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The Canadian Geomatics Industry Has a Branding Problem

I have a big confession to make: I have no idea what geomatics is. But I don’t feel so bad about that, because it seems like I’m not the only one.

A couple weeks ago, I was hired as the Marketing and Communications Officer for GoGeomatics Canada. I was really excited about my new position, but every time I told someone about it, I would get asked the same question: “What’s geomatics?”

Cue the sound of a record scratching as I stammered for a response until I finally settled on: “I don’t really know. Map stuff I guess.”

Let me give you a little background information on myself. I’m a writer and communications professional, not a geography expert. I’ve got a lot to learn.

But since working for GoGeomatics Canada, I’ve gained a huge understanding of the geomatics sector, thanks in part to the magazine that I help to manage. I even attended last month’s Ottawa social, which was a great way to get an inside understanding of the industry. Despite all that, I still don’t know how to explain geomatics to my family and friends. Part of the problem might have to do with the word “geomatics” itself. It’s vague, and even Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize it as a real word (I have a whole bunch of little red squiggly lines on my working document right now). But even the word “location”, which seems to be the proposed alternative, is intangible and might not be the solution that some hope for.

As an outsider looking in, it seems to me that the geomatics community has a problem with branding. To be fair, branding is a struggle for a lot of companies and organizations, and the dozens of sectors under the geomatics umbrella does not make it an easy task. But it’s a necessary one. Here’s why having a strong brand is important:

  • Branding makes an organization instantly recognizable, with no explanation necessary
  • It suggests a set of values and an image that is immediately understandable
  • Ultimately, it convinces the audiences to align themselves with the brand’s image

You might be thinking, since everyone who is part of the geomatics industry understands what geomatics is, is rebranding even necessary? That depends. Of course, every industry uses a vocabulary that the general public doesn’t need to learn, and geomatics could fall under that category. On the other hand, industry growth could be stymied because of the simple fact that the general public does not know you exist.

As you know, there is a huge demand for surveyors right now. A rebranding campaign could go a long way to fill some of that demand. When I was in high school, a similar campaign was initiated to fill trades jobs. There were a number of television ads, and posters covered our school walls. Without having to ask, we all had a pretty good idea of what constituted a trades job, what kind of schooling would be required, what the expected salary would be, and whether it was a field we were interested in. The messaging was simple and effective. To be honest, I have a difficult time picturing a similar campaign for geomatics.

I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom about this. I see huge potential to take geomatics in exciting new directions, to fill that branding gap with something that will engage the public, and inspire them to take part in the geomatics community. Of course, all this begs the question: who will step up to rebrand geomatics? Perhaps the CGCRT will be in a position to address this question in the near future. Changes definitely won’t happen overnight, but in the meantime, I’m doing my best! And I’m always open to suggestions, so make sure to leave them below.

2 comments on "The Canadian Geomatics Industry Has a Branding Problem"

  1. Ed Kennedy says:

    You are clearly a fast learner Sandra, and you have summarized the problem succinctly. “Geomatics” was a term adopted to encompass a somewhat heterogeneous basket of disciplines, which has never been completely satisfactory as a brand for any of them. I have worked in different parts of the field for several decades and still have trouble explaining it in layman terms. My usual definition is “the sector that is behind the maps and imagery you see on the Web, like Google, and the GPS that is in your cell phone and car navigation system”. The challenge of course, as you have pointed out, is the “behind” part. Web mapping and GPS are taken for granted and few people recognize all of the expertise and technology required to make them functional. There is no visible brand that people can relate to.

    The debate around the “identity” of the sector stimulated by the CGCRT Pan-Canadian Geomatics Strategy initiative has not produced any real consensus on what the name and brand should be. There appear to be two general factions, borne out by consultations with community stakeholders I have been conducting for the Canadian Geomatics Environmental Scan and Economic Value Study. One is the “who cares” group, which argues that geomatics does not really exist as an identifiable sector and we should just get over trying to make it so. They point out that the rise in geo-literacy and expansion of much more user-friendly geo applications and technologies have resulted in “geo” or “location” becoming embedded. As a consequence, geomatics is becoming integrated with all kinds of business information, and this is a good thing. The other is the “geomatics is a worthy identity that needs to be better explained [and branded]”. People in this group argue that increasing geo-literacy is an opportunity, that geo-specialists will be increasingly important in an “Internet of things”, “Big Data” world, and that creating a recognizable profile and brand will increase the value of such specialists to society. I count myself as a member of that faction.

    For those of us who believe that sector identity and branding are important, there are considerable challenges ahead. Creating consensus on the path forward in what is a significantly fragmented community will be an uphill battle, as will settling on a name. Yes, the name is important as a key part of branding, but my own view is that we need to focus more on language that explains what we do in lay terms, provide evidence of our value and contribution through very explicit examples that are readily recognizable, and develop a model to speak with a unified voice so that the brand is not diffused. Call me crazy, but I think we have the wherewithal as a community to meet this challenge.

    1. Sandra Baranek says:

      Ed, thanks so much for this thoughtful response! You’ve brought up ideas that I hadn’t even considered, and definitely given me (and all of us) some things to think about.
      I agree with the central problem that you bring up – that “geomatics” encompasses so many disciplines that are both similar but different at the same time. It makes it difficult, but as I’ve gotten to know and understand this passionate community, I know it can be done.

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