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Tapping into the U.S. market from up north

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 01-28-16 at 2:53 p.m.

Although Canada and the U.S. are neighbouring countries and are the most important trading partners in the world, they are nonetheless quite different in terms of consumer values. Any player from “The Great White North” seeking to make an imprint or build upon one in the “Home of the Brave” must be aware of U.S. consumer differences so as to adapt its offer and brand promise.

With its unique Panorama program, CROP offers its clients an in-depth look at the ways in which U.S. consumers differ from their Canuck counterparts.

Moving on up, in the center of the storm, eyes on the prize

The generalized perception that Americans give considerably more weight than Canadians to moving as high as possible up the social ladder and earning the lifestyle that should come with it is strongly justified when we compare how Americans and Canadians define the life principles that are important to them. Americans not only engage in the quintessential “keeping up with the Joneses” phenomenon – they aspire to surpass the Joneses. Concepts like Ostentatious Consumption, Need for Personal Achievement and Concern for Appearance resonate significantly more strongly south of the border with, for example, 36% of Americans considering it important that people admire the things they own compared to only 21% of Canadians. U.S. residents are also considerably more willing to go all out in order to move up: proportionally, twice as many Americans (56%) as Canadians (29%) say they are prepared to take big risks in life to achieve their goals.

At the same time, life in America is seen as eventful, unexpected, even sometimes in turmoil. Americans view the world as filled with uncertainty and in a state of perpetual change. That said, Americans feel they can adapt to anything – if properly equipped to face it.

As one of the fundamental characteristics of the psyche of our southern neighbours is to strive to succeed under challenging conditions, brands promising to provide consumers with levers to climb up the social ladder, to adapt to uncertainty, and to attain an enviable social status are bound to play well to the American ethos.

Corporate culture, consumption, and conservatism as dominating drivers

Predictably, Americans also show greater confidence in business and place more value on corporate success than Canadians do. The United States prides itself on being a business-friendly environment – putting the priority on wealth creation, with social and/or ecological issues sometimes coming second. For example, while a meager 19% of Canadians are willing to accept higher degrees of pollution to preserve people’s jobs, close to a third of Americans (32%) share this view. Although consumer expectations are growing when it comes to social responsibility, the United States remains fertile ground to flaunt a brand’s background and/or its “success story” rather than making its social responsibility actions spearhead its marketing strategy.

Our results also clearly support the belief that America is the land of consumption: Americans essentially invented the consumer society, and it is deeply ingrained in their values and attitudes. When compared to Canada, concepts like Joy of Consumption, Importance of Brands and Pursuit of Novelty, are through the roof in the United States. Americans place an extremely high premium on shopping, innovation and gadgets, and associate them with greater social status and personal success. A much higher percentage of U.S. residents (55%) than Canadian residents (32%) state that they like being immediately informed about new products and services so that they can use them. An even larger proportion of Americans (60%) also state that buying themselves something is one of their greatest pleasures in life, compared to 42% of Canadians. To come out a winner in this territory, brands should therefore not skimp on marketing and innovation efforts in order to give the impression that they are continually renewing and improving themselves, and, by doing so, offering new possibilities to their consumers.

One should also not neglect Americans’ more pronounced and deeply-rooted socially conservative values. They have a stricter definition of family (51% believe that getting married and having children is the only real way of having one, in contrast with 39% of Canadians), are less likely to believe in total equality of the sexes (44% think that men have a certain natural superiority over women, in contrast with 23% of Canadians), and are more likely to believe in patriarchal authority (55% agree that the father of a family must be the master in his own house, in contrast with 19% of Canadians). While diversity and openness to social change are in some respects on the rise in the U.S. (for example, the legalization of gay marriage nationwide), it remains a more conservative society overall. Brand images reflecting traditional social models tend to be, in this sense, a safer bet, generally speaking.

A tale of two countries

While they are good neighbours and long-time friends, Canada and the United States are different in many respects from a consumer values point of view. The U.S. is a country composed of achievers who:

• Aspire to be successful

• Express very strong vitality when it comes to pushing their own limits and improving themselves

• Are more supportive of a corporate/consumer/advertising lifestyle, and place less stock in ecological considerations and/or social causes

• Remain more socially conservative than Canadians

To hit their hot buttons, brands should:

• Be stimulating

• Celebrate successful people

• Help consumers face life’s challenges and welcome its opportunities

• All the while favouring more traditional social representations

While this text gives a general overview of the U.S. market, keep in mind that regional differences are extremely marked and each target segment has its unique mindset that our Panorama program can help you interpret.