Canadian Potential: Québec and Beyond
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Canadian Potential: Québec and Beyond

Canadian Potential: Québec and Beyond

The Language and Culture of Québec

Kathrin Bussmann, the founder of Verbaccino and host of The Worldly Marketer Podcast, offers her second behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to succeed in Canada. Check out also the first part, Marketing in Canada: Officially Bilingual, Proudly Multicultural.

Think you can just reuse that French version you’ve already created for your customers in France?

Think again.

The language and culture of Québec

When it comes to the Québec market, you need to realize that you’re dealing with a completely unique language and culture. The Québécois people are as different from their European cousins as Americans are from Brits, as Mexicans are from Spaniards, and as Brazilians are from the Portuguese.

Both in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary, the French language of Québec is very different from European French. Although Quebecers generally understand people from France, the reverse isn’t always the case, and their dialects are quite foreign to each other. So at the very least, you’ll need a local language expert to revise any French materials you may already have, and adapt them for the Québécois market.

Language has always been a very sensitive topic in Québec. For a large part of their history, French Canadians suffered systemic discrimination at the hands of the English-speaking ruling class. Today, Québec holds a special status within Canada, giving it powers of self-determination on issues of language and culture. And as English-language content continues to flood media channels across North America, French Quebecers have become increasingly protective of their particular language and culture.


Defending French in Québec has a long history. Credit: Association Frontenac-Amériques

Following the rise of the Québec nationalist movement in the 1970s, the provincial government enacted strict legislations under the French Language Charter. This effectively limits the use of English in the public and commercial sphere. Any organization that intends to set up operations within the province of Québec must now abide by these local language laws.

For instance, a business must have a French version of its website if it has an address in Québec and sells its products or services to Quebecers. To do ecommerce in Québec, all the information a consumer needs to make a purchase must be made available in French: not only information about the product or service, but also order forms, invoices, and receipts.

It’s best to consult with a local expert before entering the market to make sure your business is in compliance with all the latest rules and regulations. As a starting point, though, here are some helpful resources from the government of Québec:

Beyond the language issue, you’ll also need to localize your marketing message for the Québécois culture. Quebecers are extremely proud of their history and traditions. They have a wonderfully unique and highly successful cultural scene, their very own celebrity circle, and a particular style of humour. If you can’t be bothered to familiarize yourself with any of that, and build it into your marketing strategy, don’t be surprised if your campaign doesn’t get much engagement.

On the other hand, Québécois people tend to reward brands that take the time to understand their cultural reality and work with it. That’s how Pepsi Cola managed to outsell Coca-Cola for decades in that market.

A highly connected country

No matter their language or culture, Canadians are a very connected bunch. Is it the vast geography? The long winters? The high levels of education? The strong economy? The advanced infrastructure? The high connection speeds? Or the fact that many Canadians like to keep in touch with friends and family in other countries? Probably for all these reasons, Canada is a nation of avid internet users.

We Are Social’s Digital in 2016 report ranks Canada as the third most connected country in the world — after the UAE and the UK – in terms of national internet penetration rates. 91% of Canadian adults are active on the internet (as compared to 87% of Americans). Of those internet users, 38.8% are in Ontario, 27.4% are in Québec, 10.6% are in British Columbia, and 9.6% are in Alberta. The other provinces and territories combined account for the remaining 13.6% of Canadian internet users.

Mobile in moderation

Despite above-average connection speeds and widespread 4G coverage, Canada’s mobile sector is arguably one of the least competitive of any advanced economy, with only three large operators sharing the market. As of Q4 2015, a modest 73% of all Canadians were mobile users well below the developed-market average of 84% reported by GSMA in The Mobile Economy: North America 2016.

Furthermore, although 79% of active internet users in Canada own a smartphone, a majority prefer a laptop or desktop computer as their primary device for getting online. In fact, Canadians spend more than twice as much time accessing the internet via a desktop, laptop or tablet (4:08 hours daily average) than they do via mobile devices (1:53 hours daily average).

Desktops and laptops still account for 70% of all web page views in Canada, while mobile phones account for 19% and tablets account for 10%. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that Canada tops the list of 34 markets surveyed by GlobalWebIndex (GWI) on the use of desktop ad-blocking.

So what do Canadians use their mobile devices for? According to GWI, their preferred uses for mobile are, in order of popularity: mobile messaging (37%), map services (34%), mobile banking (30%), watching videos (29%), and playing games (24%).

Selectively social

According to GWI, Canada places ninth in the world for social media activity compared to the size of the population. 91% of Canadian adults aged 16-64 have at least one social media account, and 90% are monthly active users. However, the average Canadian only has 4.8 different social media accounts (the global average is 6.8) and only spends 1.42 hours a day on social media (compared to the global average of 1.85 hours).

In terms of membership numbers, Canada’s favourite network by far is Facebook: 83% of internet users are members. Second place goes to YouTube (59%), followed by Facebook Messenger (53%), Twitter (43%), LinkedIn (39%), Google+ (37%), Instagram (31%), Pinterest (29%), and WhatsApp (24%).

When it comes to monthly active users and visitors, though, YouTube gets first place, with 83% of online Canadians visiting that network in a given month. Next comes Facebook (81%), then Facebook Messenger (46%), Twitter (34%), Instagram (30%), Google+ (30%), LinkedIn (29%), Pinterest (28%), and WhatsApp (17%).

GWI’s latest Canada Market Report shows that, compared to their counterparts in other countries, Canadian consumers are more likely to use social media to keep in touch with friends, to fill up their spare time, and to follow only people they know in real life. Canadians are also much less likely than their global counterparts to use social media for work-related networking or for meeting completely new people. And they are farthest behind the global average for following entrepreneurs and TV presenters.

Ecommerce enthusiasts

Canadians are no strangers to making purchases online. In Q4 2015, 60% of the adult population had bought something online in the past month, according to GWI, putting them in eighth position globally (behind the UK, Germany, South Korea, the US, France, the UAE, and Australia).

The same research showed that when it comes to ecommerce, most Canadians (57%) chose to make a purchase via their desktop or laptop. Only 17% used a mobile device to complete a shopping transaction.

Canadian potential

Canada is a country of many languages, cultures, and religions. And Canadians see diversity not as a liability, but as a strong asset. The fact that they live in one of the most multicultural, multilingual countries in the world is a real point of pride for Canadians. And companies looking to do business in Canada need to understand that pride and reflect those Canadian values if they want to be successful here.