Europe might be the second smallest continent in size, but it’s most certainly one of the largest in terms of personality. Each of its 50 countries contributes its own cultural assets, to form a continent that is brimming with diversity.
While each corner of Europe presents tourists with a unique treasure trove of cultural gems to discover, this can be more of a challenge for businesses expanding into different territories. Showing an awareness of the different customs, protocols and cultures is crucial for success – and these can dramatically impact on how you approach your marketing strategy.
Read on to find out about the best strategies for marketing to different European cultures…
Comprising 50 different countries (albeit some which share the same tongue), there are bound to be some language barriers for even the most experienced linguist. It’s our primary mode of communication. It can form flourishing relationships – and it can cause irreparable damage! Make sure you choose the right words in your European marketing strategy.
- French is not just spoken in France
France shares an official language with Belgium and Switzerland, but many differences exist between the turns of phrase spoken in Paris compared to, say, Brussels. Even the numbers differ; while “soixante-dix” might mean 70 in France, to express this number in Belgium, you’d need to say “septante”. Go out for “déjeuner” in Switzerland and you’d be eating breakfast. In France, however, this would be lunch! Similarly, the German used in Berlin is not the same as that of Vienna, Zürich or Munich; avoid alienating potential customers and research their preferred words or phrases so you don’t stand out.
- Research the use of language across the country
Even within the same country, other languages and dialects come into play. If your focus is Spain, pinpoint which part of the country you are targeting. In Barcelona and other parts of the north-east, using Catalan will garner more success than Castilian Spanish (the use of which may even offend some people). If you’re dealing with Sicily, you might even want to look at incorporating some “u sicilianu” – Sicilian, which is neither a dialect nor an accent. In fact, it existed before Italian and will earn you some brownie points on this Mediterranean island!
- Translate carefully
What do these differences mean for your marketing strategy? Well, firstly, if it’s not your native language, make sure you use a writer for your content who is familiar with the nuances and regional differences.
If you’re using existing content, translate it carefully. Google Translate might serve you well checking what to expect from the plate of “Maultaschen” you just ordered in a restaurant, but when it comes to copy for your German-language website, it’s best to use an expert. Professional translators don’t just know about language; they also have a solid grounding in the country’s culture, too.
- Multilingual SEO
Your company’s SEO strategy is also heavily affected by language. And it’s not just as simple as translating your English-language approach. Keywords, for example, need careful research. Specialist European SEO agencies have an in-depth understanding of how things work in individual countries. They’ll also know how to research the keywords your potential competitors are targeting. The Indigoextra team, for example, has an in-depth knowledge in multilingual SEO across Europe, and can help you navigate through what can feel like an impenetrable world initially.
It’s not just a question of using the right language to communicate with your desired market. Carrying out research into the local culture of your target market is also essential. What you might consider a throwaway reference or joke, could be perceived negatively by – or even go over the heads of – your potential new clients. These risks annoying or alienating them, before you’ve even got started.
Take tone, for example. Just as American English tends to be less formal and more brash than UK English, subtle (and not-so-subtle…) differences exist across Europe, too. Here are some aspects of formality to bear in mind:
While using “tu” is commonplace among friends and family, with marketing content it’s always best to stick to “vous”, even if your brand is youthful and forward-looking. The exception is when addressing children.
The tone you use depends on what you are marketing. Many products permit a fun, playful style although always treat legal or financial services with a more serious tone.
Here, an overly formal register will feel out of place. Spanish marketing tends to be warm and friendly, addressing clients with the informal “tu” pronoun. The only caveat is if your business deals with financial or legal products, when more formality is expected.
Informality is expected among Italians, and there is an active dislike for perceived excessive formality. Exceptions to this are products and services in the legal or financial sphere.
- The Netherlands
Here, it is best to modify your tone according to you who are addressing. Older people prefer a more formal tone (using the “u” form of address), while younger audiences expect the more friendly “je” form.
A sociable, warm approach is welcome here. Make sure steer well clear of a confrontational or argumentative tone. Society here is open, and clear status markers are not appreciated. Similarly, it’s best to avoid more personal subjects, including earnings or family. Make sure any jokes are in good taste, too!
Unique marketing laws
Offending your potential clients is one thing, but breaking the law is another. All countries in the EU are bound by GDPR regulations, which came into force in May 2020, to protect users’ private information.
In addition to GDPR compliance, some individual countries have their own marketing laws. These might affect the methods you use to communicate, or could affect promotions you launch in that country. Let’s take a closer look:
In line with other language-based laws here, all marketing material must be translated into French, and can’t simply be left in the original.
Anti-corruption laws in Germany mean particular promotions are not allowed, such as Buy One Get One Free. The penalties are high, too, ranging from fines all the way to imprisonment, so tread carefully!
- The Netherlands
In the Netherlands, Haarlem was recently the first city in Europe to ban meat advertising in public spaces in order to reduce greenhouse gas emisions.
- United Kingdom
Here, pricing accuracy is important, and costs must also include VAT and additional subscription costs. Any products received in exchange for advertising or marketing must also be declared.
Italian law states that all advertising must be clear, exact and fair. It’s best to display prices up front, as hidden “surprises” are seen as deceptive.
Greek marketing laws restrict the marketing of products such as alcohol, tobacco, medicines (including supplements) and gambling. Any claims linking particular foods or supplements to unproven health benefits are particularly stringently monitored, and fines up to €1 million can be imposed.
Adapting your marketing strategy for countries in Europe needs careful consideration. Many factors affect the best approach for your company, ranging from the products and services you offer, and the regions you want to expand into. However, with thoughtful planning and the advice of local experts, you can soon be making those first tentative steps into new territories, where you’ll thrive. Good luck!