What is the Migration Nation?

[This review was first published in the Marketing Intelligence and Research Agency (MRIA)’s Ottawa Chapter Newsletter in their August 27th issue.]

The front cover of Migration Nation on my bookshelf, gifted to me on a trip to Toronto

Migration Nation is a highly topical book about multicultural marketing today. Canada, which has an aging demographic, low birth rates and labour shortages, welcomes around 300,000 new immigrants each year and this intake is only projected to rise as capital moves rapidly across continents with Canada’s new migrants bringing in new commerce and transcontinental networks that are fast shaping the cultural and business landscape in this country. [1] Diversity and diaspora are thus key facets of the Migration Nation. New Canadians are the pulse of Migration Nation, where every one in five Canadians is foreign-born. Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Global Public Affairs and author of The Big Shift often talks about how power is shifting in favour of talented, highly skilled migrants in a borderless world, where authors Kathy Cheng and Robin Brown reminisce over the joke that “free Wifi” is the new low in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs [2].

The rise of Asian millennials in Canada’s demographic make-up signals a “Big shift” for marketers, particularly in two of Canada’s three largest cities
The rise of Asian millennials in Canada’s demographic make-up signals a “Big shift” for marketers, particularly in two of Canada’s three largest cities

The authors of Migration Nation and researchers at the Environics Research Group, Robin Brown and Kathy Cheng provide comprehensive insights into the consumer behavior of New Canadians. The authors segment New Canadians based on their settlement experience and ethnicity to contextualize their consumer behavior. The authors advise on how to appeal to the experiences of immigrants with brands that may be established in their home countries, or with newer brands by triggering old associations with pre-migration experiences. [3]  Consumers cling to old brands and while this poses challenges for marketers, recognizing ethnic patterns and gaps in purchasing habits would be advantageous for marketers. The marketing challenge in Canada today is this: “In a more homogenous, less mobile, less connected society, understanding your market was easier. Leaders didn’t need to stretch their imaginations to speculate about the tastes and desires of the Canadian population.” [4] Today, New Canadians are connecting with families and friends in distant homelands via social networks. Hyperconnectivity, hyperdiversity, changing attitudes towards minorities, as well as the rise in fortunes of home countries of migrants are all defining Canadian diversity today, creating complex new markets and sub-markets to conduct business in.

Prime examples of the failure of understanding certain markets is shown by South Asians’ fondness for atta or flour and Chinese groups’ love for soups not translating into equal love for Canadian branded flour (Robin Hood) or canned soups (Campbell). [5] Ever since I have moved to Canada I have avoided the roti because frankly, I am unwilling to accommodate a substitute for the staple. This book sent me running to the grocery store, to take conscious stock of what I bought and to look at how the world around me shopped. How much stock was offered in mainstream stores versus specialty stores that served ethnic markets? Had the ethnic offerings been carefully amalgamated in the mainstream or were niche consumer preferences still marketed separately? The authors point out that dominant brands in home countries influence migrants’ choices. Attachment to Cadburys in South Asia for instance, is paralleled by brand loyalty for Ferrero Rocher in China. [6]

This is a post-national, multi-cultural Canada. As a young graduate from a Canadian marketing research and business intelligence program, of South Asian descent and Indian nationality on a temporary resident status in Canada, this book served as a guide to understanding the cultural and business landscape that is shaping Canada today. The illuminating statistics helped me compare my own consumer behavior with others. Navigating between multicultural (and often multi-lingual) identities is what powers Canada’s millennial consumers today as they pick and choose between cultures they grew up with, adopted, and were influenced by. [7] Even while targeting ethnic groups or immigrants, marketers should be sensitive to the differences between immigrants. Not only does when they immigrated to Canada matter, but also, how much of their pre-migration experience was spent in their country of origin. [8] First generation immigrants (or the “1 generation”) are different from those who moved here with their parents and families (the “1.5 generation”) and marketers must be attentive to these similarities and differences. Brown and Cheng define multicultural marketing as not just a way of targeting different ethnic pockets, but of mastering the “cultural competence” or intercultural skills to navigate values of different communities and appealing to them as part of the mainstream. Looking through the cultural lens of certain groups can lead to insights that drive marketing strategy. However, the challenge of achieving a balance between standardization and customization of products or services always remains. The authors argue that erring on the side of the authentic has been a successful approach for advertisers who capitalize on ethnic insights while appealing to the mainstream. [9]

Multicultural marketing is not just for Canadians: the British do it, the Americans do it, and many regions in the Middle East and Asia have done so for many years. What’s specific—or special—about Canadian multiculturalism, however, is the projected or potential newcomers (spiraling over the last few decades), temporary residents (like myself) or globalized workers who opt to spend a large portion of their working lives in this country at their convenience. Canada’s migrants are accelerating this country’s diversity and progress with their contribution to society, economy and other Canadians. It is important to be aware of opportunities in this new environment; marketers must adapt to these new narratives quickly. Migration Nation should be recommended reading for all research analyst / market research programs in Canada and the U.S.

BOOK ISBN: 9780986610417

TITLE: Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada

PUBLISHER: Environics Publishing, 2014

PRICE: $28.95

Available at www.migrationnation.ca


  1. Brown, Robin, and Kathy Cheng. Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada. Toronto: Environics, 2014. Print.
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. ibid
  7. Brown, R., & Cheng, K. (2015, July 25). Meet The Multicultural Millennials: An Environics Live Event. Retrieved August 10, 2015, from http://environicsresearch.com/insights/ multicultural-millennials-environics-live-stream/
  8. Brown, Robin, and Kathy Cheng. Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada. Toronto: Environics, 2014. Print
  9. Ibid. Examples the authors quote include: Heineken’s “Open Your World” global campaign and Coca Cola’s “America the Beautiful” Super Bowl commercial


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