Target uses detailed roadmap to cross border into Canada

In spring 2013, Target makes its first international retail expansion, opening 125 to 135 stores across Canada.

In spring 2013, Target makes its first international retail expansion, opening 125 to 135 stores across Canada. To engage with consumers and media in such a vast market, the company is using a two-level PR strategy.

The first part is about "listening and learning," says Donna Egan, group manager of communications at Target.

"We talked to consumers, media, shoppers, elected officials, and other key influencers in many different markets," she notes. "We wanted to learn what is important to Canadian shoppers and, ultimately, what we hope will be Target guests."

Over the last year, Target executives and communications team members have traveled across the country, including markets such as Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montreal, exploring restaurants and stores to understand the retail culture in each province.

"We recognize that Canada is not a one-size-fits-all culture," Egan says.

Inroads into Quebec
Quebec, she says, presents a challenge for Target because it's such a European and predominantly French-speaking area. To ensure the company's communications messages resonate with Quebec consumers in an accurate way, Egan says Target hosted a blogger event in the province's largest city, Montreal, during Fashion Week 2011 last fall.

John Crean, managing partner of Canada-based National Public Relations, Walmart's AOR when it launched in Canada in 1994, says Target must immerse itself in Quebec's culture to be successful in the country, especially since the province makes up 20% of Canada's population.

"Companies like Best Buy, Home Depot, and Walmart think American, act Canadian," he explains. "American companies really understand customer service, but Canadians, like most people, don't want to be sold, they want to be helped. Whether it's a Walmart greeter or the culture that Home Depot had in terms of customer service, Canadians valued that [when those companies entered the country]."

Best Buy, which came to Canada in 2002 with the help of Edelman, creates PR campaigns "specifically targeted to the Quebec market," says Danielle Jang, communications manager for Best Buy Canada.

Target is also connecting with Canadian consumers through celebrity engagement, says Egan. National stars, such as fashion stylist Brad Goreski, TV personality Aliya-Jasmine Sovani, and TV journalist Glen Baxter attended Target's pop-up shop event in Toronto at the end of February, helping to create buzz around the company's offerings, especially the Jason Wu fashion collection, Egan says.

During the event, social media was part of the strategy, she adds. Throughout the day, Target garnered 3.3 million Twitter impressions, while Jason Wu was in the top 10 trending topics on Twitter in Canada by the afternoon. Egan says Target's Facebook page was also very active, generating thousands of impressions and having many photos uploaded by Canadian consumers of their Wu finds.

The second phase of Target's PR strategy is sharing the brand story with Canadian residents in an authentic way. Egan says approximately 30,000 Canadians already have the Target debit card and 90% of Target's key demographic of moms are familiar with the brand in Canada. As such, the company is now looking at how to deliver the Target experience to consumers in a way that "reflects unique Canadian cultural preferences."

Employee element
Best Buy's tactic is to use employees as their main spokespeople because they can speak to local trends they see in their own stores, says Jang.

"This creates a far more relatable, local message for the audiences across Canada," she says.

Egan says Target has hired 150 staffers in its Toronto headquarters and plans to bring on "tens of thousands of team members" when all the stores open. To promote the jobs, the company is marketing the benefits of having a Target career by leveraging its website, adds Egan.

"The reason we chose Canada is because we were looking for a country that had a really vibrant economy, as well as a high- quality, well-planned infrastructure," she explains. "And that is what we're experiencing in Canada to date." 

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