International marketing requires a lot more than simply reaching an audience in another country. Culture, language and convention are potential minefields, leading to many international campaigns failing or even damaging the organisation.

Napier recently held a webinar titled ‘Avoid the Biggest International Marketing Mistakes’ which explored the most common international marketing mistakes and strategies to ensure marketers avoid them. We covered:

  • Common mistakes (with some amusing examples)
  • Culture and language barriers
  • Strategies to overcome challenges
  • How to expand your campaigns into new territories successfully

Register to view our webinar on demand by clicking here, and why not get in touch to let us know if our insights helped you.

Napier Webinar: ‘Avoid the Biggest International Marketing Mistakes’ Transcript

Speakers: Mike Maynard

Mike: Good afternoon. Welcome to the latest Napier webinar. I’m gonna give it another minute or so before I start. So if you want to get yourself a coffee or something that would be perfect, and we’ll start in about a minute. Okay, welcome to the latest Napier webinar. Today we’re going to be talking about international marketing mistakes. This is always a great topic because it’s always easy to find examples where people have run international campaigns, and those campaigns haven’t quite been targeted. Just right, we are going to focus quite a lot on the differences between the US and Europe as a whole. And particularly the UK one of the reasons for that is it’s easy to compare because the language is normally the same. But we’ll also talk quite a bit about some of the differences within Europe too.

So in terms of what we’re going to do, we’re going to try and help you avoid those nightmares of international marketing, where you run a campaign that isn’t quite right for the target audience. So the topics we’re going to cover, we’re going to start off with some examples of where things did go badly wrong for actually very large companies just to prove that everyone can make mistakes in international marketing, we’re going to spend a little bit of time talking about language is incredibly important, particularly where you’ve got the written word, it really makes a difference in terms of whether you communicate well or not. We’ll then look at some of the other differences, particularly cultural differences between different countries.

We’ve got two sections talking about the media and content. So a couple of slides to discuss, you know how the media differences differs and publications in one country may not behave the same way as publications in others. We’ll talk about localising content and some of the pitfalls there. And lastly, a couple of tips on avoiding mistakes. So let’s get into it. And let’s start with some other people’s nightmares. So some things that went very badly wrong.

You’d be amazed at the stories around the automotive industry and I think my personal favourite is the Toyota MR. To Toyota didn’t sell these cars in France, they started to try and sell them. And it took a little while until someone explained that Mr to in French sounds very much like poo in French or an equally bad term. And nobody wanted to be driving the poo car. So Toyota then had to withdraw the MR to they didn’t even rebrand it because they’d already launched it with the name. And so they actually had withdrawn entire product from France because of that issue. And there’s always issues around rude words. I mean, if you’re struggling with a cold, you might have used Vic’s if you’re in America or UK. Unfortunately, launching that in Germany is not very good because the way it’s pronounced sounds very close to another rude word, because the V is pronounced like an F. So you’ve got to be very careful about pronunciation and how things actually said in different countries.

We can look outside Europe as well and we can look at you know, places like China. So, KFC obviously, you know, everyone in the West knows KFC is finger licking good. Unfortunately, the initial attempts at translating finger licking good. were described as Chinese by Chinese people as being pretty close to eat your fingers off, which wasn’t quite so appetising as being finger licking good. But, you know, clearly KFC actually made recovering KFC is now a very strong brand in China. So it is definitely possible to go from these mistakes and recover but clearly, the first thing you need to do is try and avoid the mistakes and make sure you don’t get into trouble. And this is all down to nuances. have language. And it’s not even that we’re going to say Americans are particularly vulnerable to do that doing this coming to Europe. Winston Churchill was very astute in saying that America and the UK were two countries separated by the same language. Some advice that the marketers in Electrolux might have used, because apparently products that suck aren’t always a good thing. And in America, generally speaking, sucking is a bad thing. And Electrolux ran such an incredibly successful campaign in Europe, using the tagline nothing sucks, like Electrolux, they actually ran it in America without testing it. And of course, Electrolux then became the vacuum that sucks and nobody wanted to buy in the States.

It’s not all about disaster stories, though. Some of it is about really subtle nuances. And if we look at words, I mean, words can have very different meanings in different countries. So we worked with a client for a long time in the IT sector. And we were trying to explain, you know, how their particular product, made things more efficient, make things faster, make things more effective. And we had a couple of campaigns in Germany that were kind of okay, and not great. And then we started talking about how the product improved proves your workflow. And this massively resonated in with the German audience. The journalist is obviously very process driven. Which means that they do think about things like workflow. But in this particular sector, workflow was incredibly important as a term, not something you’d use in an English or American context in the same market. But something hugely important. So sometimes tweaking, you know, even English words with English campaigns, running other countries can make a huge difference to how campaigns run. So it doesn’t have to be disasters making things go wrong. It can sometimes be small changes that actually deliver significant upticks in terms of campaign performance. One thing to mention, whilst we’re talking about this, is idioms are particularly difficult to translate.

So I remember working for a company once that had pairing what’s next as its tagline. And we were informed by the Dutch translator that actually, they’d given up, they couldn’t translate it in a way that really made sense. And so quite often, you will see companies using short taglines or idioms in English, even when the rest of the marketing material is in local language. And that’s to try and protect the meaning of what you’re trying to say. And of course, that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to communicate meaning we’re not trying to communicate specific words. Having said that, people you know, tend to hold idioms and taglines in English, you do need to translate. And if you look at Europe, there is an amazing spread of speakers who don’t have English as their first language. In fact, English is the fifth most common first language in Europe. Russian is the biggest, obviously, at the moment with sanctions, that’s much less of a concern for most people.

Because there’s very little business being done with Russia. But there’s 97 million people who speak German as a first language. It’s not just Germans, that’s people in Austria, and also many of the Swiss. French is next with over 70 million Italian next with 65 million as a first language. And English only has 63 million speaking as a first language. So this shows the importance of translation. And clearly, if you want to convey emotion, as well as meaning, it’s so much more effective to be talking in the person’s first language than it is to try and convey emotion in a second language is always much more difficult. So it’s absolutely important to make sure you translate and as the sign clearly says, that’s the route to success. So if you’ve checked the dictionary, you’ve done the translation. Now what what are the other differences other than language issues? Well, I mean, one of the main things is that we actually care about quite different things. In Europe, football is not played with an egg shaped bowl, and we don’t wear pads. Football is soccer over here, and people really care about it. And it’s really, really important. And so, you know, sport is very different. But it’s not just you know, the football example that’s continually given. Cycling for example, is an incredibly popular sport, not only in terms of people taking part but in terms of spectators and watching it I’m particularly on the continent in Europe. And you see a lot of people interested in cycling as a professional sport, particularly in Italy and France. And that’s, you know, kind of different to maybe how you’d see cycling in the States, where it’s much less seen as a professional sport, and indeed, much less important in the UK. And of course, in the UK, we also have our own specific sports as well. If you want to get people excited in the UK, then you have to start talking about cricket.

And clearly, it’s way beyond me to explain cricket within the context of this webinar, but it’s something that’s absolutely built into a lot of people’s psyche in the UK, and incredibly important. It may be important in the UK, in India, it’s pretty much a religion. And actually one of the most interesting things is that the second most valuable sport in the world, for TV rights is cricket. And that’s because of the league in India called the Indian Premier League. And that generates more TV revenue than anything else in the world, other than the NFL. But the important thing to say is it generates that revenue in the space of a little over two months. So it’s a very, very short season, in the IPL generating vast amounts of money. And if you’re not familiar with cricket, and even if you’re English, and you’re not into cricket, you probably don’t understand the impact that some of these sports can have in different countries. So being very aware of, you know, things in particularly sporting context, when you want to use sporting analogies is very important.

One of the things we have, when we’re talking to Americans, is not just talking about sports, and having Americans trying to work out what on earth is going on in a cricket match, but also discussing history. And in America, history is very different to Europe. And I’ve seen, you know, established companies that have been established for 10 years being something that, you know, Americans see as being a long time. In the UK, you know, this is old. Stonehenge is about four to 5000 years old. But this, this is what qualifies as old. And traditions don’t really start unless you’ve been doing them 100 years. So I think be very careful about talking about things that are traditional, or long standing, if you’re an American, and trying to market into Europe. And in Europe, we’re very focused on our views of what different countries are, we don’t see Europe as being one country, we actually see Europe as being lots of different countries, and lots of different cultures. And ultimately, what matters is brand origin. And brand origin is hugely, hugely important.

So if we look at, for example, the automotive industry, being a German brand, BMW is a great example, is a really valuable thing. Because that conveys messages of technology, quality, reliability, it’s really, really good. If you look at something like fashion, then having an Italian brand origin is really where you want to be, and everybody wants to appear Italian. But interestingly, things can change. So the Italians, their beer industry, a one point was almost a joke, their wine industry absolutely fabulous. But they never really focused on beer. More recently, we’ve seen Italian brewers actually become very cool and very trendy, across basically most of the western world. And it’s been an amazing shift that we’ve seen that whilst brand origin matters. Sometimes you can educate consumers to believe that your brand is conveying something different and clearly, you know, with Italian brewing, it’s conveying something very different to German brewing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not as good. So I think thinking about company, about the company brand, and how that fits into the country that you’re based in is super important. If we look at you know, the brand origin of companies in America, they’re generally seen as being innovative and leaders in technology. In Europe, I think, though, you know, people would often see European brands as being higher quality, and it’s something you need to think about in terms of how you communicate your brand story and where your company comes from. The next thing to say is when not one Europe, actually, it’s really important to get local websites for each country. It’s not just about trying to communicate local offices, or local language. But if you really want to be successful, building local websites for each country really gives those customers the feeling that you know and care about them. The reality is for a lot of our clients, that’s never going to happen because it is prohibitively expensive. But it’s important to remember that a single website for Europe is not the solution. And sometimes, it can always be better have one website for the world in English, than trying to have a European website that’s in English, and assume that’s going to cover Europe better than your Global website.

So think about how you talk to each of those countries, each those countries typically are quite proud. And local really is local. So if you want to communicate things about case studies, for example, and you want to communicate case studies to Germany, you really want to try and find German customers to talk about. There’s always a perception that within Europe, companies in different countries have slightly different requirements, slightly different needs, and maybe what works for in Germany might not work in the UK. You know, Germany is a great example of a country that invests a lot in process, and also invest a lot in equipment within the business sector. The UK is a very different situation, where traditionally, the UK has invested much less in terms of investing in capital expenditure, and also tends to be maybe a little bit more haphazard in terms of planning. And you’ll see that sometimes in the case studies. So it is really important to try and identify case studies that are local and very relevant to the audience you’re trying to reach. Another example about this is if you look at how people treat issues, and maybe the biggest issue at the moment is the environment. And I’m sure you’re all familiar with Greta, you know, very much a global personality talking about the environment. But because she’s from Europe, it doesn’t mean Europe has consistent views.

So yes, it’s true that Scandinavians have massively increased uses of trains, and do tend to, you know, think a lot about their carbon footprint. But equally, it’s true that the Germans are not giving up their big powerful cars either. And they’re not giving up the opportunity to drive. It’s what most Germans now look, regretfully at being only 155 miles an hour down the Autobahn because most cars are limited. So that again, you know, don’t think Europe has the same view when it comes to things like sustainability. Europe doesn’t Europe has very different views from different countries. And of course, Europe as a whole does tend to be more sustainability focused on the US, for example. But again, that’s certainly not the case. And I’m sure that anyone from the states listening to this will say, Well, absolutely, there’s a very different view about sustainability if you’re in Texas, compared to if you’re living in Cal in Northern California, for example.

So lots of different views. It’s all about understanding, you know, the way people think, and the way they approach things differently from country to country. On top of that, people actually communicate differently. And in Germany, it’s really common to address people as Mr. or Mrs. And then their their surnames are here for hour, and then their surname whilst at work. And for people outside of Germany, it’s kind of strange, because as soon as colleagues go out for maybe a meal or drinks after work, they all revert to first names. But during working hours, it tends to be quite formal. And quite often, if you’re running campaigns into Germany, it’s really important to think about how you address people, whether you use their first name or not.

And in particular, where you have a relationship between sales and the customer, then it can become very important to actually consider whether you’re using first name or surname and reflecting what the sales team are doing. It’s on the face of it quite simple. But in reality, trying to understand whether you’re using first names or surnames can be very tricky, particularly amongst, you know, things like marketing automation tools, which won’t have any kind of measure of formality in terms of the way you address people. So understanding how you work those marketing automation tools in Germany can be very challenging. There’s also different approaches to hours of work. Don’t have a breakfast meeting in the UK. I think that’s the best advice I could probably give people. Nobody in the UK is racing to have breakfast before they go to work. It’s a very cultural thing. And asking for a breakfast meeting is normally not a great way to do it. And that’s generally true.

Across Europe, I mean, generally speaking, Europeans don’t have breasts breakfast meetings in the same way that you do in the States. I would say particularly journalists have a reputation for never doing early morning meetings. And also, another important thing for to know about journalists, is that Friday afternoons are kind of off limits for work. So asking journalists, particularly in the UK, to have time on a Friday afternoon is generally a no, no, it’s the run into the weekend. And it’s often the day where people will leave a little bit early as journalists and lengthen out that weekend. So try and avoid those Friday afternoons and definitely avoid the breakfast meetings. It’s not that we’re lazy, though, it’s really a cultural difference. And so one of the things that happens in Europe, and particularly in Germany and the Netherlands, is that people like going out to trade shows and meeting face to face. And I think understanding the trade show culture is incredibly important.

And it’s amazing that, you know, when I talk to, you know, people in the UK, or maybe the US, you know, there were real questions about how would COVID impact on trade shows, and would trade shows even come back after COVID. If you look on the continent, and as I say, particularly in those trade show strongholds of the Netherlands and Germany, there never was any doubt that people would go back to trade shows. And absolutely, we’ve already seen trade shows restarting and being remarkably successful, even though we’re not quite out of COVID. yet.

So trade shows are an important way of doing business, in countries in Europe. And understanding that is really key that meeting face to face at a show is absolutely an important part of how those people do business. And, of course, how you do business is, is governed by local laws as well. And in particular, there are lots of laws around misleading adverts and comparative advertising in Europe that you need to be very careful of. And the the implications of breaking those rules and regulations can be very different. So in the UK, if you publish a misleading adverts, you basically get told off, you basically get a message saying you got to stop running that ad and you shouldn’t do it again. And that’s it, it’s a warning. In Germany, you can be asked to pay damages. So if the court decides that your advert was misleading and damaged a competitor, you can be told to pay money to that competitor. And then in Belgium, if you place an ad, that’s misleading, you can actually be told to place other ads that correct the misleading ad. And clearly that can be very painful for your brand, because you’re not only admitting you’ve got something wrong, but you’re also effectively promoting competitors. So marketing regulations really matter.

And you will often hear the, you know, people quoting Well, you can’t do comparative advertising in Europe. That’s actually not true. You can do comparative advertising. But comparative advertising gets very difficult in certain countries countries, because the costs of getting it wrong are so high, that it’s almost prohibitively risky. So don’t believe people when they say there’s an absolute ban on comparative advertising, there are limits. But there’s there’s no absolute ban. Having said that, you’ve got to be extremely careful. And it’s an area that I’d be very wary of. We also have GDPR GDPR is, to me one of the most interesting regulations, and I think there’s still a lot of things playing out in terms of the GDPR regulation.

The interesting thing is, is that GDPR is very much driven by how the company or the organisation chooses to interpret it. And there are a lot of interpretations of GDPR that we see today. They’re incredibly restrictive, and actually very much limit how much marketing organisations can do. And one of the things I urge is to not view GDPR as this, you can’t do this, you can’t do this. But really understand what GDPR means a GDPR is very much about being open and transparent about what you’re going to do. I mean, yes, you have to allow opt outs in b2b. And consumers even tighter and you need to have opt ins, but in b2b opt out is absolutely fine is absolutely GDPR compliance. But the important thing is you communicate exactly how you’re using the data. And that’s really the key thing. And if you’re open and honest about how you use the data, you’ll actually find you can do a lot more and your marketing campaigns will be more successful. So that’s covered the main areas of you know some of the cultural differences, some of the things we see.

We’re now going to move on to the media. Now, the media in Europe is is very intro Testing. And I think the UK has one of the more interesting areas, although we’ll see on the right hand side of this slide, some content from Germany where we have men in leather shorts, drinking beer in an Electronics Magazine, not something we’d see, I think outside of Central Europe. But, you know, this is something where the publication, it’s electronic is probably the leading publication in Germany for, you know, in depth technology. And it actually publishes photos from the summer event they have, where, you know, people are openly drinking beer, wearing national dress, and, you know, maybe not looking how you’d expect engineers and other people in the electronics industry to look at the same time the same publication is, of course, incredibly technical, as you’ll see on the next page, towards the middle, where, you know, they’ll publish code and detailed information about products.

So it’s very interesting to see that contrast, you probably wouldn’t see either extreme in the UK. But you will see in the UK, for example, the newspapers being very, very different. And to imagine that any campaign on business press that you run in the US is going to transfer to UK newspapers, is just fanciful, it does not happen. The approach of newspapers is very different. And you have to build campaigns for those newspapers. And this literally is the front page of newspaper, The Daily Star from yesterday, where apparently, we’ve got to worry about drunk German wasps in the UK, which is an unbelievably mind blowing headline on so many levels. And actually, we’ve seen publications try and replicate that UK sense of fun in, in technology. And the register was famous for it for many years, although it’s very much toned down when it does. But I can assure you that Parnassus did not call their technology dodgy file tart up when they were promoting it. So the journalist, but register for a long while love these headlines. And indeed, we still see some fun headlines in the UK. So what are the rules of thumb? I mean, how can we, you know, understand the differences? Well, in general, if you’re looking at b2b technology, in particular, if you’re looking at trade press, there’s some rules that you can follow that are going to help you generate content that is going to be more attractive to European journalists. The first thing to say is that in general, and this is particularly compared to the state’s content needs to be more technical and less promotional.

And that’s particularly true for Germany, but also true to a large extent for Europe as a whole. Europeans also tend to be quite focused on being very practical in terms of their publication content. So it’s less blue sky more about what’s going to help an engineer tomorrow. We’ve talked about local people. We’ve talked about formality. And actually, usually, the language is more formal in Europe than it is in the US. Generally speaking, longer articles referred in Europe again. And there are publications that are exceptions to this. But certainly not being afraid to generate longer articles is important. And certainly in Germany, we see publications taking 2000 word articles. So very long articles are preferred. Of course, don’t forget that when you do translate, your content will get longer as well. So anything written in English translated into German or French, is typically longer. When we look at the way the journalists work, you know, the company is often treated as subject matter experts, there’s less cynicism about the company having knowledge.

And it’s normally not important to build up credibility and only a trust, if you’re in a certain role. You’re, you’re definitely the right person. Sometimes we are just different, though. And sometimes, you know, journalists will come out and they will try and make a point. And we’ve had a few character journalists, and still do have character journalists in Europe. So don’t imagine that the stereotype of a, you know, maybe more nerdy, more focused, you know, perhaps quieter journalist over here is always the case. There’s always some characters too. I’m sure my American colleagues will say says the same in America. But you know, don’t expect journalists to read every email and respond to every email that just doesn’t happen. And actually, if they get emails and not interested in they’re almost all just always ignore them rather than respond.

And this is because journalists are very busy. And in Europe, and particularly in the UK. It’s very common to have multiple editorial roles. So rather than writing for just one publication, you will have a journalist writing for multiple publications. I remember I was talking to a journalist So he works in a data storage publication. He said, Yeah, I’m busy, because I’ve got this issue of my Windows magazine to get out. And I said, I didn’t realise you did consumer stuff. He said, No, no, no, it’s not not windows for PCs, it’s Windows for houses. That’s what I write about. So journalists can have very, very different roles as well. And then lastly, the way that journalists Express cynicism in Europe, and particularly UK is generally fairly quietly, quite often, you’ll see, particularly in the US a more confrontational approach with journalists. And you’ll have a spokesperson come to Europe, they’ll present the journalist when so anything that goes absolutely fantastic, you know, we had no questions. I created a great pitch. It’s like, no, the guy basically didn’t ask you questions, because he didn’t think much of your pitch, and he just wasn’t interested in engaging. So beware that quiet cynicism at the end with Yeah, thanks, that’s really helpful, and no engagement, no questions. And that can often mean that the pitch hasn’t hit the mark.

Obviously, contents important as well. And if we look at content, again, we can look at some very crude rules of thumb. And those content rules are very similar for white papers and things as they would be for dealing with content for the press. So usually, the writing style is more formal and less promotional. Generally speaking, Europeans want more facts to back up claims and less hype. And as I mentioned before, Germans love technical details. And in white papers, you’ve really got to go to town on the actual details and the facts and the figures. Another thing as well as design is important. And generally speaking, Europeans are more likely to engage with content that is very well designed, looks good, and is easy to scan and read. So don’t underestimate the importance of design in Europe, that definitely makes a difference in the amount of engagement with content. And lastly, too much hype is never a good thing.

And that’s particularly in Germany. So don’t use headlines to oversell the content, it’s only going to damage your brand, make sure that everything is very clear, very direct. And as I say, just maybe a little bit more formal than you do in the States. Having said that, there are similarities. And here you can see the start of an NFL game that’s being held in the UK. So we do actually have NFL games over here we have a number as I’m sure you’re aware, holding the UK and there are some metal American football fans.

So talking about American football isn’t necessarily a problem in Europe. The only problem we do have in Europe for any football fans who are listening is that we think the Jacksonville Jaguars are the only team in the league because they seem to be the only team who plays every single season in the UK. But certainly, you know, we do understand. So question your local teams. And question with both in terms of whether you need to make changes, whether you’ve done enough, or whether you’ve done too much. And quite often, local teams will just want to change to localise because that’s the way they feel it should be there. They’re playing marketeer. They’re not playing advisor for the local market. And that can be a very big mistake, because quite often you’re talking to salespeople, and those salespeople are trying to do something that’s not their core expertise.

So if our sales team says we need to change this for Germany, or for UK or whatever, I would absolutely say always question why that needs to be the case. Because quite often, it doesn’t need to be the case. And quite often you can find that some of the changes people feel need to be made, actually a completely unnecessary amaze and make the campaign less effective. Obviously, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to communicate the same meaning globally, we’re trying to communicate the same action, so to say, of course, the same actions globally. And we’re basically trying to make sure that we have as much consistency so we might change the actual words, but hopefully the meaning and to a large extent the imagery can be the same, which means that when people go to your website, they can then see something reflects the overall campaign.

And lastly, in terms of my last top tip, obviously use experts and Napier has spent a long time working with clients in terms of localising translating trends creating content. So definitely come and ask us if you have any questions. Thank you very much for listening to the webinar. I hope everyone’s found it useful. If you have any questions, please do feel free to put some in the chat. And I’ll be more than happy to answer them. Okay, so I’ve got one question in the chat, which is, actually it’s a really good question.

So the question here is when we’re translating, is it possible to use machine translation? You know, obviously things like Google Translate. And now very, very good. The unfortunately, the simple answer to this is no. The machine translation tools are very good. And they’re certainly excellent in terms of giving you the meaning, and the gist of what’s supposed to be in there. But machine translation tools don’t read, like, somebody who was a native would translate. And so the problem is, is once you go beyond a couple of sentences, it starts becoming very obvious that the translation is not done by human, it’s being done by machine. And that can be very negative to your brand. Because if I’m working in Germany, say, and you’re my first language is German, and I feel you’re not bothering to translate, you’re just running it through Google, that sends me a message that you don’t value Germany as a market.

So although people will get the meaning, and they’ll be able to understand what you’re trying to say, in the local language, it’s not the same as translating, and in fact, can be a bad thing and can damage your brand. So be very careful about machine translation. And particularly, as I say, once you go beyond a few sentences, it can be a real issue. The other thing to say as well as machine translation, whilst it can work for very short pieces, it can also make some mistakes as well. So when you get to, you know, very short phrases, then again, there can be issues there.

So be very careful about machine translation. If you’re running Google Ads campaigns, it can absolutely help. And quite often, we can see, or we have seen translators using machine translation as a first pass and then doing edits. So that can speed things up sometimes. But you have to be very careful because everyone will see the error and no one will take notice of the 10 things that you got right with machine translation.

Okay, I don’t think I’ve got any other questions. I really appreciate your time. On the webinar today. We will be producing an on demand webinar so you’ll be able to listen to this or Share this if you want to share it with someone else in the future. And thank you very much for listening. Goodbye.