Culture and Marketing: 6 Things European Companies Should Avoid When Marketing in the U.S.

By Megan Kenna | Feb 3, 2020

For European companies, extending marketing efforts to the U.S. can feel a bit like navigating the wild west. However, not just anything goes. Here are six things to avoid when crafting/translating your messaging for a U.S. audience.

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The Importance of Cultural Translation

When Americans visit Europe, they’re usually impressed, polyglot Europeans “get” U.S. culture, politics and humor.

However, vice versa, from Europe to the U.S., it isn’t so easy. What works well in Europe won’t necessarily jive with an American target audience – trust us, we know! Mach Media has offices in the U.S. and Europe, with amazing people of all backgrounds in both locations

There are both cultural and practical differences between European and American consumers.

And so many examples of companies making news for the wrong reasons. Like how KFC’s ad campaign made Chinese consumers a bit nervous when “finger licking good” was translated as “eat your fingers off.” (Need a laugh? Here’s a list of humorous translations and global branding fails.)

Different target audiences have different expectations.

The world is becoming more global and interconnected every day, but American consumers still see things primarily from an American point of view. If it doesn’t feel like it’s “from here,” it stands out. Not necessarily as better or worse, just… different. This is in stark contrast to Europe, where people not only speak multiple languages but travel around, work across borders and are more accustomed to a multicultural experience.

Content localization, not just a simple translation but a real adaptation to your relevant customer base, is best.

So how does the C-suite or owner of a European business ensure their message is being heard by an American audience with a short attention span and a lot of competing noise?

For starters, avoid these six mistakes that can trip up your marketing communications strategy in the U.S.

  1. Manage and run marketing completely from Europe

One clear recipe for disaster is to have people who have never lived and worked in your target market develop and execute your customer outreach strategies. Can’t afford a full-time marketing team or even a single person? Work with an experienced agency like Mach Media that knows the U.S. market well.

  1. Give your U.S. marketing team (no matter how large or small they are) insufficient control

Whether budget, strategy or staffing – give your U.S. support team on the ground the authority and responsibility to run programs they feel will be most effective. If you hired correctly (see reason #1 above), then trust your team to promote your brand optimally.

  1. Rely heavily on customer case studies or testimonials from outside the U.S.

This is a common mistake, particularly for companies launching their first-ever U.S. presence. The problem is, if your target audience in the U.S. is unfamiliar with your customers, that limits the credibility of your successes. Better to wait until you have U.S. success stories to point to or even partner on projects with industry groups like the European American Chamber of Commerce to demonstrate your effectiveness.

  1. Copy/paste your European marketing strategy 

Different regions can and often do have slightly different business strategies. You wouldn’t rely on the same approach in a country where you’re new to the market as you would in a region where you have a 20-year track record. Like your business strategy, your marketing strategy should be tailored to the market, your brand reputation and, of course, your budget.

  1. Rely on simple translation and localization for your customer touchpoints

Rather than taking all your existing marketing materials from Europe and translating and adapting them to the U.S. market, consider creating a separate brand framework and key messaging that are tailored to the U.S. market. Those elements may still have commonality with your brand and messaging in Europe, but they won’t necessarily be identical.

  1. Overlook the importance of “cultural translation”

Stories, examples or partnerships that work in your home market in Europe may or may not fit into the U.S. landscape. Ensure your marketing ideas and programs will resonate with your target consumers in the U.S. by doing A/B testing in focus groups (formal or informal), conducting target market research studies or attending industry events.

Adapted from the European American Chamber of Commerce (EACCNY)

Avoid making everyday mistakes when expanding into a new country. Don’t fake it; instead turn to local expertise, like Mach Media.