Americans get a crash course on selling to Canadians

It’s well known that the Canadian dollar has been in the US$0.90 range for quite some time now. Manufacturers (including those in our own IT sector) are naturally bewailing this, since it makes exports to the U.S. more expensive to the consumers down there. To stay competitive they must cut prices and that squeezes margins.

But, consider the flip side. Those holding the IT purse strings are now finding huge bargains in hardware, software and services from the U.S. — relative to what they were paying even a year ago. And, this isn’t being lost on U.S. companies either. American firms that don’t currently sell into Canada are considering it now.

I recently read a report by a marketing guru — an American writing for Americans — on how to crack into the Canadian market, especially via online marketing.

I’ve read similar documents written for Canadian companies looking to establish a U.S. presence, but seeing it from the opposite perspective felt weird — kind of like accidentally tapping into a teleconference among terrorists planning an invasion.

Although there were times when I found myself smiling or even laughing out loud, the report was well researched and presented. There was the usual stuff that one might expect — it’s “cheque” not “check,” Canadians buy “homes” not “houses,” and “trainers” not “sneakers” — but there were some useful stats as well.

  • Canadians have always been early technology adopters (e.g. Canada still has a higher penetration of household broadband than the U.S. at 80 per cent versus 70 per cent).
  • Canada ranks eighth for online populations worldwide (at 70 per cent), and tenth for time spent online (the U.S. and U.K. didn’t make the top 15 on either list).
  • Canadians receive less than half the direct marketing pieces (i.e. junk mail) Americans do.

Whether any of these facts can facilitate the “invasion” remains open to question, but there’s also some very salient advice about our Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). Our legislation protects individual rights in a way that Americans can only dream of. After all, their Patriot Act allows the U.S. government to access and tap into any data about any U.S. citizen — the polar opposite of our laws. PIPEDA subsequently has significant implications for U.S. marketers gathering information about Canadian citizens without their explicit choice to opt in.

By the time I finished the report, I had actually reached the conclusion that if I can buy U.S. technology cheaper now with our near-par dollars, then I’m glad that American suppliers are being educated to treat us as a distinctly different market.

I’ll leave you with a few of the more amusing (but serious) marketing tips…

  • “Canada does not have an NRA or a strong gun lobby and Canada’s thinking is more along the lines of peace keeping, not warfare.”
  • “Quebecers don’t have guilt the way the rest of Canada does.”

Charles Whaley has a PhD in psychology and applies it to the human element in the IT equation through his consulting and market research firm, Information Technology Enterprises.
cwhaley@ITEnterprises.com.

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