French Canadian Localization: An Introduction to Doing Business in Québec

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As a bilingual country, Canada has complicated language requirements—and doing business in Québec, whose primary language is French, adds another layer of complexity. Many companies have begun to realize the value of doing business in this particular province, however, with all its unique legal and communicative requirements, the idea can still be a little off-putting.

Robin Ayoub, Vice President of Business Development at Lionbridge, shed light on this topic in a recent webinar. A Canadian resident himself, Ayoub has over 15 years’ expertise in translation, localization, and marketing strategies for Canadian and international firms. He is often asked how to approach the Québec market, what language laws to consider, and how to connect with audiences in private and public sectors. Here’s what marketers should know about the Québécois population:

Language in Canada

First, it’s important to understand the meaning of language in a Canadian context. In Canada, language isn’t simply a means to communicate; it’s part of the fabric of society and a way to represent its inherent respect for different ethnic backgrounds.

As a whole, Canada is a bilingual country—with both English and French as official languages—but the majority of its residents speak English. Only two of Canada’s 10 provinces differ. New Brunswick officially recognizes equal status between French and English. In Québec, the official (and more importantly, sole) language is French.

Just as signage, brand names, and restaurant menus appear in French in Québec, French also takes a higher priority in communications. The rule of thumb for any marketer introducing their product to Québec is simple: Make French the predominant language.

Why localize for Québec French?

When we talk about marketing to a certain demographic, it’s always for similar commercial reasons: to increase sales and revenue, increase local market share, improve the customer experience, and garner customer loyalty.

But in Québec, it’s more intimate than that. The Québécois are proud of their linguistic and cultural heritage, to the point that it defines their identity. Companies are expected to be respectful of this when operating locally in their market.

Metropolitan (European) French is what we are accustomed to in localization. However, there are many key differences—in terminology, Anglicism (language borrowed from English) and use of capitalization, for example—between Metropolitan and Québec French. In these instances, Metropolitan French is unacceptable in Québec. For example, saying “parking,” an English word used in France to mean “parking lot,” would not be looked on favorably.

These nuances aren’t the easiest to have a good command of, but the opportunity to market to Québécois audiences is undeniable. With a population of 8.3 million people, roughly a quarter of Canada’s population, Québec is too big to ignore when seeking growth and relevance in the global marketplace.

How to connect with a Québec audience

The buying habits and web usage of consumers across the globe are equally important considerations for expanding into Québec.

Just as with any type of international marketing, being mindful of all customer preferences and touchpoints in their buying journey is imperative. It’s the right of every person in Québec to receive communications in their language of choice—in this case, French. And remember: Communication doesn’t stop at generating awareness and sales. Your post-purchase touchpoints need to be in French, too.

The following are a few components of the customer journey to keep in mind in Québec:

  • Traditional advertising: Generally, traditional advertising methods—including TV ads, direct mail, print, and local ad agencies—are the best way to reach the Québécois audience. They especially prefer to do business with companies that use local language first.
  • Social media: Facebook and YouTube are the biggest channels in the area. However, local social execution is only done right if customer interaction is instantaneous. A common issue among French speakers in Canada is a slow response to issues raised in French, when companies lack local resources. If your response is delayed, Québécois customers will suspect you’re scrambling for a translation, which won’t resonate well.
  • Mobile and connected devices: Although millennials are becoming more connected in Québec, mobile use remains lower than in the rest of Canada and North America. Traditional devices are generally more popular than handheld. Unlike in the U.S., where the digital customer experience is gaining a huge share of localization, it’s more important here to localize your website and brand.
  • Customer support: To truly accommodate Québec demographics, global brands need local representation: for example, local contact pages or in-country service reps. All responses to customer inquiries must be in French. Answering in English, or not at all, can damage a brand’s reputation.

The takeaway? Speak the local language

When localizing content for these touchpoints, there are different levels of marketing translation to include in your strategy depending on the asset type. You’ll also need to develop the right set of linguistic tools, including style guides, glossaries, design templates, and creative briefs. To learn about these in more detail—as well as specific Québec laws, what to translate internally and externally, and a Target case study—watch our webinar here.

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