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.

TIP SERIES FOR INDEPENDENT RETAILERS: Build Your Retail Business Using Someone Else’s Dollar

TIP:  Take advantage of a brand’s co-op allowance

Take advantage of Brand Co-op dollars

Many brands don’t verbally offer co-op programs out the gate and quite likely are overspending on the big box accounts that demand it. BUT, if you don’t ask for it, you will not receive anything.

Before you pick up that phone or send out that email request to your favoured brands, there is a catch. Don’t just ask for money and use it for your traditional ads.  Put some serious thought behind the campaign objectives, so that the brand knows you understand their vision and messaging for the season. Prove to them that you really want to grow their brand in your store by being creative in how you are going to bring the campaign to life.  Brands will often give more than the typical co-op percentage if they feel it is going to reap rewards and improve their brand presence on the floor.

Agree to top up the product inventory the week before the campaign starts, to ensure that you will have enough stock to complete the campaign. This shows the brand that you are committed to making the campaign successful.

Once the campaign is completed, follow up with the results to ensure that you will receive more brand dollars next season.

Brick and Mortar Retailers Should Embrace the Smartphone

Independent Retailers need to embrace the smartphone

What is showrooming?
People visiting and using a physical store as a showroom, so they can touch and feel the product, and then go away to  buy on-line.

I have heard this term over and over again by independent retailers who are using it as an excuse for their declining business. In reality, more people actually research on-line first and then go to purchase in-store.

Many independent retailers are scared of the smartphone and what they think that means for them and their business.  In actual fact, knowing that the smartphone is a permanent connection between the retailer and the consumer, they should be embracing it. Smartphones allow an exchange of feedback and conversation with each other.

5 Suggestions on how to use this knowledge to your advantage:

  1. People research product on-line first, so make sure your website is up to date with product information including features, specs and pricing.
  2. Since people look at dealer locators and where to buy product, make sure your website is optimized so that customers can find you in the first place.
  3. Have a newsletter signup bar on your website to help grow your database so that you can keep your customers informed about new arrivals and brand promotions.
  4. Keep your social media accounts up to date and make sure that you respond regularly to people who tweet/chat about you and their in-store experience.
  5. Make it easy for your customers to research product right in your store, with the use of tools such as QR codes and Blippar apps.

These are just a couple ideas that will help keep your customers coming back for more.

Check out these two articles from L2 INC for more insights:
1. Bringing Luxury Customer Service to Mobile
2. Retailers Mostly Fail at Mobile Checkout


Product Sampling as a Marketing Strategy

Product sampling has long been a traditional way to introduce new people to product or to introduce a new product into the marketplace.

Sampling at a trade-show has traditionally been an effective way to introduce your product or new product to new people.  There are a few problems with this strategy though. One is the fact that many people at the trade-show may not be your target market, so you will have wasted your sample. Secondly, many people go to these shows just to collect the freebies and may not be willing to actually purchase the product at a later date.  Thirdly, there are often so many companies sampling products at trade-shows that your product may not stand out in the crowd.

Direct mail sampling can be very costly if you have a very targeted market. The other day I came home to see a BIG bag of cat food hanging on my front door knob. I don’t have a cat and will never own a cat. Most of my neighbours don’t have cats. This product was costly and a huge mistake on the part of the pet food maker. They needed to be a bit more strategic in their approach to reach their real end consumer.

Product Sampling - Beer Paddle Illustration

To stand out from other product samples, you need to BE CREATIVE. Here are a couple ideas that will help your product get noticed by the right consumer:

Create Strategic Partnerships
Find a partner with the right audience for sampling so there is no wasted product or reach.

So for example, you are launching a mosquito repellent, but travelling to outdoor trade-shows across the country is too expensive and doesn’t match your strategy.  Create a partnership with organizations such as provincial parks or campgrounds, who will hand the samples out to everyone who purchases a park pass. This will come with a fee of course, but you are reaching people who are spending time in the outdoors and will likely try the product out within minutes of receiving it. If the product lives up to its claims, those same people are likely to go to their local store to purchase it for their next outdoor or camping experience.

Gift With Purchase
Not only will you increase sales of your regular product, but you will have introduced your new product to an already loyal customer.

So for example, you are an athletic shoe company launching premium socks into your product mix.  There are lots of other sock brands on the market so it is difficult to get people to try your amazing socks.  Target your already loyal customers and offer a FREE pair of socks with every purchase of shoes or workout gear worth $100 or more.  Customers will be enticed to buy product in the moment since they will be receiving a gift with a high perceived value. Not only will you be increasing sales of your regular product, but you will have introduced your new product to an already loyal customer. If they love the socks, your fans will spread the word, plus the next time they need socks, they will think of your brand.

Also read “How to Use Samples to Promote Your Product” at for more ideas on how to make sampling work for you.

Also read “Sampling goes digital as marketers look to track results” at Globe and Mail for Small Business for more ideas on how traditional sampling is changing.

Attention To Details Convert Consumers To Fans

I love when a brand takes the extra time to pay attention to the little details that allow a customer to continually make small discoveries about the brand. A brand should consider how they can make each consumer touch point a unique experience.

The online buying experience from storytelling through shopping cart checkout to the delivery should be memorable. BUT the brand experience should not stop there. What happens after Fed Ex drops off the package at your door?

A great example of the ongoing discovery is “Johnny Cupcakes“. I am not going to expand into the history of this lifestyle brand – I will let you explore the website and discover the story on your own.

First, the package was not your typical brown box, but a custom bag with fun illustrations. Once opened, the tissue paper was not only branded but expertly creased and folded. Inside the tissue was a “freshly sealed” bag ensuring that the product was not ruined during shipment. A couple stickers were tucked inside as a little extra gift.

Johnny Cupcake Delivery Packaging

Johnny Cupcake Delivery Packaging

The attention to detail though does not stop there. Check out the hangtag with retro design that emphasizes the bakery theme.

Johnny Cupcake Hangtag

Johnny Cupcake Hangtag


I absolutely love the use of the oven mitt and rolling pin to continue along the same theme. Bon Appetit!

Johnny Cupcake Neck Tags

Johnny Cupcake Neck Tags

There are so many more details, but I don’t want to ruin all the surprises that this one simple t-shirt holds.

At what point did I switch from being a customer to being a believer in the brand and becoming a serious fan?  The shipping bag had me intrigued. The hangtag had me wanting more. The oven mitt tag put me over the edge.

It doesn’t stop there…. check out Johnny Cupcake’s social media feeds to discover original content that speaks to their brand uniqueness!


“Do more of what makes you happy!” __Johnny Cupcake

What is Your Creative Process?

Having a creative process is important for delivering a design project on time, on budget, and on strategy.Our Creative Process

Client Brief
Every successful project starts with a discussion with client to determine needs and budgets. This will better enable the creative director to write the initial creative brief for the design team.

Discovery: Research + Analysis
Researching and analysing the client’s industry, customers, and competitors will help define what the client’s needs are and determine their competitive advantage.

The generation and sharing of ideas brings the creative juices to the forefront.

Execute Ideas
The design team takes the brainstorm ideas and develops concrete ideas to present to client.

Presentation to Client
The presentation of concepts to client allows for discussion on direction and strategy

Design Development
The design team takes chosen concept and discussion points through to process and development.

Refine and finalize the design details, such as typesetting and photography touch-ups, before moving into production

Final print or web ready artwork is followed through to proofing and printing or programming and testing.

Finished Product
Delivering the WOW factor to consumers for call to action.

Following through on the full creative process ensures that the client receives a product that delivers on all objectives. Next step: Track results!

What Makes a Great Social Media Team?

A team that is passionate about connecting brands with people will be successful in building new and long-term relationships.Your Social Media Team

Marketing Director –  Developing a strategy is the first most important step before heading into Social Media territory. A Marketing Manager will determine which Social Media platforms are the best fit for your brand. They will lead key messaging and help keep the campaign direction on track.

Content Developers – Unique content is king and multiple content developers can keep the stories flowing often and consistently. Storytelling is a big part of social media; whether it is through 140 characters, a photo essay or a blog post.

Graphic Designer – Creative graphics keep the reader interested as well as give the opportunity for people to share visual content with others.

Digital Manager – Having someone on the team who can develop custom apps, track traffic through analytical software, and who is always looking for advancements in technology will ensure your content and messaging is always top of mind.

A great team will create new fans and build upon the loyalty of current fans through content filled engagement that make people feel like they are a part of the process. How connected is your team?