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Canada as a “distinct” society and market

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 01-28-16 at 4:36 p.m.

There can sometimes be a perception – conscious or not – that the United States sees Canada as little more than its natural, northern (and colder) extension. However, Canadians have a long history of claiming their independence and distinctiveness from their southern neighbours, and our Panorama survey shows that very real differences exist and subsist between the two largest trading partners in the world. Any American player seeking to make an imprint or build upon one in Canada will start at a significant advantage over its competitors if it is aware of the characteristics that make the “Great White North” a truly distinct society in the North American landscape.

People-centric, socially conscious

Embracing people’s uniqueness and diversity – as well as learning from it – is an integral part of Canadian identity. Canadians score considerably higher than their neighbours to the south in assigning value to concepts like Equality of the Sexes, Flexible Definition of Family, Flexibility of Sexual Identity, and Openness toward Others, expressing a desire to distance themselves from social models and molds to validate individual particularities that they perceive as a source of social richness and personal fulfillment. When possible, those seeking to win over the Canadian marketplace should therefore be not only willing, but eager to display receptiveness to difference and to offer goods and brand images that play well to demands for personalization and customization.

Consistent with a more humane, people-oriented mindset, Canadians are more apt than Americans to want to help others and tend to be more sensitive to issues affecting the world around them – be it in terms of their community or the environment. Concepts like Primacy of Environmental Protection, Ethical Consumerism and Mutual Aid resonate significantly more strongly north of the border. For instance, whereas only 29% of Americans “totally agree” that they should help people around them even if they don’t know them well, close to half (44%) of Canadians do. And while close to a third (32%) of Americans are willing to accept higher degrees of pollution to preserve people’s jobs, only a meager 19% of Canadians share this view. In this sense, social and ecological sustainability play an important part in Canadians’ choices of brands and products.

Feeling in control – and eager to keep this feeling

Despite market forces and the unpredictability of life today, Canadians have the impression that they can stay on top of things. A significantly smaller proportion of Canadians (45%) than Americans (56%) agree with the idea that they have a hard time changing the course of events affecting them. But despite this feeling of control, Canadians are less comfortable that Americans with uncertainty and risk-taking, being almost twice as less inclined to take risks in life than their American counterparts. In this sense, comforting brands and comforting brand promises are especially welcome by Canadian consumers, as well as promises of empowerment.

More to the point, as a direct by-product of this pronounced sense of cautiousness, Canadians are also more financially prudent and pragmatic from a consumption standpoint in comparison with Americans; price is a more important factor for them in their purchasing decisions, whereas a product’s brand is less so. A total of 43% of Canadians totally or somewhat agree that when they buy a product, the brand is very important to them, a proportion that goes up to 58% across the border. They do not engage in “buying for buying’s sake” to the same extent that Americans do and they are more wary of marketing and advertising; only 12% of Canadians believe that if a product is widely advertised, it is very likely that it will be a good product, while 39% of Americans share this opinion.

Therefore, Canadians are more likely to consider any offer as a commodity and to be attracted by the best price. To make itself known, a brand therefore has every interest in having a somewhat aggressive pricing strategy or, if inclined to charge a high price, one has to be quite convincing about the concrete value being offered in return.

A tale of two countries

From a consumer values point of view, Canadians stand apart from their southern neighbours by:

• Being more focused on themselves as people, on their uniqueness, with less of a need to fit into the social mold

• Putting more stock in equality, ecological and ethical matters

• Feeling more empowered, in greater control of their lives, which they want to maintain

• Being more cautious in terms of consumption, more inclined toward utility, and less preoccupied by consuming for the sake of pleasure or status

Brands and brand promises that emphasize the following values will therefore have a better chance of being well-received in this market:

• Celebrating people’s diversity and offering a good degree of personalization

• Celebrating people

• Having a clear and honest sense of social responsibility

• Able to both comfort and empower consumers

• Bringing tangible benefits into people’s lives

• Offering good prices or clear concrete value

Any company seeking to do business with a specific segment of Canadian consumers would gain by understanding where they come from as people. In the end, it all comes down to knowing your end client. With its Panorama program, CROP is uniquely equipped and positioned to help you do so.