Poutine and Possibilities: What You Need to Know About Entering the Canadian Market

expanding your brand into canada

When expanding your brand to North America, you might be tempted to look past Canada. But for us it’s a no brainer: Canada offers a launchpad for any brand looking to test, learn and scale up north prior to US entry – and it’s a lucrative market in its own right too. Here’s what you need to know about marketing and advertising in The Great White North.

Thinking of expanding your brand into Canada? Get in touch with us here.

It’s a great bellwether for the US…

Thinking of expanding your brand into Canada? It'll help prepare you for the US.

As we all know, the US market is a target for every brand. First there’s the huge population of over 300 million. Then there’s the general homogeneity in terms of language and culture. And to boot, many Americans have a decent amount of disposable income. There’s no doubt about it: the US is the perfect confluence of size, wealth and uniformity. That makes it a dream for a marketer looking to expand its global footprint. But finding success in the US is mighty difficult, too. You need higher budgets and the level of tech penetration (hello Silicon Valley!) means that every vertical is jam-packed with competitors. Heading in without a gameplan? That’s a fool’s game.

Thankfully there’s a fairly similar – and cheaper! – market just up north. Enter Canada. It might be mighty large, but the population is just a fraction of the US at 37.59 million. Furthermore, nearly 85 per cent of Canadians live within 150 kilometres of the U.S. border, mainly in the Ontario region. What other benefits are there? Canada is also a mosaic of cultures, religions and more, meaning companies can try out targeting different demographic groups and benefit from this customer segmentation. In fact, according to Environics Analytics, there are 68 Canadian consumer segments, arranged by factors including socio-economics, life stage and values. And it’s also an advanced tech market, often early adopters in fields like gaming, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. With all these factors, the Canadian market is undoubtedly the perfect place to test for the US   as we saw when we tested Wooga’s game June’s Journey there last year.

 …But it’s a very different market too

Outdoor sports are big in British Columbia

The similarities notwithstanding, Canada is still its own ballgame. Yes, it’s more into hockey than baseball. But more importantly: you need a more localised marketing strategy than in the US. While we often advise clients to go national with their campaigns in the US, this is not the case in Canada. What might work for a consumer in Calgary, Alberta, might not fly with the Québec crowd. On that note, watch out for the Québec region: with 90% of the population there speaking French, you should consider this is your marketing strategy, whether it’s targeting French keywords for PPC or SEO or adapting your creative accordingly.

There are other things to consider with regards to geography, too – this report shows how the legendary Gold’s Gym had to adapt their gym offering to fit different regions when they arrived in Canada. What the outdoorsy denizens of British Columbia required for their fitness needs was far different from other regions, who were more interested in strength training for instance. All of this relates to digital brands, too. Albeit with similarities, the Canadian consumer is far from a direct copy of the American consumer. Make sure you consider this as you define your strategy for expanding your brand into Canada.

Media consolidation is high

Radio is a very localised channel in Canada

The Canadian media landscape is much more consolidated than, for example, the US.  In fact, there are five corporations that own almost 80% of Canadian media. Note down the names: Bell, Rogers, Postmedia, Corus and Torstar. With subsidiaries across TV, print, radio, OOH and more, it’s easy to make synergies in your media planning and buying – bringing down costs and making things more efficient to boot.

Down to the nitty gritty: Basic cable in Canada is focused on two channels, CTV and Global, which broadcast mostly American programs, while there is also the state-owned broadcaster CBC to consider. Note that the prevalence of American programs also provides you with valuable insights before you take on the US, as fans of certain TV shows across both countries can be targeted. And if you’re planning to make a creative – and don’t just copy your American one! – it’s crucial to remember that it needs to be approved by the central body, thinkTV, before it can go to the networks. This compares to the US where the networks are in charge of approving each spot.

And what about radio? This is where the localisation of your strategy also has to be considered. With the exception of CBC’s national radio channels, most radio stations are regional. This is important to consider when planning your campaign.

What about media usage?

OTT is one of the biggest marketing channels in Canada right now

In terms of media usage, Canada’s not so different from the likes of the US, UK and Germany for instance. This report from PHD Canada’s Canadian Media Usage Study (CMUST) shows that the last three years have seen steady declines for radio and print media, and a bigger drop for linear TV. OOH also saw a decline, although this can be associated to the lockdown measures imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interestingly, time on the internet declined also, although, as only desktop and mobile were tracked, the report says this decline can be attributed to the rise in smart TV usage. Hello CTV!

So where’s the future at? Channels seeing big forward momentum include digital video (+18%) and audio (+16%), ecommerce (+40-60% post-lockdown) and video gaming (+25%). And of course, nestled in the winners camp is OTT. The streaming revolution is just as alive in Canada as it is in the rest of the world, with an increase of 11% in subscribers over the last two years. Make sure to take all of these trends into account when formulating a strategy, although we’d advise using a mixture of legacy and newer channels in order to create the desired multiplier effect. And with that, we send you on your way to the land of mooses and maple syrup. Good luck!

Expanding your brand into Canada doesn’t have to be guesswork. Get in touch with to talk strategy here.

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