By Anagha Patwardhan

A recent study by BBC Radio declared Toronto the most ‘multicultural metropolis’ –  51 per cent of Toronto’s population is foreign born, and some 230 different nationalities call the city home.

This cultural diversity has opened up new opportunities for marketers in Canada, as well as thrown some challenges along the way. Here are a few pointers on how marketers can engage with these diverse consumer groups in a meaningful manner.

Providing a sense of familiarity
The wide availability of ethnic food products offers more than just convenience. It provides consumers with the access to the same products they grew up with, thereby engendering a sense of ‘being at home’. So when a popular grocery store uses a grandmother recently arrived from India to communicate the variety of ethnic foods, they are indeed confirming the relevance and connection the store has with this particular ethnic group.

Be aware of pre-existing relationships consumers may have with brands
This sense of familiarity is equally true of brands consumers have been exposed to in their previous lives. Given the global presence of many brands, newcomers to Canada may have a pre-existing opinion and possibly experience with specific brands. This can present a number of challenges when brands are positioned and marketed differently across the world. As such any marketing initiatives targeted at specific ethnic groups need to have a good understanding of the brands’ position within these native countries in order to fully understand newcomers’ brand perceptions and relationships.
Reckitt Benckiser’s building on the Dettol brand to generate consumer confidence in Lysol is a case in point.

Another example is the Cadbury brand. Cadbury is a particularly strong brand in India, and is used as a generic term for chocolate bars. Conversely, the brand has a relatively smaller presence in North America, while a brand such as Hershey’s chocolate is relatively new to these consumers and provides novelty value.

Some relationships go beyond brands and have implications for an entire category. A case in point is the prevalence of warm milk consumption in several Asian/South Asian countries, leading to lower familiarity and adoption of cold cereal among these consumers. This could open up opportunities for oatmeal/hot cereal brands for the breakfast occasion, which is otherwise dominated by cold cereals.

Ways to form new connections
Several companies are now seeking to build a connection with newcomers by easing the acculturation process. This is akin to brands targeting young consumers with the aim of forming early relationships and retaining this brand loyalty over time. Brands and companies that do not establish such early relationships may find it difficult to establish relevance and loyalty within this growing consumer group at a later date.

Several of the banks have been investing considerable effort into offering banking products to new immigrants that would help build their credit history & ease their settlement in Canada. The perceived high risk of switching means that many of these newcomers will remain loyal to the financial institution for a long time to come.

Simplify to conquer
A person or family settling into a new country is already faced with a multitude of new experiences including a new language, culture and environment. As a result, simple and easy to adopt products/services are particularly appealing. Banks and telecom companies have been on the forefront, wooing with products that are targeted towards new immigrants.

Beware of comparing apples and oranges
Ethnic groups’ needs and beliefs vary depending on a host of factors, including native country, tenure in the new country, level of education, previous occupation etc. Messaging needs to take these variances into consideration, as a lack of sensitivity may lead to broad generalizations. For example, language familiarity is higher among immigrants from certain countries – newcomers from India may be fluent in English but those from China might struggle. Similarly, immigrants from North Africa/Vietnam may be comfortable with French. The tone of language could hence vary based on the intended target.

Level of assimilation is another important factor to take into consideration. Once settled into their new environment, consumer attitudes and choices may vary considerably. Greater economic stability could lead to lower sensitivity to pricing and these shoppers may move to more premium products and higher priced retailers. For example, consumers who shop extensively at Walmart within their first few years in the country may convert to slightly higher end retailers such as COSTCO, The Bay, once their disposable income starts rising. This could have implications for the marketing strategies adopted by these retailers, with Walmart benefiting from overtures to new immigrants, while retailers such as The Bay may benefit more from providing the seal of success to those who have achieved greater economic stability and growth.

Newcomers to Canada differ in terms of their social characteristics, affluence, life experiences, behaviours, cultural openness, language abilities, food choices, etc. However, once these newcomers have settled into their adopted country and are better geared to take their place in society, the brands that they choose would be the ones they have formed early connections with. Marketers would hence benefit from playing a significant role in their early settlement process.

For more information please contact Anagha Patwardhan (, 416-467-7101).  Anagha Patwardhan is Executive Vice President at Research and Incite. She is the main driving force behind the company’s Multicultural Research programs. As part of her commitment to the research industry Anagha organizes and coordinates breakfast sessions designed to enlighten and empower the client, regarding Multicultural Research techniques and the latest marketing and research developments in the field.