IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MARKETING TO U.S. VS. CANADIAN PRODUCERS?
by Robynne M. Anderson
In my days as a publisher, I have seen advertising arrive on my desk that features images of American dollars and Capitol Hill and soybeans - when the vehicle is a Canadian magazine and the audience is Western Canadian farmers. I can't tell you how many times I've fielded calls from American advertisers concerned that they are not getting pickup on their ads, only to find that the 1-800 number on the ad doesn't work in Canada. The border may be an arbitrary line across the North American landscape, but there are some differences on either side of it. Those differences encompass physical, systemic and cultural factors.
As more global companies move to having North American marketing units, it is inevitable that there is greater pressure to take a universal approach to marketing on both sides of the border. It is an art to learn which messages push the buttons in both Canada and the United States, and which tools are effective for each audience.
For a start, there are a lot of shared experiences and attitudes among American and Canadian farmers. Rob Hannam of AdFarm's Guelph, Ontario, office is a Canadian who worked in the United States for several years. He notes, "In general, farmers are farmers and they have similar values: pride in farming, dedication to the way of life, long-term perspectives, optimism that next year will be better and an independent nature." Ties to the land and their families bind - in both places.
It is also important to remember that both America and Canada have very distinct regions, and that those differences within a country may be just as instructive as any differences between our two nations. In other words, wheat farmers on the Prairies in North Dakota and Manitoba likely have more shared interests than that same Dakotan and a cotton farmer from Alabama, Hannam observes.
Just the same, there are some important differences, and understanding them can help hone a campaign. As Perry Graham of the Adculture Group explains, "It is certainly true that Canadians are more sensitive to the differences." He notes that getting images that are clearly American (like U.S. dollars) are more likely to turn off Canadians, so addressing the sensitivities is an important, if subtle, undertaking.
One significant difference, beyond colorful money and French-speaking Quebec, is the scale of agriculture. Although Canada is physically very large, the United States is bigger in many ways, such as population and GDP. The U.S. has 10 times the population of Canada, and that 10x factor is worth remembering for the differences elsewhere - including budgets and sales.
THE HAND OF GOVERNMENT
Other meaningful differences affecting the ag community are due to the different regulatory and marketing regimes in the two countries. U.S. farmers have access to financial support through the Farm Bill. The Canadian industry can't tap into this kind of help, but a large portion of the livestock sector uses supply management to control supply and thus price. This means smaller farms with a more stable income stream. Peter Hohenadel, who runs Osborn and Barr's Canadian operations, explains the effect for marketers: "Supply management allows farmers to focus more on the quality and performance attributes of a given product rather than simply the cost, so marketing should be altered to sell the product rather than the price."
Yet more than these obvious differences, Michael Adams, the head of research company Environics, reports that there are profound cultural differences between Canada and the United States - differences that are growing. In his book Fire & Ice, Adams explores social values in the two countries. Among the findings are that Canadians are less religious, less interested in patriarchal authority, more interested in other cultures and more skeptical about government than Americans. In fact, differences between the two countries date far back in the history of the two nations: revolution and personal freedom in the United States, as opposed to an interest in order and accommodation of Quebec in Canada.
If anything, most of Adams' findings suggest the gap between Canadians and Americans grew over the 1990s. On the whole, he finds that Americans are showing a greater sense of personal alienation from society, more concerns about violence and a greater sense of consumerism. Canadians are showing more interest in environmentalism, social progress and personal interest.
In terms of marketing, Adams also finds some strong differences. He notes that Americans are more oriented toward consumption and given their greater confidence in institutional authorities, "take greater pleasure in (and trust more) the promises of Madison Avenue." Canadians are less interested in advertising and are more skeptical about what they are told. "More than eight in 10 Canadians are skeptical of the claims of advertisers, which may explain why humor, irony and even self-deprecation go down better than the hard sell in cynical Canada," writes Adams. This difference was also observed by Hannam, who believes Canadian audiences are more likely to be open to bolder campaigns and brings this conviction to agricultural communications.
From an agricultural perspective, marketers operating in both countries find further examples of these differences. O&B's Hohenadel observes that Canadian farmers are more community focused. "The existence of co-ops and credit unions illustrates this point," he says. On the other hand, he suggests, U.S. farmers tend to be more "pioneering types", who are very independent. Studies suggest they are more likely to take advice from "authorities" such as agri-retailers and state extension specialists but less likely to take advice from other farmers than their Canadian counterparts.
Studies also show Canadian farmers are more likely to be early adopters of new technology, while American farmers are more likely to pay for custom application and crop consultants. Understanding these nuances and incorporating them into ag campaigns demands careful analysis and planning.
Adculture's Graham is certainly up to speed on the challenges of developing campaigns for the entire continent. His firm has landed major accounts, such as the NK brand for Syngenta Seeds, on both sides of the border. Their approach is based on experience. "We do a side-by-side comparison of the two markets, looking at customer selection, audience attitude, marketing objectives, competitors, distribution, registered use of products, key influencers and use patterns when we start campaign planning. We look for similarities and, most importantly, for differences. At that time, we determine with clients if a similar strategy can be run in each country. If not, we develop them separately."
The process doesn't end there. "Even when we have similar strategies, the execution of the strategy may or may not look alike in each country," continues Graham. "Coming up with something that works for the 'average' customer in North America really does not work well. Developing strategies for individual customer groups is the key to success. Sometimes that transcends the border. Sometimes it does not." He uses the analogy that putting one foot in a pail of boiling water and one in a pail of freezing water offers a good average temperature but not a desirable outcome.
By the same token, breaking down media to avoid the average is important. Marketers observe that farmers on both sides of the border complain about too much direct mail. Canadian farmers often also complain about companies buying television ads on Hockey Night in Canada (well, not this year) because urban audiences see a lot of crop protection ads mixed in with the ads for beer and chips. When tapping into agricultural media, the American market has dramatically more options due to the size of the market and the strength of regional media. Hannam notes country radio is generally a good buy on both sides of the border. One exception is Quebec. As Hohenadel explains, "Agriculture is poorly served on Quebec radio. Savvy ag marketers rarely buy radio in Quebec, but in the West, radio ads rule."
ROLE OF CHANNEL
Hohenadel also notes that the Quebec market is more reliant on advisors or experts than other parts of Canada. "Sales representatives must be perceived to be experts. Smart marketers put the right sales tools in the hands of those retail reps. A great example is the feed companies in Quebec hire vets to sell feed additives."
Kent Fraser of Stratus Agri-Marketing sees differences based on conducting years of research on both sides of the border. "Farmers are farmers; however, the environments in which they and their suppliers operate have evolved quite differently. This is best demonstrated by the much greater role the marketing channel plays in the U.S., delivering products to farmers."
Fraser goes on to explain that the role of the marketer in Canada is to get the farmer onside with the product. The role of the marketer in the United States is to get the distribution channel onside. "Building product awareness and product positioning is largely done by the manufacturer in Canada, while in the U.S. the channel takes on more of this responsibility." This results in broad campaigns in Canada, while the U.S. marketing efforts tend to be divided into smaller units that reflect the reach of certain distribution systems. As well, by focusing on the farmer in Canada, the marketing has resulted in the emergence of "grower programs" which offer farmers rebates and product bundles. In the United States, Fraser explains, these programs are rare, especially on a national scale. Instead, farmers get "deals" from retailers who have latitude to negotiate. There is no question this influences marketing decisions.
Graham sums it up well: "There are significant differences shaped by geography, government policy, marketing regimes and the overall national identities of both countries. Marketers must be attuned to these differences, not only in Canada and the U.S., but within the regions of both countries." That means no greenbacks in Canadian ads and avoiding references to the Queen in American ones. In the end, though, there are core values that speak to both. As Graham continues, "A love for the land, passion for the industry, appreciation for the role of family, and an optimistic view that allows you to keep going even under adversity resonates with all producers." AM
Robynne Anderson is president of Issues Ink, Winnipeg, Manitoba.