4 things U.S. brands need to know before launching in Canada

Here’s how to make sure you don’t fall flat when targeting your northern neighbors.


Canada has long been considered an appealing market, and a natural expansion, for U.S. companies. Canada’s diverse talent pool and government programs mean the country is well-suited to support business growth for American companies looking to expand north of the border.

When preparing for market expansion opportunities, however, it’s crucial that businesses have a strong PR strategy in place. Companies must understand the cultural and media nuances that will impact their success if they want to avoid being the next Target.

To build a successful Canadian launch strategy and avoid common pitfalls, here are the top four considerations U.S. brands should be aware of before pushing north:

1. Canada has a completely different media landscape.

The Canadian media pool is much smaller than the U.S. This means brands need to be highly strategic in how and when they’re engaging media to ensure they’re building meaningful relationships and avoiding media fatigue.

One of the most common missteps for U.S. brands is assuming that their U.S. PR strategy will directly translate into the Canadian market. A strategy that resulted in big wins in the U.S. won’t necessarily resonate with Canadian media and risks kicking off media relationships on a negative note.

For example, U.S. companies that have seen success landing business and CEO features in the U.S. are often perceived as overly promotional pitching those same stories in Canada. Approaching Canadian media with these types of stories without considering the relevance to Canadian readers risks the brand ending up on the no-contact list or being sent directly to the ad department, resulting in lost future coverage opportunities.

Similarly, companies need to understand that the Canadian influencer landscape is much smaller and less mature than in the U.S. Influencers considered large scale in Canada are similar in size to micro or mid-size influencers in the U.S. That said, the ROI for Canadian influencer campaigns is often much higher than in the U.S.

Working with Canadian micro-influencers is a great way for U.S. brands to reach Canadian audiences with a smaller spend and a higher engagement rate programs with U.S. counterparts.

2. Regionalizing the brand is a must.

Canadians have a preference for Canadian brands. In order to be successful, U.S. companies need to find ways to regionalize their brand to build authentic connections with Canadian consumers. This is particularly important during pre-launch and launch phases when building positive sentiment can make or break the success of a Canadian market launch.

There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for regionalizing a brand into the Canadian market. That said, depending on a business’s goals, tactics that often result in successful campaigns include:

  • Activations: On-the-ground activations that engage consumers help to build positive sentiment and awareness at a grassroots level.
  • Regionalized Data: Offering owned data that resonates with Canadians enables U.S. companies to demonstrate their commitment to the Canadian market and build trust, credibility and awareness.
  • Regional spokespeople: Even the most notable U.S. companies need to show Canadian media why their story, brand and company are important in a Canadian context. This means having a Canadian spokesperson who can speak to a company’s impact in Canada and answer any Canada-specific questions from reporters.

3. Know the Canadian cultural nuances.

It’s important for U.S. brands to demonstrate that they understand the cultural nuances between the U.S. and Canada to build trust with Canadian consumers authentically.

For example, when engaging directly with Canadians, U.S. brands must adapt to Canadian holidays, language and various differences in how Canadians live day to day. Knowing that Canadian Thanksgiving is a month ahead can be critical for food brands looking to launch a seasonal campaign. Similarly, understanding that parental leave in Canada is anywhere between a year to a year and a half is crucial for baby brands looking to connect with new parents.

Small details like adapting Canadian spelling also make a big difference in demonstrating that U.S. brands understand their neighbours — not neighbors — to the North.

4. Quebec: The market within a market.

Preparing to launch in a new market is a significant undertaking for any business. When looking to launch in Canada, however, companies must understand that Quebec is a whole new market in and of itself.

Language, rules, regulations and culture in Quebec are all unique — even compared to the rest of the country. In order to operate in Quebec, for example, companies are required to have a French-language website and French marketing materials. It’s for this reason that many companies opt to launch in English-speaking Canada before developing a Quebec-specific strategy.

New market expansion is an exciting milestone for any company. Understanding these common pitfalls and developing a strategy that takes these nuances into consideration sets businesses up for long-term market success.


Kelsi Tsatouhas is senior business director at Talk Shop Media.


One Response to “4 things U.S. brands need to know before launching in Canada”

    jacqui@jadecommunications.ca says:

    All good advice Kelsi. In addition to understanding Quebec as a separate market, it is also useful to understand that Canada is a country of immigrants. WE talk about the cultural mosaic and some immigrant populations are larger than or as large as Quebec – each with different languages and cultures. Brands that tap into the mosaic with campaigns targeting these consumers will be welcomed.

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