A Brand Health Study Reveals Differing Response Styles Between US and Canada
A global specialty dog and cat food manufacturer had experienced steady growth over a number of years but didn’t know exactly why – they hadn’t invested in tracking perceptions and attitudes of customers and prospects. Figuring it was time to establish some benchmark metrics, they called in C+R. After some initial survey research showed unexpected differences between U.S. and Canadian consumers, C+R took the research to the next level.
Unexpected Differences Between U.S. and Canadian Consumers
C+R set out to help a global specialty dog and cat food manufacturer establish benchmark metrics in the U.S. and Canada. The initial research showed lower brand scores in Canada compared with the U.S., which seemed counterintuitive given that the brands had existed longer, and with greater penetration, in Canada. After internal validity was established, the team decided to explore whether there could be cultural biases at play.
Digging Deep to Uncover Cultural Differences
To understand whether the differences were a consequence of cultural biases in how Americans and Canadians respond in survey research, C+R conducted a thorough literature review. The review included studies on a wide range of topics, including:
- Relationship between culture and response style
- Importance of culture in response
- Scale usage across cultures
- American vs. European responses in survey research (spoiler alert: Americans rate brands higher)
Our exhaustive literature review didn’t turn up a single study directly comparing Canadian and U.S. results. We even contacted an often-cited author and professor in the U.K. who indicated she was not aware of “…a single contribution comparing Canadians and Americans.” She went on to offer: “For what it’s worth, though, your client data do confirm what would be my hunch about the differences between the two countries” (Canadians provide lower ratings than Americans). Signs seemed to be pointing to cultural differences, but we still had no empirical evidence.
Given all this, we decided it was time to do our own analyses. In addition to the pet food dataset, we had access to a U.S./Canada survey dataset from a past project in the skin care industry. Both datasets included multiple measures on brand assessment, providing a broad range of results to analyze. All measures utilized a 5-point Likert-type scale (except for “likelihood to recommend,”); examples of measures include: liking, importance, satisfaction, purchase interest, and likelihood to recommend, among others.
We examined the entire distribution of responses across all brand assessment measures, and Canadians were between 11% – 49% less likely to select the top rating versus Americans. The results were crystal clear.
Cultural Differences Do Exist!
Our literature review and dataset analysis led us to conclude that there is likely a cultural response style difference between Canadians and Americans. While not empirically supported by this analysis, we hypothesize that Canadians are more critical, or more thoughtful than Americans in their brand assessments.
Based on this research, we recommended that our client refrain from making cross-country comparisons (which was never a primary objective of the research), and instead observe trends over-time and interpret the extent to which improvements or declines occur within each country.