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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.



Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 12-06-13 at 10 a.m.

Image for Differentiation

Of all the aspects involved in marketing, the most challenging must certainly be differentiation. From in here, as for you out there, it can often seem that brands in some categories are All. The. Same.


Take the pickup truck ad - and we do mean The Ad - because there only seems to be one version. Cue the narrator's leather saddle of a voice, deeply intoning "If you're a big hombre who needs to move big stuff, then you need brand model xyz," followed by the proof point (big engine, big this, bigger that). Check 'em out, cowboy:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwC1D8s_-vU (Dodge)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ngOek2J65s (Chevy)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDuOp3Uff9Q (Ford)


How does a guy get a voice that leathery?


And beer ads? Pretty much the same story. To look at these, you'd think beer brands have one supreme purpose: magically transport the, uh, customer to a sex/fun/party wonderland:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLOfH-WzMsk (Bud Light Platinum)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsqXh9n0rew (Coors Light)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Qy20CksdQk (Budweiser)


Bikinis, cheerleaders and flamethrowers optional. Just kidding: they're mandatory.


Did you know you can do a lot of stuff with an iPhone? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evhr2ObJXsM


And how about with a Blackberry? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxpPXHvykHk


Notice the tagline: Built to keep you moving.


Meaning: you are very very busy and this brand will help you explore every possibility available to you because...yes. It does a lot of stuff.


Differentiating your brand is not about the tone of communication or cultural references. You have Justin Timberlake, I have Beyoncé. That is not differentiation. That is tomayto-tomahto.


In order to differentiate itself, a brand needs to tap into different consumer insights and plumb different consumer needs. Sex/Fun/Party in a rock bar and S/F/P in a pool in Miami obviously just address the same core needs, with different party wear.


Think of the way beauty products constantly tap into such modern consumer desires such as the "importance of physical beauty," "concern for appearance" and "status." Basically, brands help their consumers exist where it counts, in the eyes of others. Axe has slashed its way to the top of the heap: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nszb0LE2Ngw


But one brand zagged where the others zigged. Dove went in the opposite direction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=litXW91UauE


Dove was inspired by more deeply-sourced insights. They heard the silent voices: "I'm a woman, and have a negative body image, but I want to love myself as others around me do." This insight taps into the need for personal development. More specifically, Dove hit emotional touchpoints like "introspection and empathy" and "social learning." The brand has an intimate role, and one that breeds loyalty: to help you be beautiful in your own eyes.


The ad may touch you, or it may not. You may watch it sobbing over a box of your favourite tissues, or you may find it condescending.  Regardless, this is a strong example of true differentiation in brand positioning.


And for that, much love to Dove.



How hipsters can help us understand mainstream marketing

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 11-13-13 at 9:26 a.m.

Image for How hipsters can help us understand mainstream marketing


Two fundamentally opposite tensions tug at the core of human nature: the desire to belong to a group, and the desire to express one’s individuality. Take “hipsters”, the urban style-scourge that perfectly expresses this duality: they adhere to a super cool/secret/exclusive fashion code to express their individuality, while all observing the exact same social codes and amassing the same accessories (from fixed-gear bikes to home brewing to vinyl records to skinny jeans to flannel shirts to ye olde moustache wax). Ah, the paradox: I’m so very, very different… just like all of my friends!


Go further back into the cultish domain and we can see the very same tension in the history of tattooing. Originally, in Polynesian or Japanese tribes, tattoos served as a rite of passage, as marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion. It had a social purpose. Nowadays, in Western society, tattoos are a claim to individuality. In the postmodern world tattoos broadcast “How different and unique am I? Just look at the inscrutable Chinese symbol on my lower back.”


Brands also need to choose: what is my role? Is it to confer social acceptance, or individuality? And there’s a trick: it’s hard to win on both counts the way the hipsters do.


The past decades had been the golden era of Masstige (downward brand extension bringing “prestige” to the masses). Consumers sought social acceptance through “luxury” affordable brands such as Sony or Ralph Lauren. The recipe was simple: you buy the product and you flaunt it. No need for words – the brand itself was evidence of your success. Buy this brand, be culturally superior by aestheticizing and ethicizing the world.


Nowadays, consumers are increasingly developing their own personal narratives. The brand’s role is to retool and help the consumer affirm his Individualism in order to exist more fully. To this effect, we can clearly distinguish three methods that help said consumer affirm and express that precious uniqueness.


Customization: Car manufacturers have just gotten on board this one. You, the consumer, can choose all the options you want, and the brand will build a car to your unique specifications. Or take another perfect example, from a wholly different medium: the Guardian. The influential UK newspaper printed up two different versions of the edition announcing the birth of future King of England, Prince Baby George: one for Monarchists, with Prince George front-and-center; one for Republicans, minus any mention of the child. Talk about customizing reality according to the audience’s beliefs.


Personalization: Tailoring the brand experience to consumer preferences. Look at Amazon, which has made a science of divining your preferences based on an array of information, and adapting to them. But it’s not just New Marketing 101 for the Corporate set. Arcade Fire, Montreal’s globally-hot indie band, used the same premise for the video for We Used To Wait. The song is about nostalgia/love for the teenage years. Type in the postal code for the house you grew up in and Google Street View whisks you to your teenage neighbourhood. It makes the entire immersive experience truly personalized – and moving.


Craftization: Here, the brand invites the consumer to bring his own skills and knowledge into the experience, making it an extension of his self-expression. This one is typically attached to domestic hobbies or – yes – crafts, like cooking, interior design or gardening. Magazine and cookbooks are full of examples of this. And yes, the hipsters are here as well, with their (supposedly) prized small-batch craft beer. None of that Budweiser for Mr. Moustachio.


So, no, Hipsters are not just annoying. They are a genuine cultural example of the tension between the social and the individual in marketing, and the shifts underway as brands retool. But never mind, they’ll say – it’s all too cool for you.



Can Ed Snowden save BlackBerry?

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 10-22-13 at 11:50 a.m.

Image for Can Ed Snowden save BlackBerry?


It was the jewel of Canadian technology: world-renowned success story RIM and its omnipresent and essential smartphone. Remember your first BlackBerry? Who can forget the pride and giddy tech-joy of sending and receiving emails on a handheld telephone, thumbing the Qwerty keyboard, navigating with the little scroll wheel... Not for nothing was it nicknamed a "Crackberry."


But in recent years, the BlackBerry - and RIM - have fallen through the cracks, and into dark times. As the lightning pace of tech evolution has revved up, RIM faces the daunting challenge of clawing a market space for itself against 800-lb. gorillas Apple and Google. The company has struggled and battled through a major rebranding operation, but the question remains: will it be enough?


In order to survive and prosper, a brand must reach and feed a consumer need. It must distinguish itself from the herd and ensure that those two elements form a rock-solid base to support its business model.


Indeed, in business, as in life, one door closes and another opens... but for opportunity's knock to matter, you have to hear it.  Hey, speaking of listening...


Edward Snowden caused a global shockwave when he revealed to us that the National Security Agency actively monitors, surveils and listens to our communications. More specifically, major US tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple "get together" with the NSA to provide them the information and data that people send and share.


Is this the proverbial open door? Can BlackBerry take this opportunity and address the need for control over one's private life in order to tap into a consumer need and differentiate itself from the competition?


Our Panorama (Crop's sociocultural monitor) tells us that respondents who prioritize control over their private lives are also wary of huge corporate entities, advertising and a ravenous consumer society. Perfect: that's precisely what BB's competitors represent!


And security? First among handheld devices, BlackBerry is known for its encryption and security, and for that reason, it is ubiquitous in government circles. Barack Obama famously used one during his 2008 presidential campaign. The U.S. Department of Defense even stated it was essential for national security.


There may be a happy marriage here between public and product, to wit: those who value control over their private lives are also attracted to nature, an ecological lifestyle and locally-sourced products. In short, they have a romantic conception of life. Even more crucial for smartphone suppliers, they seek out technologies that allow them to save time and connect with others. Therefore, a market position that banks on ethical consumption linked to a strong brand promise of control over one's private life could be the winning combination.


The BlackBerry brand went from a dominant player to a marginal brand. With its rebranding and Z10 effort, BlackBerry is fighting Samsung, Google and Apple on the terrain of "innovation that offers a lot of possibility". Can the brand win this battle?


If the answer is no, it has to become a niche brand. Niche is viable but marginal is not. The difference is that a niche brand has a strong USP. It remains to be seen if BlackBerry can own security and if control over privacy can viably support a business model.  Even - or especially - with a competitive market like smartphones, you've got to think outside the box.



Happiness and the sexes

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 09-27-13 at 10:23 a.m.

Image for Happiness and the sexes


Like Life and Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness is an "unalienable right" that the United States Declaration of Independence says all human beings have been given by their Creator and for the protection of which they institute governments. That can seem abstract, but it has a very practical application, to wit:


Happiness and life cycle

Researchers have discovered a U-shape in the human happiness graph over the course of the life cycle, with reported satisfaction declining roughly from the mid-20s to the 50s before increasing again into the later "golden" years (mid-60s). This may seem counterintuitive - but is deeply, inextricably linked to expectation and experience. Younger people tend to be overly optimistic. Nobody believes he'll be the one to experience the messy divorce, the health problem, the foiled or dissatisfying career. Instead, life gets in the ring, knocks you around and puts happiness on the ropes, until expectations are tempered and seasoned by experience in later years.


Recipe for happiness

But the lingering questions are: Who are the happy people? What do they do? What is their trick? Is it innate or acquired?


Beyond the life cycle, we know that happy people (those who self-proclaim to register 5/5 on the Happiness scale: roughly 20% of the Canadian population) have some mental postures in common. For instance, they value life's simple pleasures, and ritual. It is crucial to understand rituals from a branding perspective. Happy people have rituals. Unhappy people are instead mired in routines that they periodically need to escape.


The importance of ritual

There is a profound difference between ritual and routine: Ritual brings deeper meaning to both significant and everyday acts. When moving from sleep to activity, most of us enjoy a simple, almost universal morning ritual - making coffee. Reflect, for a moment, on all the steps involved in that process, and the sensorial aspect of it. How dearly would you miss it if it changed... or disappeared?


Think about your weekend newspaper, the promising bulk of it, implying all the luxurious time you'll have to read it on your day off. Or opening a bottle of wine: the whole ritual of unwrapping the foil and inserting the corkscrew, feeling that tension and then hearing the satisfying plonk of the cork. It's so not the same with a screw top. Routine? Routine removes meaning and implies a mindset in which everything is a chore and nothing offers possibility.


Meanwhile, happy people also tend to love a challenge, and have the energy to address it. They have a sense of being rooted in a community and of being connected to others.


Is happiness the same for men and women

But let's make it more interesting: Is what's true for men also true for women?


Happy women, in fact, are more conservative than their female counterparts. They are leery of families that do not consist of a father and a mother. Religion holds a more important place in their lives, and they often put moral duty before happiness. Happy women are those who feel the frame of their life is firm, even rigid.


Meanwhile, the happy man is more epicurean. He is romantic and attuned to his senses. He is uninterested in spiritual questioning and declares that he is very open to new models of the family. For him, happiness means pleasure coming before duty. Happy men are men who indulge themselves and go with the flow.


To circle back to the United States Declaration of Independence, Liberty and Happiness seem to come together for men, but not for women.


Hey folks - we're just reading the stats here, so please: no hate mail.