So you’re thinking of marketing to Canadians, eh?

Tread gently with moose

Expanding into Canada can be great for your business … if you take certain factors into consideration when marketing to Canadians (like me).

Canada is the United States’ largest trade partner, with $632 billion in total two-way trade reported for 2013. We’ve experienced positive economic growth that is amongst the highest of G7 countries. Most of us have access to high-speed Internet and smartphones.

We’re also frequently exposed to U.S. advertising, and we often admire the variety, quality and value provided to American consumers. We’re happy to do business with our neighbours — but, of course, there are things you should think about prior to marketing to Canadians.

Canadian flag over lake to represent marketing to Canadians

Appeal to our values and self-perception

While there are obviously exceptions, Canadians universally view themselves a certain way. We think we’re easy-going, polite and honest. When compared to our perception of Americans, we think we’re more humble and generally less aggressive. We try to be trusting, and assume the best in others.

Bottom line: Take some time to research and understand how Canadians view themselves. Figure out what Canada’s “brand” is. Understanding our values and how we perceive ourselves will ultimately help you connect with us, serve us better, and do a good job at marketing to us. Then, it’s just a matter of being consistent, predictable and reliable.

Canadians are savvy shoppers, and price matters

When Target rapidly expanded into Canada, many of us rejoiced. Canadians who had done cross-border shopping in the past genuinely enjoyed their experiences at Target stores. The stores were clean and well organized, and the overall shopping experience was worth the extra travel time. We flocked to our very own Target stores in Canada — and then we didn’t.

Shelves were not fully stocked; the items for sale were not as impressive as what was available in U.S. stores; and prices appeared to be higher than most major competitors. Word travelled fast, and people reverted to their previous shopping routines, leaving Target with increasing losses that caused the abrupt closure of all 133 Canadian stores. Ultimately, most Canadians didn’t have a reason to shop at Target.

Bottom line: Do your market research to ensure there is demand for what you offer in Canada. If you believe there is and you set up shop here, be sure to stay focused on serving the perceived gap in the market you are attempting to serve. Remember that Canadians are savvy shoppers. We’ll pay extra for top-notch quality and a premium shopping experience, but if you don’t intend to offer that, make sure you impress us with your prices — or we’ll likely just stick with our current routines and buying options.

Use Canadian stereotypes with caution

We have a love/hate relationship when it comes to Canadian stereotypes — so leveraging those stereotypes when marketing to us can be risky. There are some Canadian stereotypes that we find just plain annoying:

  • Newfoundland might be an exception, but most of us have never heard a fellow Canadian say “aboot” instead of “about.”
  • We don’t live in perpetual winter. In fact, a large portion of our population lives further south than many Americans do.

Even if you end up tapping into a stereotype we appreciate and recognize in ourselves, it can still come off as disingenuous for an American business to come in and attempt to connect with us in this manner. Think of it this way: It’s one thing for a person to make a self-deprecating joke, but it’s a completely different situation for your neighbour to come over and joke about the exact same thing.

Bottom line: When marketing to Canadians, use stereotypes with extreme caution. If you stereotype us in a way we don’t find charming or funny, you could end up wasting a lot of marketing dollars on an ineffective campaign.

More do’s and don’ts when marketing to Canadians

Do hire a Canadian copywriter to review your marketing materials and website. Canadian English has some differences from American English, and your chances of marketing success will improve if we believe your copywriting was intended for us.

Do create French versions of your website and marketing materials. Most Canadians do utilize English as their first language and, other than taking some French classes in grade school, know very little French. However, according to Stats Canada, 10 million Canadians can conduct a conversation in French and 7.9 million Canadians speak French at home. Connecting with consumers in their mother tongue will help improve your chances of success — so have your content optimized for Canadian French.

Do be mindful of Canadian laws. The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and is a Canadian data privacy law that protects the personal information of Canadians, with regards to data collection and how you use the information you collect about Canadians you do business with and market to. Canada has a Do Not Call list, and you cannot cold-call Canadians who have signed up to be on the list. We also have has an anti-spam law (CASL) that dictates how you can market your business digitally.

Do be transparent about shipping costs. When compared to other countries, Canada has one of the highest rates of Internet adoption and availability. While most of us still prefer to do our shopping at a retail location, we’re adopting online shopping at a rapid rate. This represents an opportunity for a business looking to tap into the Canadian market. However, you should consult with your web developer on ways to be as transparent as possible about shipping costs. One of the top reasons we’ll abandon an online purchase is unexpectedly high shipping costs.

Don’t market contests and promotions that are not actually available for Canadians. We love a good deal, but it can be quite disappointing to think we’re seizing an opportunity to snag one, only to realize during the checkout process that the offer was not actually valid for Canadians.

Don’t make communication between customers and upper management a challenge. You’ve taken a big step by expanding your business into Canada, and listening to customers who want to draw your attention to issues could ultimately determine if your expansion succeeds. Make it easy.

Of course, this only scratches the surface. Expanding into the Canadian market is big move that merits some preliminary research. Figure out who your target market is, and what buying options they currently have. Think about management structure, and how you’ll communicate with your staff and customers. Educate yourself on the differences between the Canadian and U.S. markets, and what laws are applicable to you when doing business in Canada.

By taking the time to do your homework and marketing to Canadians in a way that resonates with us, you’ll better your chances into tapping into the opportunities that exist when doing business in Canada.

Image by: emmerogers via Compfight cc

Derrick Barber
Derrick Barber is an inspired entrepreneur based out of London, Ontario. Derrick founded Textbookexchange.ca in 2004 while attending college, and built a network of more than 60 niche content websites from 2005 to 2009. He now helps local small businesses attract new leads online, primarily through website redesign and search engine optimization at LOWD Media. Connect with Derrick on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.