Innovate or miss your “Target”

Innovate or miss the mark. Change is not only good, but necessary.

Target is the perfect example of failure to innovate. I am certain that the Target Corporation had the best of intentions bringing its promise of quality retail at low prices to Canada – only two short years ago.

The popular US retail giant had successfully positioned itself in the US as an upper-end discount store, and all indications were that Canadian’s were ready for it.

Why did Target fail to hit their target in Canada? Lack of innovation.

The Target brand launch in Canada was big and splashy. Colourful (note the Canadian spelling) Ads, with messaging that showed Target understood Canadians.  The creative and messaging almost invited the country to welcome the big kid from next door. I dare say that the Ads were even “Tim-Horton-esque

The ads and fanfare brought excitement and a promise that the Target cache, products, and pricing model could be replicated for Canadian’s, who loved to shop at Target when across the border.

When Canadian discount retailer “Zeller’s”, succumbed to the competition in 2011, Target swooped in to save the day. Surely it was just that Zeller’s, the Canadian retail staple founded in 1931, and acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1978, failed to keep up with new superstore discount retailers like Wallmart. The Zeller’s stores that failed provided much of the initial space for the first Target stores to open in Canada.

Obviously Target had all the right stuff to make it right?



Wrong. Target failed to innovate.


Whether it was that Target did not understand retail in Canada, how to work in Canadian communities, or the government policies that may have impacted how they delivered on their brand promises, Target failed to meet the requirements to thrive in Canada. They rested on the success they had in the US, and did not recognize the need for change.

Target was not the first, and it won’t be the last brand that has failed to innovate while pushing forward into a new market, sustaining profitability, or attempting growth.  Even brands that have a unique offering, and strong brand have failed due to lack of focus on systems and process that may have worked at one time.

Think Blockbuster.


Had Blockbuster Video innovated by providing something like the new “Red Box” that now sits at the front of supermarkets – perhaps Blockbuster’s fate may have been different?

Or consider Netflix. Netflix launched in Canada in September of 2010 This is a brand that saw the opportunity in streaming video that came with increased access to high speed WIFI and mobile devices that could handle streaming media.  Netflix took the lead in delivering streaming content, and then showed innovation in producing the content as part of their offering.


Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.12.16 AM


Netflix took a queue from HBO and Showtime – traditional content producers, and added what worked for them into their mix. They changed what they offered their customers, and provided more value.  More importantly, they innovated at a time where the competition could have left Netflix lost in cyberspace.

The Netflix model is now being replicated by others including Amazon with “Amazon Studios” and Yahoo!. Both are producing their own content, and adapting tactics that have worked in other mediums.

It was only in November 2014 that Canadian streaming media competitor “Shomi” – a joint venture between Rogers Media and Shaw entered the market as an alternative to Cable and Netflix.  Shomi came out of the gates as an alternative to the streaming service that Netflix offered in 2010 – in November 2014!

Bell Media’s “Crave TV” launched only a month later in December 2014, one month after Shomi. Need I say more?

Perhaps if Target had spent additional time and dollars in preparing to enter Canada, and more importantly considered how to manage products, services, people, and pricing that may be different in a new market – we would not have 17,000 Canadian’s unemployed as of last week’s announcement.

The moral of this story?


Innovation might be the next buzzword or hot catch phrase, but those who are actually putting it into practice will hit their targets.  Of this, I am convinced.




Alicia Whalen is a process innovator, social media influencer, digital media evangelist, and Co-founder of the successful digital marketing conference – Online Revealed Canada – now in its 10th year. A Blogger at, speaker, trainer, and lover of ah-ha moments. Tweet me @acoupleofchicks or connect with me on LinkedIn



Online Revealed Canada Conference:  Join us March 31-April 2 2015 in Toronto for the 10th annual Online Revealed Conference for digital marketing in tourism and travel.  After a decade of challenging the “old ways” of marketing online, and with a theme of “Predicting and Promoting A Look at The Future of Travel Marketing.” my partner and co-founder Patricia Brusha and I are excited to deliver a special 10th anniversary edition event with a new format, exciting venue and top speakers in the industry CONFERENCE REGISTRATION is now open.

I look forward to seeing friends and colleagues to share in where we have come and where we are going in digital marketing for tourism. What a ride it has been so far!


Article references:

  1. Financial Post: 2015/01/15 
  2. Financial Post: 2015/01/19
  3. Toronto Star: 2015/01/25

Can the internet get full?

ORC2011A valid question posed at the most recent Online Revealed Canada Conference, held March 8-9 in Toronto.  From an opening keynote delivered by the inventor of Google maps, Michael T. Jones, who spoke about everything from how he and his colleges invented Google Maps at his dining room table, now used by more than 1,000,000,000 worldwide, to an interactive workshop presented by Alfredo Tan from Facebook Canada, which allowed for an intimate discussion about the inner workings of Facebook – this year’s Online Revealed Canada Conference hit a new level.

When I was preparing conference recap “sound bites,” which are traditionally delivered by myself, and conference co-chairs Patricia Brusha and Edward Perry at the end of the 2 day event, I was overwhelmed by the concepts and success stories that were shared, and the amount of information that we had to summarize.

This year, Online Revealed was presented in association with the Hotel Investment Conference and the new Canadian Tourism Marketing Summit.  The three events brought together the who’s who in the hospitality industry in Canada and beyond, culminating with the Google e-Tourism awards presented at a special luncheon, which featured such digital marketing success stories as….Newfoundland Labrador and National Capital Commission – Mosaika – what really stood out to me more than anything was the pride we had in our industry, and in each other for the work we have done in marketing Canada, and Canadian destinations, to a very global audience online.

Six years ago, the first Online Revealed Conference was held in Ottawa, where a group of 150 attendees gathered to share and learn about how to market ourselves in an new online world.  This year in Toronto a packed house of over 550 attendees gathered to learn, collaborate and share the many successes in digital marketing we have had in this industry over the past 6 years.

Back then, we were just starting to discuss the impact of the internet on selling tourism online, with concepts such as  search engine optimization, and building quality website content. Now, we are discussing concepts (then unheard of) such as mobile marketing and managing online reputation in a saturated online review-osphere that extends beyond Tripadvisor to include Blogs, OTA reviews, and niche social websites, where consumers are spending more time interacting online than actually viewing websites or even searching in search engines.

Who could imagine six years ago that in 2011 we would be discussing concepts like Google maps, a technology that is literally mapping out our planet?!

Our marketing reality is now a complex online ecosystem consisting of search engines, online intermediaries, review sites, social networks, news portals, niche discount sites, destination portals, brand portals – all of which are now being consumed on various platforms including mobile smart phones, tablets, laptops and beyond.  This digital evolution represents the largest shift in media consumption that we have seen since Television, and it does not seem to be slowing down.

In addition to the pride I felt in being part of an industry that has grown together and learned together to master this ever-changing online medium, and through the various highs and lows of the past six years including SARS, a world-wide recession and a Canadian Olympics to name only a few, it was overwhelming to once again see how coming together at an event like this, with a community of people willing to share and learn from each other makes a difference in how brave the new media world moving forward.

Thank you to all that shared in this year’s Online Revealed Canada, and those who have contributed to doing innovative things to market Canadian tourism.  As an industry we are doing amazing things, we are reaching our consumers in new ways and interacting with them in the digital places where they are living.  We are also doing what we have always done, and that is to tell stories and to share with the world the Canadian experience.

By the way, the answer to “can the internet get full” (according to Google’s Michael T. Jones) is No.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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