In Canada is it Really all About the Personal Brand, eh?


Personal Branding Across Cultures Blogathon – Day 4 / Paul Copcutt:


personal branding canadaIn the 1970’s, Sir Peter Ustinov once famously described Toronto, the biggest city in Canada and 5th largest in North America, as “New York run by the Swiss!”. When I first came to Canada in the 1990’s I had a similar feeling, except I always described the country as America with British attitude. What we both meant by our definitions was that Canada has its own brand, a mix of cosmopolitan, consumerism but with a quieter, more polite, even reserved approach. Overall I do not feel this has drastically changed.

Diversity in Personal Branding

But what I believe to be truly unique about Canada is its diversity. Which presents very unique challenges when it comes to personal branding. Canadians identify themselves first as whichever country they or even their families originate from and then as Canadians. So you find people introducing and describing themselves as Russian Canadians or Italian Canadian (Toronto would be the 7th largest Italian city by population!). Almost Canadians with a small ‘c’.

American Influence

The influence in Canada of American culture is huge, after all even though Canada ranks geographically as the 2nd largest country in the world, 80% of Canadians live within 93 miles of the 5,500 mile US border, over 50% of them in a 700 mile corridor between Quebec City and Windsor, leaving lots of space for the rest of the country!

This means an embracing, almost desire in some cases, to be more American than anything else and why I feel personal branding was more readily accepted as a legitimate career management and development tool so soon after it was first written about in the late 90’s.

Canadian Differences Eh!

Most of the personal branding work that I do in Canada is with professionals, executives and small business owners in that focused geographical corridor. The reasons they choose to do the work is likely similar to many other countries around the world. A desire to get ahead, leverage their skills and strengths and be more purposeful about their direction in life and business. But having worked with many Americans too I do find a distinct difference between the two when it comes to communicating their brands, how much they are willing and/or comfortable in expressing who they are to others.

I believe this happens for two distinct reasons;

1. We are the polite nation. A little ironical when we are a country passionate about one of the more physical sports, ice hockey! There is a standing joke in Canada that if you want to complain you write a letter!

In general I do find Canadians very considerate of others, perhaps more so than other cultures, one of my first impressions was the consistent “You’re welcome” response to a thank you. We do not want to appear as brash. Often I am asked if I consider a particular suggestion or strategy as ‘bragging’.

2. The cultural and historical struggle, the almost constant pulling between that latest trend pop culture desire and its unique diversity. An official bilingual country, census reports have also identified almost 100 other languages spoken and over 140 countries cultures represented in a population of around 33 million.

This leads to many discussions about how someone is perceived in their own community if they are too ‘unlike’ their own culture, becoming almost too westernized. The peer pressure may be strong.

The Future of Personal Branding in Canada

While the majority of Canadians are still primarily identified as English or French Canadians and therefore likely very accepting of using personal branding, the continued positive immigration policy will see a third of Canada being made up of visible minorities in less than 20 years.

This may offer challenges to the traditional personal branding methodology. The concepts will be very new to many and the value may not be as evident. The varied languages and styles may call for greater customization of not just the communication piece but also the initial exercises and work to help uncover their brands.

Of course personal branding is about embracing who we truly are, our authentic selves and finding opportunities that are a fit for us. The uniqueness of Canadians might just be an added advantage, eh?


About the author

Paul Copcutt Paul Copcutt spent his very first day and very last day at school in the headmasters office. Otherwise he stayed below the radar and only appreciated the irony of failing both math and biology many years later after reading Tom Peters’ ‘Brand You 50’ in 1999. He then realised his corporate career that started in banking and ended in biotech was more about personal branding than academic prowess. Canada’s leading personal brand expert he is a sought after speaker and media resource, having been featured in Forbes, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and Elle. He works with entrepreneurially-minded people to help them design YOU Inc.