4 Keys to Marketing to Canadians

With a preference for hot poutine, cold craft beer and fresh Timbits, understanding what Canadians want can be challenging for any newcomer entrepreneur

Written by Roger Pierce

Understanding the marketplace is important to any new entrepreneur, but newcomers may find our unique Canadian ways particularly perplexing because they are unfamiliar with all things Canuck.

Not that Canadians are odd. We just behave a little differently than other folks.

We shop on Sundays. We like to pay with plastic. We’re huge fans of loyalty programs. We’re too polite to haggle over prices. We love anything to do with hockey. We drink craft beer from microbreweries. And while we do surf the internet, our online spending lags behind other countries.

When setting up shop to do business in Canada, you’ll do well to take some time to explore and consider these issues to help you market and sell to Canadians.

Charge fair prices

The amount of money we pay for goods and services is becoming an increasingly touchy issue for Canadian consumers. As a nation, we are tiring of paying substantially more for things like beer, books and groceries than our American counterparts. As powerless individual consumers, we’ve yet to figure out a way to change the “charge large” practices of major corporations (and, remember, we’re too polite to make a fuss). So we shut up and pay up.

And then we pay some more money in sales tax!

Be sensitive to these pricing sensitivities. While your market research will likely indicate a general Canadian willingness to pay a bit more, avoid the temptation to take advantage of our generosity; instead charge a reasonable price for whatever it is you are selling. Go for a price point that allows your new business to be profitable yet competitive. Give and communicate tremendous value. Because of our high cost of living, Canadians appreciate and remember a good deal—and, we may even reward your fairness with a form of fanatical customer loyalty typically reserved for the likes of Tim Hortons.

Recognize the influence of newcomers

The very definition of who is Canadian is changing, and modern marketers need to keep up if what they are selling is to remain relevant to newcomers.

According to the Environics Analytics blog, Canada expected to admit between 240,000 and 265,000 immigrants in 2012 as permanent residents €“ about the same number of newcomers we’ve admitted in each of the past six years.

The blog further explains that newcomers come to Canada from over 200 countries, but over half of those numbers arrive here from 10 key source countries. In 2010, the Philippines became the top country of origin for immigrants (with 36,578 people) surpassing both India (30,252 people) and China (30,197 people).

These facts represent some exciting opportunities for newcomer entrepreneurs who take the time to understand how immigrants behave in the marketplace and their preferences when it comes to shopping and buying goods and services. Over the next few years, any marketer who ignores the changing face of the Canadian consumer does so at their own risk.

Pay attention to Boomers

Canada is unique in that we have a large proportion of “baby boomers” relative to our population: approximately 10 million people—or one third of our citizens—were born between 1946 and 1965.

Such a large cohort of people can create major trends and influence entire industries. For example, many experts credit a rise in housing prices in the 1970s and 1980s to the baby boomers as they got jobs and began to settle down to raise families.

One of the best books to read on the baby boom is Boom, Bust & Echo by David Foot, an economics professor at the University of Toronto. In his book (there are several editions), Foot explores the marketplace and societal impact of so many baby boomers as they age and affect everything from business to the stock market to healthcare to housing.

In 2013, the oldest boomers turn 67 and the youngest will be 48. Among other things, they are spending money on retirement savings, leisure travel, luxury items, education, and health and wellness products and services. Figure out how your new Canadian business can tap into this massive group of potential customers.

Be a safe choice

It has been said that Canadians are risk averse. We like our banks to be conservative and secure (thankfully during the 2008 global financial crisis, our banks became the envy of the financial world). By and large, we like to know what will happen and when. We’re not big fans of surprises, especially when it comes to our suppliers.

Capitalize on our penchant for predictability by building a business we can rely on. Be someone we can trust. It’s surprisingly simple: do what you say you will do.

Marketing to Canadians isn’t difficult. We have money to spend and a general willingness to spend it. Just take some time to understand how, where, when and why we consume products and services and give us what we want.

We’ll politely hand you our money.

Roger Pierce is the founder of, co-author of the book Thriving Solo: How to Grow a Successful Business and one of Canada’s top experts on starting up. Pierce helps others get into business by sharing what he’s learned from launching 12 companies.

New to Canada? This is the final installment of startup expert Roger Pierce’s 7-part series on how to make your venture a true Canadian success story. Read the earlier columns in the series here

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