For years Canadian PR practitioners have been telling American companies that despite many similarities, the Canadian market place, and particularly Canadian consumers, have many subtle and not so subtle differences from their American counterparts. It requires a particular sensibility to these variables to be successful here. And generally American companies need Canadian guides to help them navigate the terrain. It isn’t that their American agencies couldn’t help them, but the simple truth is that the very size of the US market makes them generally insensitive to the nuances here. The same, by the way is not true for Canadians operating in the US. In many respects we have come to understand ourselves through these distinctions, so we are just more attuned to regional divergence both here and in the US.
The significance of this was brought into focus in a Wall Street Journal story today: “U.S. Retailers Learn to Speak Canadian.” Seems the next wave of American retailers to enter the Canadian marketplace aim to learn from Target’s mistakes. With both Saks and Nordstrom planning to expand their presence here over the next several years it will be interesting to see just how successful they are. While Canadian companies are working hard to improve their product in the face of this increased competition, they aren’t doing it by retrenchment for the most part. Rather, they are spending significantly to upgrade their stores and services. This suggest confidence rather than concern. As Larry Rosen put it best: “We’re experts on Canada.” He went on to explain that “local habits can trip up retailers less schooled in Canadianisms.”
Over the years, we have worked with a number of European clients and most of them get that there is a lot they don’t know about Canada and they are open to support and advice. By contrast, all too often Americans coming up against these differences are derisory or even dismissive. One refreshingly respectful client we work with is Lockheed Martin’s Steve O’Bryan. Small wonder the company recently appointed him vice president, International Strategy and Business Development. He gets it.