Ward to the Wise

How to Communicate Effectively in the Canadian Market


Brands interested in entering the Canadian marketplace face cultural differences that demand unique communications strategies in order to be effective. Ward sat down with Worldcom partner and CASACOM President Marie-Josée Gagnonto discuss what it takes to enter the Canadian marketplace and how B2C and B2B brands can cause the results they desire by following a pragmatic set of communications guidelines.

Q. Are there any business tips you have for B2B and B2C companies looking to enter the Canadian marketplace?

A. Over the years, at CASACOM, we’ve helped many foreign brands enter the Québec and Canadian markets. We’ve learned the best strategies to land smoothly. Here are a few of the best practices collected along the way:

1. Plan early and partner with a local firm. It’s important to find the right communications partner that will facilitate your entry, connect you with the right people and inform you about the challenges you may face.

2. Fully acknowledge the difference. Sincerely accept that there are differences and sincerely engage yourself in identifying them. Do not put your head in the sand thinking that they will go away, it will backfire for sure.

3. Understand the market. You need to understand the market you are entering; consumer trends, cost of living, culture, politics, etc. Conduct a comprehensive research and check your assumptions through surveys or focus groups.

4. Be represented locally. Having a local spokesperson representing your brand helps create a better relationship between you and the consumer. Consumers tend to follow people from where they live versus an “outsider.”

Q. There are two primary languages used in Canada: English and French. What do you recommend international clients do to jump the potential communications barrier? Do French language media speak English with PR people pitching them?

A. We always recommend that international clients seek people who speak French fluently or a local PR team in Quebec to help with any communication barrier issues. Most French language media do speak English and will respond to you in English, however many of them prefer to exchange information in French. It is easier for them to communicate and understand material better when it is written in their first language. From our experience, French media respond better to pitching that is in French over English.

However, we highly recommend to be compliant with Bill 101, Quebec’s French Language Law, and follow a few rules:

Q. What is the greatest difference in how the news media operates in Canada versus other regions in the world?

A. There are some key differences in how the news media operates in Canada versus other regions in the world. For example, major Canadian magazines devote more than 80 percent of content to Canadian-authored editorial and many Canadian journalists seek out local angles; 88 percent of readers feel it is necessary to have editorial content created specifically for Canadian readers.

Canadian media also want to be perceived and treated differently from other news media around the world. They desire Canadian content, statistics, facts and spokespersons and focus on localized news rather than general interest stories. They also expect materials to be delivered using Canadian Press style and in some cases, UK English (e.g. labour/labor) and prefer materials in well-adapted French and English.

Q. Give a few examples of good public relationsinitiatives conducted in Canada by American B2B and B2C companies.

A. Starbucks is doing a good PR job in Canada by keeping their digital marketing campaigns and/or promotions consistent, but still adding some Canadian flare. They make an effort to deliver genuine moments by connecting with Canadian customers whether it is in person or through social media.

Home Depot Canada has been involved in the community through The Home Depot Canada Foundation and creating campaigns, which supports initiatives that help put an end to youth homelessness in Canada.

We were quite impressed with the way Michaels stores entered the Canadian and the Québec markets. Their open and humble attitude made a positive difference in how Canadian consumers responded to them.

Finally, Etsy Canada also understood that to connect with a given population you have to build a program that talk to the people of that specific community or region; what they value, their cultures, trends, etc.

Q. How has digital technology or social media changed the way Canadian media gather and report the news?

A. Social media has definitely impacted the way Canadian media gathers and reports the news. A lot of information is constantly posted online and I’m sure a number of them do get some of their information from there. But I have seen more and more that the media tweet their facts or provide small tid bits in 140 characters to explain a breaking story or announcement. Everything has become shortened and it’s about who can get that news out there the fastest. Canadian media seek social media and video content to integrate with their editorial content as well.

Q. Mega-retailer Target recently pulled out of the Canadian marketplace due to a poorly executed growth strategy.  In your opinion, do you think PR strategies were used effectively in the region to reach target audiences? Could they have done better to support the expansion?

A. Unfortunately, I don’t think the right business strategies were used when Target entered the Canadian market. For instance, they acquired too many stores in a short period of time.I think they could have done a better job understanding the market they were entering, inventory issues, pricing, as well as the needs of consumers. Although, Canada and the United States have similar views or ways of life, we are still separate countries that have different cultures, trends, currency, etc. and brands need to adapt.

Q. Anything else you would like our Ward to the Wise readers to know?

A. CASACOM loves to help foreign businesses entering Canada. With offices in Toronto and in Montreal, we bring a deep understanding of cultural differences resulting in unique and highly effective communications strategies. We would be thrilled to help any businesses to get a better understanding of the Canadian market. To do that, we offer a free Canada 101 webinar.

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