data very clear. Without having a finished product available as a frame of reference, it’s hard to get people’s buy-in. It’s going to be a lot easier to get that buy-in now when they see, ‘OK, here’s what they did. Here are the final deliverables. This gives me context as to what it is, and now I know I should participate next time around.’

And that’s probably why we saw the numbers that we did, why we didn’t meet the initial goal of 10,000 responses and why we had to knock it back a little bit. But the next time around, once we put that survey out again, people will say, ‘Oh, yes. I remember that survey. I’m going to have to fill it out and tell a ton of my friends.’ We hope that’s what happens. And I am confident that we can build that type of rapport with people. It will be a lot easier to spread this thing by word of mouth.

Of course, we will continue to do the things we did before when it came to social media, when it came to spreading the word through e-mail marketing, speaking engagements, and just telling anybody and everybody in the industry who will give us a platform to talk about it. We will continue to do that. And find new, innovative ways to encourage people to be part of that survey.

AC: I noticed that in the e-mail promo for the latest wave — the  Digital Marketing Survey: 2011 Outlook — you have opened the response pool to the U.S. And are providing key talking points that agencies can use with their clients.

JK: We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to share this survey. Give them not just he incentive, but the tools to do so. That’s one thing I learned over the last year: If you want people to do something, you literally have to hit them over the head with it. You have to tell them what you want. Otherwise, you’ll never get it.

And I think that was the most frustrating thing for me to learn. Sometimes it felt to me like I was asking too much of people.

But I came to the realization not too long ago that that’s why people signed up for the mailing list. It’s not because they want to be told what to do, but because they’re interested. And if they’re interested, that means that they’re opting in. And if they’re opting in, that means that there’s obviously an emotional connection there. It means ‘There’s something of value here. Let’s see what that is.’

Call to action: Canadian businesses, get active and support digital marketing research

On the macro level, all Canadian businesses have an interest in digital marketing research done in Canada, be it access to insights on consumer purchasing behaviour, to competitive benchmarking to anticipating trends.

On a micro level, Canadian readers of this blog have an even greater stake in digital marketing research — from Web marketing agencies to the small business owner/entrepreneur looking to increase sales by reaching customers through using social media, digital/mobile platforms.

Here is our collective call to action:

About Alison Cummings

Business Writing, Copywriting, Content Marketing.
Communications + Marketing + Technical Expertise.