Five keys to marketing success – learning from Target’s failure to hit the Canadian bullseye

This last week the announced exit of Target from the Canadian market was a piece of business news that dominated discussions. One does not enter a market with 133 stores and then pull the plug less then two years later without feeling an effect. That’s a lot of rent per square foot, retail sales and lost jobs you hear rushing for the drain hole being flushed from the Canadian economy. And there’s really no good reason for it to have ended the way it did. Many Canadians harboured a secret love affair for “Tar-jay” with all its chic savvy offerings and shelves of intrigue. At least that’s what they found south of the border. In Canada, the retailer seemed mired in supply chain and inventory issues, poorer quality of product, and a higher overall cost structure that was reflected in higher prices compared to competitors. They thought we’d accept it all in blind love, but we didn’t.

If anyone should have understood strategic competitive advantage it should have been retail battle veteran Target. And yet it would seem they misunderstood the competitive landscape, their target market and what was at the heart of their unique selling proposition.

All that to say, even the big guys fail. And when they fall, they fall hard.

target-logoI found the Target story an interesting backdrop for two events I spoke at last week, right in the middle of all the breaking news: A Small Business BC Marketing seminar for entrepreneurs on Friday and Mini Enterprise Conference, held at UBC on Saturday, the largest conference of its kind in Canada for grade 12 students looking to gain insight into the world of entrepreneurship.

There’s something inspiring about engaging with hundreds of the Lower Mainland’s future business leaders and those already rolling out their plans and dreams. While the questions from both groups where varied they all in some way lead back to five key areas. Curiously, one could argue, these are areas where Target also drifted when it entered the Canadian market. Let’s take a look, and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Unique selling proposition: What do you do differently, that your competitors don’t, that your target market cares about, that’s not easily copied?
  1. Strategic competitive advantage: What combination of resources, systems, supply chain, cost structure, culture or product or service offering give you that unique positioning?
  1. Target market: How do they define their primary and secondary target market from a demographic, geographic, psychographic and behavioural standpoint?
  1. Competitive field: Who are your primary and secondary competitors? What are their unique selling propositions and competitive advantages?
  1. Trends and external forces: What societal trends or external forces could affect your business over the next several years? And how have your prepared your business to benefit?

What makes small businesses viable and able to thrive is really no different than big business. That became very evident while discussing entrepreneurial dreams and marketing plans with the backdrop of Target’s failure with both groups.

So here’s my challenge to you this week. How would you answer the above five question areas? Can you define your answers clearly, without hesitation and with pride?

Mary Charleson


  1. Thanks for sharing this with others Rowena. The changing face of retail will certainly represent some challenges for many, but also opportunities for some!


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