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Social media – a need for recognition – And Verdi's La Traviata

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 02-26-19 at 3:37 p.m.

Is social media representative?

I am often asked if the debates, discussions and controversies raging on social media are representative of the concerns of the general public. The question is whether social media truly reflect what people say and think in the real world.

To all those who ask themselves that question, even if only occasionally, the answer is NO!

Absolutely not. And I say that without hesitation.

We can examine this question two ways: purely quantitatively or more qualitatively.

Our studies indicate that among all social media users, three out of ten (29%) post comments, opinions or content of some kind; seven out of ten (71%) are happy to read what others are saying or observe what they find there without commenting.

Consequently, the debates, discussions and controversies we find on social media are the views of a minority of us (a phenomenon that is, curiously, only slightly more pronounced among young people).

Therefore, one must be very careful before generalizing the concerns expressed on social media to the general population, since those voicing their opinions represent fewer than one in three people in the population.

On the other hand, if each of these individuals were randomly selected, reflecting all the different characteristics of the population, we could say that they truly represent a very large sample and that we could consider them as representative of our entire society. But that's really not the case.

Despite differing very little from the general population on a socio-demographic and socio-economic level (perhaps a tad younger, and no differences in Quebec in case you were wondering), in terms of personal values, hot buttons and motivations, they are highly distinctive!

Above all, they express themselves on social networks ... because they have a powerful need to express themselves, to speak out! The content they post is secondary to their urgent need to be heard, to have a platform!

An increasingly busy usage

What's more, those who have this need to express themselves on social media do so relatively often. They are strongly overrepresented among those who log in to the various social media platforms at least once a day, if not several times a day.

To avoid overwhelming you with too much data, I have crossed in the table below those who post content at least daily with those who only view content, by how frequently they make use of the various platforms. This makes their busy usage all the more obvious!

A need for recognition

When we analyze the values of the people who post/share on social media, we clearly see that we are dealing with a very specific group of individuals.

They are characterized notably by five types of motivations, three of which predominate (the first three in the list below):

1. First and foremost, a need for recognition, to be admired by the people around them, as well as by society in general. A need to feel proud, to be praised, to experience status recognition. People feel proud of themselves when they think they have said something "significant" on one (or more) of the platforms they use.

2. A need for stimulation, to be on the leading edge of whatever is new and innovative, both on the market and in society, especially the latest products and services, which is what engages people in these discussions.
This expectation expresses a need for gratification, as well as a need to feel proud: they want to be the first to take advantage of these innovations and sources of gratification ("Early Adopters").

3. A need for self-expression, to express their uniqueness, creativity, their sense of being special and a need to express this loudly and clearly. Again, social media gives them a way to fulfil this need for self-expression.

4. A need to connect with others, to cultivate their network, to maintain emotionally meaningful relationships with others.

5. A desire to help improve the world ("changing the world" may be a little presumptuous).

Curiously, the latter two motivations are less pronounced among the most active social media users, but very apparent among the less active users.

The following tables present the results of a few questions measuring some of these motivations, crossed by the most active users of these social platforms.

The indicators expressing a need for peer recognition have markedly higher indexes for the frequent (daily) users of social media networks, which leaves no doubt as to their motivation. Clearly, there is some vanity involved here!

People post/comment to be recognized, regardless of the topic being discussed. At times, the vehemence surrounding certain issues offers them a great opportunity to loudly proclaim who they are, no matter the issue at stake!

Converging platforms

It is also interesting to observe the convergence in the social media platforms. We searched in vain for differences in what motivates the use of one network over another. On a tangible, concrete level, the platforms have different uses, but the deep motivations for their use are the same for all of them: the need for self-expression and the inspiration to speak one's truth!

How representative is this voice?

The diverse points of view found in our society cannot, therefore, be expressed in a representative way by the people who post or share content on social media. While we should take what they say into account, they represent only one, albeit a particularly loud, voice. But they do not represent public opinion.

How many times have business owners called us to say that their brand's reputation was in tatters because of a social media controversy. After we checked with (polled) their stakeholders, it turned out in most cases that only a small minority shared the accusations against them.

So yes, we must pay attention to what's being said on social media, but we must also learn not to give it more weight than it's due.

La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi

Please forgive me for revisiting La Traviata, but this time I want to present a lesser-known aria, along with a unique interpretation of the opera. Anyone who knows even a little about this opera and the novel on which it is based, The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas fils, knows that it is a sad tale of impossible love that ends in the dramatic death of the protagonist, Violetta.

However, French philosopher Roland Barthes had a radically different take on this work. He maintained that its primary theme is not love, but the desire for recognition! (Mythologies, 1957). Violetta engineers her social life and even her love life in order to be recognized: her ultimate goal is social recognition.

In this clip (Addio del passato), Violetta, now at the end of her life, sings that she took the wrong path to get what she wanted, that she has become a fallen woman, a traviata (the only time this word appears in the opera).

Verdi: La Traviata – Covent Garden & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden & Sir Georg Solti Angela Gheorghiu & Frank Lopardo & Leo Nucci & Chorus of the Royal Opera House, London, Sep. 19, 1995.

Another look at Millennials – And Puccini’s La Bohème

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 02-12-19 at 4:53 p.m.

Not a week goes by without a colleague, a client, a friend or a publication coming up with a theory about Millennials and how they are changing the world! Many believe that Millennials represent a unique generation, an historic cultural phenomenon; that they have unprecedented and unique values. But I wonder if everyone has forgotten Woodstock! (Okay, I know my age is showing.)

In response to this avalanche of random hypotheses, I felt I needed to take stock of this generation. Every year, through our Panorama program, CROP measures a hundred or so values and hot buttons, which allows me to weigh in on the various opinions that everyone seems to have about this age group.

A question of age or generation?

Technically, Millennials are considered to be young people under the age of 35. We like round numbers in my field, but Millennials are, in fact, between 15 and 37 years of age because they are born between 1982 and 2004.

But to say that they represent a generation with radically different values from previous generations is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, because young people are first and foremost ... young people! Our studies have shown that much of their distinctiveness comes from the fact that they are in the prime of life, and in all recent eras, young people have radically distinguished themselves from their parents.

Hedonism and status seeking

The two types of motivations on which Millennials do radically differ from older people are their quest for pleasure, which takes precedence over any sense of duty, and their need to become "someone" in society, even if it means clashing with their parents, with older people and with institutions (whence my reference to the Woodstock music festival at the beginning of this post, which was a unique celebration of hedonism and counterculture for the youth of that era). The following tables illustrate this point of view regarding youth today...

At this age, hormones play a role and they also want to be recognized for their uniqueness. There is nothing new here, except that this generation is even less inclined than previous generations to sacrifice their quest for pleasure for their obligations, which is why they are less engaged at work - not to mention the fact that companies are far less loyal to their employees than in the past.

Consumption and its associated status

One area where Millennials stand out - in fact, all of society is different than before on this aspect - is consumption. For a majority of us, consumption has become one of the central values of our lives. But on this aspect, Millennials are pulling society and the marketplace forward. They live to shop. Their hedonism and quest for status are systematically invested in consumption: they want to be proud to display what they own in a social context and the innovations they want to be the first to adopt.

Technology and innovation

Where they radically differ from previous generations and older people is their comfort with new technologies and their willingness to use new technology to interact with the world, with others, with companies, brands and the media. However, it is less a question of values than of economic and technological context. Millennials were born and raised in a unique era of innovation, and the flexibility that they have at their age has allowed them to reap all its benefits. When it comes to innovation, again, they are pulling society and the marketplaces forward.

Ecological alarmism and social engagement

Where I think Millennials are overrated is their supposed commitment to social and ecological causes, something I certainly hear a lot about! Well, on this score, they are certainly not in the lead. They may demonstrate strong ecological alarmism, believing that the planet really is truly doomed. But, despite that, they aren't particularly committed to helping improve the lot of society or the environment.

It is as if these issues are beyond them. They believe that they can only make a marginal difference and prefer to see companies and institutions intervene.

Our consumption segmentation revisited

Shortly before Christmas, I published a blog about the tool we use to segment Canadian consumers, which, when crossed with age, sheds a lot of light on the values of Millennials.

Clearly, we find Millennials overrepresented among enthusiastic consumer segments with various motivations that we find among youth, while Idealists, the most committed to advocating and acting for social and ecological causes, are clearly under-represented among the young and overrepresented among older people.

Millennials at a glance

So, here is my modest contribution to the debates on the uniqueness of Millennials (based on empirical and statistical observations), summarized in a few points:

1. A quest for pleasure, escape, strong emotions, and a very marked and age-appropriate desire for autonomy;

2. A need to make their mark in society, to become "someone," to be proud (also age-appropriate);

3. A zealous desire to consume and take advantage of the latest innovations (appropriate for the times);

4. A defiant and rebellious attitude to institutions and older generations (age-appropriate);

5. A catastrophic, apocalyptic vision of current ecological issues and a feeling of helplessness (again, appropriate to the times);

6. A feeling of helplessness resulting in weak social engagement.

We also measure other characteristics that define this group of young people, but I have focused here on the most salient points. It should also be noted that, quite surprisingly, this portrait of young people does not vary much across the country, even in the usually distinct Province of Quebec.

Finally, my goal is not to criticize this group of young people but to highlight their dominant features, so that those who want to target them have a better idea whom they are dealing with.

La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini

What could be a more perfect musical metaphor for youth than Puccini's La Bohème? All the key elements of this stage of life are beautifully expressed in this opera: love, passion, recklessness, distrust, camaraderie, etc.

The selected excerpt is the first love scene between the two main characters. This is the moment when the heroine presents herself to her suitor in one of the most beautiful arias in the entire operatic repertoire, sung here by one of the greatest sopranos of our time, Anna Netrebko, the Maria Callas of our era, in my opinion.

Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème – Netrebko, Beczala, Gatti, Wiener Philharmoniker, Deutsche Grammophon, Salzburg, 2012.

The relevance of personalized communications - And Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 01-30-19 at 2:16 p.m.

Personalized communications

You've probably noticed that your e-mail inbox is filling up faster than before, unless you have very efficient anti-spam software. The reason is probably that the companies and brands you deal with have begun communicating with you more directly and more persistently.

CROP has just conducted a major study on this topic for its clients. Our findings and implications not only offer specific guidelines to companies, but also insights into what our society is in the process of becoming!

In a single month, we estimate that eight out of ten Canadians (83%) get digital communications from companies or brands in the form of newsletters, promotional offers or discounts (emails, text messages, notifications or alerts on their smartphones, tablets, computers, or on social media).

Increasingly, companies are processing the data they have on you-your purchase history, your web browsing, your Facebook profile, the surveys that you fill out with them-which they incorporate into their databases (yes, CROP does this, too). Then, they "decrypt what you need" to sell it to you by means of personalized communications (using all the methods mentioned above).

The spread of these business practices is such that it raises important societal issues.

First of all, the fact that people's personal data is being used for marketing communications purposes is provoking endless debate. Voices are being raised all over the world to demand more protection and guarantees regarding the use of personal data; collective grievances to which governments are not insensitive (the use of Facebook data being a case in point).

Still, advertising has been a part of our lives since the beginning of the consumer society. Its business model is based primarily on the interruption of our media and content experiences to present us with offers. In this respect, one should keep in mind that these media experiences would not be possible without the revenue generated by these interruptions, since advertisers are paying to place their ads. This is the traditional media model.

But the very nature of this type of communication means that it is often not relevant to many people. If, for example, one of your favourite shows is interrupted by an ad from a car company when you do not need to change your car, you may get bored and irritated. This communication is not relevant to you.

Consequently, the key word here, the Holy Grail, sought by all these methods is: relevance!

The issue of relevance

A clear trend is spreading, where we find more and more people abandoning traditional media for content available on alternative services provided by Apple, Google, Netflix, Spotify and other web providers and mobile applications. Such content is certainly considered more relevant by users than what is available on traditional media.

Advertisers are also abandoning traditional media en masse. They are increasingly advertising on platforms that are better targeted to the consumers they seek by attempting to be more relevant to them, thus putting several traditional media (especially newspapers) at risk.

Personalized communications by e-mail or other means are all part of this trend: they are trying to reach us individually with targeted and relevant content. But this purported relevance doesn't always happen.

Half the people (50%) who get brand and company communications have unsubscribed from at least one brand in the last six months, judging the content to be irrelevant to them (too much useless content, lack of interest, etc.). The danger is very great for brands and companies that send out irrelevant content to people. Such communications may harm their relationship with their customers / users. (CROP uses its expertise in this area is to help companies be more relevant).

But here is the paradox, the irony: everyone is seeking relevance - people, consumers, users, customers, as well as the businesses and brands that communicate with us. But to be relevant, you really have to know who you are dealing with: your audiences, your customers, your users, your consumers. Hence the use of databases, the "Big Brother" who is spying on us: who says that it's all to serve you better! And "he" is right! To communicate effectively with us, to be relevant and to serve us well, companies must know all about us. That is why they are applying artificial intelligence algorithms to the databases containing data on us.

A well-accepted practice, but ...

Despite all the societal debate surrounding the storage and use of personal data, these practices are still fairly well accepted. Two out of three people in the country (67%) feel comfortable with their purchase history being stored in corporate databases in order to personalize the communications they receive. Three out of five people (59%) feel comfortable having their web browsing history used for the same purpose.

However, while these findings indicate a certain degree of acceptance, the 33% of people who feel uncomfortable with the use of their personal purchase history and the 41%, with the use of their web browsing history still represent a lot of people in the country. People are divided on this issue. Social movements can erupt with less support than that!

These people need to be reassured. They need to be shown that their data is only being used to deliver more relevant content to them.

What people accept the least (39%) is having their physical movements tracked via their smartphones, whereas, without meaning to overly gild the image of my industry, the use of a person's survey data is considered the most acceptable, with three out of four (76%) feeling comfortable with this practice when it is used to personalize the communications they receive.

Note that older people (55 years and up) have the most reservations about these practices, while younger people (18-34 years of age) are the most comfortable with them.

But rather mixed satisfaction with these personalized communications

In terms of what they receive, 50% of Canadians say they are satisfied with the quantity of these communications, 45%, with the frequency, and a noteworthy 45% with their relevance. While dissatisfaction rates are not very high, they are still significant: 17% are dissatisfied with the quantity; 26%, with the frequency; and 23%, with the relevance.

What is striking are the rates of indifference (neither satisfied nor dissatisfied): 32%, for quantity; 29%, for frequency; and 32%, for relevance.

But this is where the problem lies: the rather mixed satisfaction with the relevance of the communications they get. Marketers want to replace mass communication (via traditional media) with direct communications (e-mail, social media, etc.), but truly relevant personalization has been slow to arrive.

Note that all these indicators are relatively correlated with each other. We can clearly identify an acceptance versus a rejection "factor" with regard to the use of personal data for commercial communications purposes. The perceived relevance of what people get is at the heart of their attitude to these practices.

The current grumbling against these practices would be less if the relevance of the communications hit closer to the mark.

A consumer culture versus a corporate conspiracy theory

Moreover, when we examine the values of the people who are satisfied with the relevance of what they receive versus the values of those who are not, we find a mix of consumerism and a need for stimulation, Inspiration and the expression of their potential and creativity as opposed to an anti-consumerism culture firmly rooted in the belief that companies are doing everything in their power to create artificial needs to push people to buy stuff they don't really need. These people certainly do not see any relevance to them in those communications.

In fact, the use of personal data has become such a societal issue that it is dividing people along radically opposing values.

Our consumer culture has exploded in recent years. Increasingly, we value innovation, new products and new technological applications that transform our lives, stimulate us and potentially leverage our personal development. For these individuals, if the price for accessing offers and content on these thriving markets is that they must allow access to their personal data, they figure it's a fair bargain. This type of consumer is strongly on the rise in the country, which explains why there is a majority of individuals on the side of acceptance.

In contrast, the most socially critical people, whose numbers are stable but still impressive, tend to believe that companies are not behaving ethically. They want to contribute to a better world, socially and ecologically, and for them, the utilisation of personal data is yet another manifestation of a purely mercantile approach by companies with no social conscience. Admittedly, few companies know how speak to these individuals in a relevant way!

Company communications will become more personalized and relevant

Despite all the issues and criticisms surrounding the use of personal data and the regulations to come, this industry shift is underway and unstoppable. Every day, artificial intelligence is coming up with new ways to "relevantly " this data, and the more relevant it becomes, the more socially accepted it will become, too.

Let's hope it doesn't take too long for this this relevance to make itself felt!

Eugene Onegin by Piotr Ilitch Tchaikovsky

For my musical clip of the week, I was unable to find any operatic examples of personalized communications using databases of personal information! But the sending of a love letter is an ideal pretext for some nice music (after all, what's more personalized than a love letter!).

What is known in the opera repertoire as "the letter scene" in Tchaikovsky's opera, Eugene Onegin, provided me with the perfect excerpt to round out this blog post.

Eugene Onegin is a young heir, idle, cynical and nonchalant. Tatiana, a young naïve country woman, falls madly in love with Onegin. Consumed with love for him, she writes him an ardent love letter. But Onegin rejects her.

Tchaikovsky - Eugene Onegin / Fleming, Vargas, Hvorostovsky, Gergiev, Carsen, The Metropolitan Orchestra and Chorus, Decca, New York, 2007.

The diffusion of innovation in these effervescent times – And Lulu by Alban Berg

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 12-11-18 at 4:34 p.m.

For my last post of the season, since I break for the Holidays, I wanted to complete my series on the segmentation of the Canadian population with a final chapter examining the adoption of innovation by consumers and citizens.

To do this, I synthesized the work we've done in recent years to update Everett Rogers's theory on the diffusion of innovation, which first appeared in 1962. Its fifth edition was published in 2003.

Most people have heard of the so-called "Early Adopters," the first consumers to acquire the latest innovations, use them in an ostentatious way and take a leadership role in enthusiastically promoting them to their entourage. These are the people who will spend the night camping outside an Apple store, waiting for it to open so they can rush in to be the first to get the newest gadget.

However, behind this stereotype is a complete theory of the diffusion of innovation by Everett Rogers. Simply put, according to his model, innovations, new ideas and practices in society get diffused through the leadership of groups of individuals, moving from the most to the least receptive, until they have reached an optimal penetration.

The original model looked like this:

The theory goes that for any given innovation, "Innovators," small marginal groups very plugged in to the latest advances, act as leaders and interest the "Early Adopters," a much larger mass of individuals who truly set an example in the marketplace and in society and who, in turn, inspire the "Early Majority," thus helping the innovation in question reach the largest number of consumers and citizens. According to this theory, the diffusion is driven primarily by the leadership of each of these segments, in sequence, one after the other.

Next come the "Late Majority," who are more skeptical and only jump on the bandwagon when the innovation has been generally deployed. Finally, we have the "Laggards," those traditionals who reject, until the very end, all expressions of modernity.

What determines which segment a person belongs to is essentially income, socio-economic level, and status in the social pecking order. (In the 1960s, if you didn't have a colour TV, you were a second-class citizen!).

More than a half-century later

In the current frothy climate of innovation, many analysts believe that Rogers's theory is no longer relevant. They point to the tremendously rapid penetration of smartphones and use of social media.

However, whether or not you agree with Rogers's entire innovation diffusion theory, his segmentation model is still very useful when looking at the adoption of innovations, new ideas and social practices by people, consumers and citizens.

Based on a careful analysis of Rogers's segmentation, our studies have succeeded in reproducing his model. This work has led us to conclude that his model is still relevant but at a much faster rate (infinitely faster in some cases - as with smartphones).

We believe that the diffusion is much faster than it was in Rogers's time because there are many more Innovators and Early Adopters, and with the help of social media, their leadership is much more influential, personalized and effective, since they are spreading their influence to communities of interest (sometimes exponentially).

Full disclosure: our measurements of the progression of the segments presented here are approximate, since we did not use the same data as Rogers for our measurement tool. Nevertheless, it makes perfect sense in our current climate of hyper-valorization of consumption and the constant societal changes ("innovation" here is referring to more than just technological gadgets).

Our various analyses of the subject have produced the following estimate:

What is striking about our new "edition" of this model is the abundance of motivations and hot buttons that put people in a particular segment rather than another. They are easy to target with advertising and marketing when you know how to identify them among the various stakeholders (consumers, clients, volunteers, etc.). The also have very defined sociodemographic and socio-economic profiles.


Today, six main types of motivations underlie membership in these different segments of innovation adopters ...

1. Status, creating a social identity (pride, just as true today as in earlier decades);

2. Gratification, pleasure, play;

3. Exploring new ways to interact with today's world (notably, by being more ecological);

4. Transforming the rituals of one's life;

5. Finding leverage to get ahead in life, to achieve one's goals;

6. Being in control, in all areas of one's life.

This cocktail of motivations behind innovation adoption has become much more complex over time, especially since each of these motivations can be combined with the others, depending on the individual and the adoption segment he/she belongs to.

Five "adoption" segments with very different motivations (our updated Rogers model) ...

Innovators (10%):

These are people who get involved in online discussion forums to suggest improvements to products and services and even to offer advice for the creation and marketing of new products. They are enthusiastic participants in what is known as "co-creation," in having conversations with brands and non-profits to initiate innovation.

They have multiple motivations: they want to develop their potential, transform their lives and life in general, play, take pride in themselves (status), while getting involved in creating a more ecological and socially better world.

A marked over-representation of men, people under 45, professionals, high-income earners and residents of the country's big cities.

The main value proposition to convince them: "Come help us build the future." Engage them in the process of co-creation with the brand.

Early Adopters (18%):

A less intense version of the Innovators. They have almost the same motivations, although they are less active on discussion forums (not very motivated by co-creation) and not terribly concerned about the ecological and social issues of the day.

They want to be the first to own the latest innovations for reasons of status, personal expression and play.

An over-representation of people under 45 and high-income earners.

The main value proposition to convince them: "Be (and be proud to be) the first". We are creating communities where we promise you will be the first, etc.

Early Majority (22%):

This segment is less passionate about innovation. They are infinitely more practical. For them, innovation has lost its symbolic veneer. It is a part of daily life. Their main motivation is to be in control, to have all the necessary tools to feel fully in control of their capabilities.

Interestingly, this segment has no distinguishing sociodemographic or socio-economic traits (they are Mr. and Mrs. Everyone).

The main value proposition to convince them: Be in control of what you want to accomplish (like Microsoft said, "Where do you want to go today?").

Late Majority (26%):

This segment adopts after everyone else. When the innovation has become commonplace, a part of the majority's daily life, when the innovation is no longer an innovation! In fact, these individuals see innovation as a threat. It incarnates and symbolizes an uncertain, risky world that is changing too fast, one they are barely able to keep up with.

This segment is slightly older than the average for the population.

The main value proposition to convince them: Stress the utilitarian, on teaching the proposed function.

Laggards (24%):

These people are very different from their original counterparts. It is no longer tradition that motivates them, but rather voluntary simplicity, anti-consumerism, anti-business ("No-Logo"), as well as the feeling, or at least the fear, of exclusion.

An over-representation of people 55 and up, and of women.

The main value proposition to convince them: Don't bother!

They will buy only when they are good and ready.

Living with innovation

The coming years will bring us with a flood, a tsunami, of innovations! In all sectors of human activity. It is difficult to predict how this segmentation will evolve. Adoption of these upcoming innovations will no doubt vary, depending on the sector of activity and how much of a threat they represent. But we have no choice but to live with innovation. As with the Late Majority, a teaching approach to innovation will surely be needed, but on a larger scale.

The fact that Innovators are so demanding about the ecological and socially responsible properties of innovations gives us hope for a better world!

Happy Holidays! See you in January.

Lulu by Alban Berg

My musical clip of the week is an exploration of a type of modernity by Alban Berg in his opera, Lulu. Even if it deals with Viennese modernity in the early 20th century, it is radically "disruptive" nonetheless.

This clip presents the hysteria caused by a stock market crash. The diffusion of stock market participation in the 1920s followed Rogers's model. Starting with the elite, the wealthy Innovators, the penetration of the stock and bond markets grew tremendously, advancing to the Early Majority. As we all know, this ended badly, in the historic fiasco of 1929.

Berg illustrates this modernity as depravity, showing us how some of his protagonists struggle with inevitable ruin due to easy credit and the excesses of these markets.

Warning to those with sensitive ears: this is a 12-tone (dodecaphonic) score.

Alban Berg: Lulu, Petibon, Juon, Holland, Groves, Symphony Orchestra of Gran Teatre del Liceu, Boder, 2010.

Food habits of Canadians – And Mozart’s Don Giovanni

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 11-28-18 at 3 a.m.

As a follow up to my last two posts on the various ways of dividing the Canadian population into large families (segmented on a societal and consumption level), I thought it would be interesting to add our segmentation of the food habits of Canadians.

We are witnessing a revolution in this arena, with profound changes in our expectations, needs and food habits. New food lifestyles are emerging; our buying criteria are becoming more complex, our requirements more sophisticated. In this arena of continuous transformation, marketing specialists call it "creeping segmentation." It is no exaggeration to say that the sociocultural transformation of society (the evolution in our values) is being expressed unequivocally through our palates!

Four main "megatrends" give structure to this transformation:

1. Sophistication
2. Simplification
3. Health
4. Value

1. Sophistication

For a growing number of us, food has become a source of exploration, of unique, gratifying, and comforting experiences ("comfort food"), of fun and discovery. Eating well has become one of life's greatest pleasures. Even food shopping has become an agreeable pastime. We want to feel more "connected" (symbiosis?) to our food ("slow food"). We cook for pleasure. We experiment with dishes from other countries. Both enjoying and preparing a good meal have become popular rituals.

2. Simplification

The pace of life has also put more demands on us. Our schedules are more difficult to manage. Combining work, family life and extracurricular activities has become more of a challenge. People have less time to cook. They are looking for ways to simplify their meals. They want to spend as little time as possible on meal preparation. They regularly skip meals. They rely on meal substitutes and portable solutions. They snack. The purchase of ready-made meals is on the rise. However, the market has a long way to go to meet the demand (there are far too many simplification offers that do not meet their requirements for sophistication and health).

3. Health

Health is also a purchasing criterion on the rise. As the Beatles sang in Savoy Truffle, "You know that what you eat you are." People have become aware that their food choices can greatly affect their health. They want to reduce or even eliminate the consumption of potentially harmful substances (fat, cholesterol, fried foods, salt, sugar, etc.) and add nutrients with beneficial properties (antioxidants, omega 3, super-foods, etc.). They read the ingredient lists on the products they buy. They are making increasingly healthy food choices

This trend is also associated with the new philosophies of life, which combine food and the art of living with ethical and ecological concerns (veganism, vegan food, etc.).

4. Value

Price is priority for many people when it comes to food, just as it is for many other product categories. They try to pay the lowest possible price for everything they buy. A few years ago, price was the sole criterion. Today, it's all about value. Not so long ago, consumers would accept lower quality for a cheaper price. Today, this equation no longer holds: we want the best for less (what marketers refer to as "value").

Five consumer segments, five very different approaches to food

The synthesis of these trends, and everything associated with them, results in five large families of Canadian consumers ...

Health Sophisticates
(14%) :

A view of health based on limiting or eliminating substances considered to be harmful to health (fat, sugar, salt, etc.). But they still hope to enjoy tasty food experiences. These consumers cook for pleasure, read about cooking and experiment with dishes from other countries. An overrepresentation of women, Quebecers, people aged 45 and over, and people with higher educations.

The value proposition to convince them to buy: very tasty, even without fat, sugar, salt, etc.

Foodies (22%) :

For these consumers, eating well is one of life's greatest pleasures! Every meal should be an occasion for a gratifying festival of flavours. They read about food, recipes and the customs of other cultures. They like to cook, shop, touch, smell, taste, etc. ("polysensoriality"'). They are both gourmand and gourmet. They are experimenters focused on discovering new flavours, as well as rediscovering traditional dishes and recipes. There is a clear majority of women in this consumer segment (its only distinguishing feature).

The main value proposition to convince them to buy: exquisite flavours, exploration and discoveries.

Curious Unstructured
(23%) :

The people in this segment want the pleasure without making any effort. Or, they simply have no time. Given their lifestyle and activities (work, family, recreation), these consumers want to minimize meal-preparation time. Their eating habits are quite unstructured. They skip meals, snack instead of eating a real meal, eat ready-made meals and use portable solutions, etc. But these consumers are also very sophisticated. They are also looking for gratifying, unique and exotic flavours. There is an overrepresentation of English Canadians, men, 18 to 44 year olds, households with children, professionals and administrators, high-income individuals and residents of large cities.

The main value proposition to convince them to buy: delicious, sophisticated, healthy, quick ... and not too expensive (even though they are price flexible).

Casual Gourmands (18%) :

These consumers are not terribly invested in food and have no "appetite" for anything sophisticated. They are perfectly happy with fast food restaurants. They also spend as little time as possible on meal preparation, since food is not an area that they find particularly exciting (whence their indifference). They are also not very concerned about health (they consume a lot of processed ready-to-eat meals). An over-representation of people under 35 and individuals with low levels of education.

The main value proposition to convince them to buy: simple, ready to eat, good but not expensive.

Traditionals (22%) :

These consumers approach food as if none of the recent food trends have reached them. In some food shops, they must feel like they have landed on Mars! They want to eat the same way as always: the same dishes, the same recipes, served the same way. Tradition, the known, the familiar, the unchanging touchstones: these are essential to them. Eating is strictly a response to a physiological need. As a result, price is one of the most important criteria. Being older, they also are somewhat concerned about healthy eating, probably at the urging of their doctor (limiting fat, sugar, salt, etc.).

The main value proposition to convince them to buy: just like the good old days (while following doctor's orders!)

A distinct society

Unlike the other divisions in the population that I analyzed in my earlier posts, this food-habits segmentation is strongly correlated with consumers' socio-demographic and socio-economic characteristics (as clear shown in the description of each segment).


As one might expect, Quebec differs from the other Canadian provinces in this categorization of food expectations and habits. As illustrated in the following table, there are more Health Sophisticates and Foodies in Quebec, thanks to the French tradition and the province's renowned joie de vivre, whereas there are more Curious Unstructured and Casual Gourmands in English Canada, where food is less of a priority in their lives and in "competition" with their other daily activities.

The synthesis of the trends in recent years

We are not always able to follow the evolution of our segments over time (our survey questions are not always identical from one year to the next). But in this case, we used exactly the same tools in 2014 as in 2018, thus enabling us to observe this evolution.

Based on the following table, note that ...

Curious Unstructured are skyrocketing, up 13 points in four years! (This segment combines the trends of sophistication, health and simplification).

Health Sophisticates are in decline. These consumers are less inclined to cut out ingredients that give them pleasure (preferring a certain balance).

Traditionals are in free fall. Their penetration by current trends is causing an inevitable decline.

Foodies are on the rise in Quebec, where joie de vivre is still a factor as is their enthusiasm for good food.

Great market opportunities

Although Quebec is still the poster child for joie de vivre, it is increasingly spreading over into the menus of other Canadians! Consumers' pursuit of pleasure is undoubtedly being expressed through food. Meals are increasingly becoming a moment of highly enjoyable conviviality, of sharing and of gratification. A wonderful balm for all of life's stresses!

These trends offer tremendous market opportunities to all businesses and entrepreneurs able to respond to these rising needs. And in these areas, the door is open equally to both small businesses and industry giants.

Bon appétit!

Don Giovanni by Mozart

For my operatic clip of the week, I looked for a scene with gourmet dining and Don Giovanni fit the bill. This outrageous and unrepentant hedonist indulges in all of life's pleasures, both at the table and with women. We find him here, demanding and relentless, as he dines while complaining that he will never be perfectly satisfied!

A superb production by La Scala in Milan.

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Mattei, Terfel, Netrebko, Frittoli, Filianoti, Prohaska, Coro E Orchestra Del Teatro Alla Scala, Barenboim, Deutsche Grammophon, Milan, 2015.