Pre-note by Bas van den Beld: At SES London in the panel “Marketing to the European Union” four different people from four different countries took the stage, including State of Search’ Bas van den Beld and Mikkel deMib Svendsen. This was one of the view sessions we didn’t cover. Mikkel talked about the differences between several European countries. His talk was based on an article which he wrote for me back when I was editor at Searchcowboys. Mikkel and I decided to re-publish his post here now, because it is still relevant and still a very good post which deserves the place here. So enjoy this guestpost!
When I speak at conferences in the US local business owners often ask me how they can market themselves best in Europe. Europe? I ask. There is no Europe and there are no Europeans!
There is a politically united Europe. There is a geographical Europe. There is a dream among some that we will one day get a United States of Europe. But from a marketing point of view the fact remains that there is no Europe and there are no Europeans!
We (in Europe) don’t speak the same language, we don’t hear the same music, we don’t have the same laws, we don’t follow the same norms, we don’t laugh at the same jokes and we don’t share the same religions.
There are no Europeans! There are Germans, Italians, Belgians and Danes to name a few. Hardly anyone feel “European”. We feel German, Italian, Belgian, and Danish. And basically most of us still hate each other. 60 years of peace just doesn’t heal hundred of years of wars.
In other words: There is no way you can market to “Europeans”. We simply have too little in common. If you try to focus on the few things some of us share, you will only reach a very small fragment.
Europeans do not speak “European”
Let’s say you chose to market your business in Europe with a site in English. That should be cool, right? After all, all European kids are taught English in Schools and should know how to read and write it. Wrong!
Most kids do have English in Schools but even though a high number of young people in Europe speak English fluently the fact is that the far majority of consumers prefers to deal with online business in they own native tongue.
Even here in Denmark where you can easily talk to just about anyone you meet on the streets in English most people still prefer to deal with sites in Danish. The far majority of all online sales in Denmark go to websites in Danish.
So your first step in marketing your online business in Europe is to communicate in the language that your target audience speak. And no, Google Translate won’t do it! In fact it’s a bloody insult to serve a Google translated web page (or any text for that matter) to anyone.
This really shouldn’t be such a surprise to anyone. Everyone should know this. But apparently they don’t! At least I keep getting the same kind of questions when I am abroad based on the same wrong assumption that there is a Europe and Europeans to market to. And I keep seeing US online businesses that totally fail at reaching European consumers.
Pay respect to local law
But let’s assume you get the language issue right and make a proper translation of your site for each country in Europe you want to target. That should be it then, right? No, wrong again!
First of all there are different laws in all of Europe’s countries. If you translate your website to a local European language and actively market yourself to people here then you officially have to comply by most local marketing and consumer protection laws. If you have a small US firm you probably won’t get prosecuted if you don’t follow them by the letter. If you have a large company – such as Google or Microsoft, you won’t get away with it for long.
But even if you can legally get away with not fully complying with local laws I really don’t recommend you try! European consumers are very aware of their rights and if you don’t live up to them most people just won’t deal with you.
And there is more …
Understand the local culture
Besides language and legal issues our ethics and cultures are also very different. In general you should tone down your voice from what you are used to in the US. Don’t speak so damn loud!
We can read words even if they are not very large, bold and red. Trust me, we can! You also don’t need to repeat everything 10 times and add a summary at the end. We do get it the first or second time around! Doing so just makes you look stupid. You don’t appear serious and it doesn’t create trust.
Depending on what you are selling and how you are selling it you may also need to make other local adjustments. Even countries – such as the Scandinavians, that seem very much alike have important differences that you should understand.
One example is a few years old from back in 2000 when I was managing Scandinavians biggest search engine in Denmark: Kvasir. In the Danish branch we made some promotion lighters once. No big deal. Everyone do that, right? Well apparently not because when the executives at the head office in Norway heard about it they got furious.
We where told back then that in Norway no one gives out promotion lighters. It’s like telling people to smoke and considered highly unethical. Even we Danes growing up so close to the Norwegians did not know this!
And this is just one example between two countries. There are literally millions of similar local issues around Europe.
Don’t be as arrogant as Yahoo!
Back then Yahoo had a pretty strong presence here in Scandinavian. Not as strong as us, at Kvasir – with a competing directory and search engine, but a good number 3 or 4 (as I remember). They had the first mover advantage.
But Yahoo made one crucial error, as many other US companies have done before and after them: They did not listen well enough to their local teams! After years of loosing money Yahoo finally decided to close down its operations in Scandinavia entirely in 2004. They lost the game.
Yahoo had a great team of editors back then. Fantastic people. Later some of them have told me that they did tell Yahoo what they should do to compete here in Scandinavia. They could also see what worked for the rest of us local sites. But Yahoo’s management in USA did not listen. They where arrogant enough to think that they could work it all out from Silicon Valley. They could not! And don’t think you can either!
Is it really worth it?
It may sound like it’s not worth bothering with Europe at all. That’s not true. Not at all! In fact because so many companies outside Europe don’t understand how to market themselves well enough here its much easier for you to compete. With less competition it’s easier to dominate more and with a greater dominance comes great rewards.
I have consulted local clients here in Denmark with Danish websites that gets well over 1 million organic search visitors per month – in Danish! How many get that on their global English websites? Do you? One of the Danish websites I have a share in currently gets 3-400,000 organic search visitors per month. I think that’s pretty good. And this is 100% white hat quality websites with only very basic SEO done.
There are a lot of great opportunities in Europe – not the least in search engine marketing. If you do it well the returns can be really good. But you have to do it right. If you do not adapt well enough you will end up like Yahoo in Scandinavia.
The raw translation of your website is actually the easy part. The hard part is complying with local laws and cultures. The only way to get this perfectly right is to involve some local people and listen to them! If you are just a small business you may not need to employ a full time local team for every single region in Europe you want to sell in but you should at least consult with some local folks to help you better adapt.