Just cause we speak English doesn't make it so!

Just cause we speak English doesn't make it so!

So we live in a global society, yet it never ceases to amaze how unprepared companies are to do business in other parts of the world. You can never take anything for granted. What “flies” in one market doesn’t necessarily mean it will work somewhere else. Not only is language a potential barrier, but so is culture, the nuances that are specific to that culture, spending habits and of course influencers and stakeholders who may think and perceive the world differently.  By not thoroughly researching your audience(s), and by moving too quickly to “parachute” your product or service into a new market without the benefit of proper due diligence, you risk alienating the very publics you are eager to embrace. Example: The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as "Ke-kou-ke-la", meaning "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax", depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent "ko-kou-ko-le", translating into "happiness in the mouth".  It was later changed to "Shaolin Cola". Funny at first, the result might have been disastrous.


As a marketer I am particularly sensitive to how companies approach me as a Canadian consumer.  I am further “annoyed” by how companies approach the Quebec market which represents nearly a quarter of the Canadian population.  No, we are not the 51st state, and no, you can’t dump collateral from your subsidiary in Paris here – it’s not going to sit well!  


Nestled firmly in the heart of the Great White North, the Canadian Province of Quebec exudes a flair and charm that is unique to North America. Bordering three U.S. States to the south, and landlocked to the east and west by predominantly English speaking Canadian Provinces, Quebec has managed to preserve a rich culture that is steeped in more than 450 years of proud history. The Province plays an important role in the distribution of goods across Canada, and to the eastern seaboard of the United States. Its major cities, Quebec City and Montreal, serve as strategic ports along the St-Lawrence Seaway, which links the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.


Quebec’s sheer size dictates its importance as a consumer market. At the intersection of Canada’s vast territory, the Province of Quebec occupies approximately 7 times the landmass of Great Britain, and roughly 3 times that of France. With nearly 7 million people, Quebec accounts for approximately 23% of Canada’s total population. The mother tongue of approximately 81% of Quebec’s residents is French, further distinguishing it as a unique market. The City of Montreal serves as the vibrant core of Quebec business, with a population of over 3 million people, including the majority of Quebec’s 590,000 English speaking residents. Nevertheless, access to this lucrative market has proven difficult for many companies who have tried to ignore Quebec’s distinct character. The smart choice is to build new marketing plans around Quebec’s demands, as the payoff is far too significant to ignore.


Before attempting to infiltrate the Quebec market, companies need to recognize the differences between Canadian and U.S. consumer habits. While the two neighbouring countries share a common language and value system for the most part, Canada is a vast country of far fewer people, who are subjected to far fewer media outlets. Primary stakeholders in the two countries can therefore differ greatly, and recognizing the need to tailor the relationship building process accordingly is crucial. Within those parameters, the Province of Quebec differs greatly from its other Canadian counterparts, fuelled by distinct linguistic and cultural characteristics that must be addressed.


At the heart of the matter is a series of laws that have been passed by the Quebec Provincial government aimed at safeguarding the French language. These laws apply to all walks of life, and must be understood and adhered to if a company is going to succeed in the market space. The laws demand that all products be labelled predominantly in French, and that all outdoor signage and marketing material be restricted to French only. English language marketing materials can be displayed in doors, however lettering on any such materials must be no more than half the size of the French lettering. As a result, companies wishing to do business in Quebec must invest in the development of predominantly French marketing materials in order to comply with Provincial laws. Some international companies have made the mistake of trying to adapt marketing material used in France to the Quebec market. The cultural and linguistic nuances between the two peoples are dramatic, and any such adaptations will be negatively received in the Quebec market. The same rule applies to the assumption that English language campaigns can be literally translated into French. There is a cultural divide between the people of English Canada and French Canada, with each language having its own sayings and common phrases.


While doing business in Quebec may appear difficult on the surface, those who succeed in developing successful marketing strategies will gain access to a very a lucrative consumer market.