Marketing To A Unique Canadian Culture

6 Differences between Canada and the USA that ALL Brands should know.

Brands - Canada vs USA Illustration

Canadians struggle to define and preserve a unique Canadian culture with such a dominant culture right next door.  An understanding and acceptance of the differences rather than playing to traditional stereotypes will make your brand  stand out in Canada.

  1. Two Official Languages: French and English
    In the province of Quebec, 94% of the population can speak French with 82% speaking French at home. Therefore it is no surprise that French Canadians want to be marketed to in French.

    Beyond the fact that it is local law to display all marketing materials in French, talking to someone in their official language shows that you have respect for their business. (Charter of the French Language)

  2. Canadian English is different than US English
    Nothing screams ‘US brand’ more than seeing marketing materials with spelling like “color” and “check” rather than “Colour” and “Cheque” respectively. Canadians also use different terms that don’t have any meaning in the US, such as Toque/Tuque, garburator or bachelor apartment.
    Illustration of language differences between Canada and the USAThis may sound rather minor, but this can greatly affect things like SEO. If a Canadian is searching for a “Tuque in Grey” on an American website, they will most likely not find what they are looking for.

  3. Canadian Population: 36 Million Canadians
    88% of the Canadian population lives in a metropolitan area with 34% living in 3 main cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver), and 75% of Canadians live within 161 km of the US border.

    10 Million + Consumers are not located near urban centres and are considered remote with oftentimes subarctic climates (ie/ Manitoba only has a population density of 2.2 people per square km with northern regions with ZERO per square km), delivery options can be challenging and expensive for online businesses arranging shipment of goods.

    Illustration of the Population of Canada vs USA

    US population is almost 320 Million which means Canada is approximately 11% of the size. The Canadian market is small and really forces Canadian brands and manufacturers to consider the huge market next door.

  4. Metric System vs Imperial
    The US is one of the very few countries that still uses the Imperial system, so most US brands are already cognisant of the fact that they have to consider the Metric System if they want to market to the rest of the world.
    Illustration of the Metric System vs the Imperial SystemSometimes the details can be forgotten. For example, Temperature ratings on apparel and footwear need to be changed to meet Canadian or European standards. Marketing slogans that are meant to be clever can lose its double meanings (ie/ using words such as mile, inch, or foot) to a younger generations.

  5. Holidays
    Canadians have different holidays from the US and have to be considered in marketing plans in terms of timelines and additional assets needed.

    To name a few examples: Family Day, May Two Four Weekend, Canada Day, Thanksgiving or Boxing Day

  6. Diversity is Canada’s Strength
    “One-fifth of Canadians were born elsewhere and chose to immigrate to Canada. In Toronto, more than half were born outside Canada. We have raised generation after generation of children who think nothing of hearing five or six different languages spoken on the playground.”
    :  to read Justin Trudeau’s full speech on this very topic.

    Immigrants to USA consider attaining US citizenship an honourable achievement as they go after “The American Dream”. In Canada by contrast, immigrants do not identify as being Canadian as much as they identify with the country they were born in first and many will go to great lengths to retain that culture. Canada even hosts large festivals like Caribana in Toronto to celebrate cultural diversity.

These 6 differences should be taken into consideration when a US brand plans a cross-border marketing campaign or even launch an e-commerce website.

Addendum w/ more differences:

Politics:  Canada has a Prime Minister versus a President.
The differences are obviously a lot deeper than that, but let’s leave that conversation there.

Currency:  Exchange rates are a huge point of difference because it affects so many different areas of business. Currency is always a pain point for the Canadian consumer who does not understand how a brand and retailer purchases and prices inventory. Many Canadian subsidiaries that have to purchase inventory in US dollars, have to hedge funds to try and offset exchange rates that fluctuate from season to season. BUT you can’t exactly get into factory costs, duties, exchange rates, inventory, and hedge funds at the time of purchase so what a consumer sees is the difference in price from a US retailer versus a Canadian retailer.

Retail Floor Print: Canadian Shopping Malls and retail shops generally have a smaller square footage than US counterparts so you will find stats showing that Canadian Retail is a lot more successful per square footage.  This does bring some challenges for brands in the US who develop retail displays for their product. Canadian retailers are very conscious about how much space that takes up, and therefore how much revenue it needs to generate to make that floor print worthwhile.

Also read the article “What does it mean to be Canadian” in the Globe and Mail’s Report On Business for a different angle on what makes Canadian brands successful.

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