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Selling to Canada's new immigrants

By Kim Hart MacNeill  | December 05, 2011

The face of Canada is changing so fast that business is struggling to keep up. In 2010, Canada accepted 281,000 immigrants—the most in one year in almost a century. These new arrivals accounted for 65% of total population growth, a proportion that’s headed even higher. With our low birth rate and aging population, immigrant customers are a market far too big to ignore.
There’s a huge opening for any company that is among the few to do well at courting Canadians born abroad. Sharifa Khan, a specialist in multi-ethnic marketing, says one of the biggest mistakes she sees is companies simply translating their ads and placing them in media that speak to their target immigrant customers in their own languages. Khan, president and CEO of Toronto-based Balmoral Marketing, says just because newcomers must prove fluency in English or French to be admitted into Canada doesn’t mean they’ll understand idiomatic language in your marketing messages or connect with images that work in traditional North American advertising. To ensure that your message resonates in a given community, work with a multicultural marketing agency or people in your own company who are part of that community.
As well, urges Khan, “You literally need to talk to people in the communities you want to reach. I ask my clients, ‘When was the last time you picked up the phone and called someone from China?’”
Building trust is essential to connecting with immigrant groups. By sponsoring events within the community you’re targeting, you’ll position your brand as a supporter of that community and gain a chance to talk to people first-hand about their needs and how you can meet them.
As well as the vast potential to sell “mainstream” products to newcomers, opportunities abound to meet needs specific to immigrants. For instance, demand for culturally appropriate elder care exceeds supply across Canada, especially in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, says Thomas Tam, CEO of Vancouver-based SUCCESS, a settlement-assistance service for immigrants.
Elderly immigrants often lack proficiency in English or French, leaving them isolated if they move to a long-term care facility. Tam says offering them caregivers who speak their mother tongue, foods from their native country and respect for their customs is good for their mental and physical health, and will earn goodwill (and positive word of mouth) from families and patients alike. Language education is another sector that Khan identifies as having major potential. Although new immigrants are eligible for government-funded language training, classes fill up quickly, especially higher-level courses in major urban areas. Private education providers can target economic immigrants—such as entrepreneurs, skilled workers and professionals—by including the vocabulary they’ll need in the workplace and by catering to their work schedules.

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