Whether you’re already doing business in Germany or you’re thinking of expanding to the German-speaking countries, this guide is for you.
In my previous job, I’ve helped build the marketing strategy for the B2B software Zervant that offers its services in 5 different countries. One of the biggest lessons we learned is that one solution doesn’t fit all. A campaign that worked like a charm in France might have no effect whatsoever in Finland. A content piece that was widely read by Swedish users, generated only a handful of clicks amongst the Germans.
Every culture has its peculiarities, its dos and it’s dont’s. Very often it’s the small things that can have a huge impact on your conversion rate and your business success.
After reading this article you’ll understand the German culture a little bit better and you’ll be aware of the 3 most common pitfalls to look out for when it comes to doing business and marketing in Germany.
KYG – Know your German
If you remember only one thing about this article, then let it be this one: Germans are used to having everything available in German. It doesn’t matter if it’s the newest Jennifer Lawrence movie, an online software or the packaging of imported candy; everything is dubbed and/or translated into the German language.
German is spoken by more than 100 Million people worldwide, the majority living in Germany, Austria & Switzerland. That’s a lot of people, especially in comparison to the number of native speakers of the Finnish (5,4 Million) and the Swedish (9,6 Million) language.
Your average German-speaker not only wants but expects you to offer your products/services in German, communicate with them in the German language and localise your offerings to their German specifics. If you fail to do so, they will look for another product or service (most likely from a German provider) to solve their problem.
Admittedly, millennials and the generations to follow are more eager to adapt to the English language. However, if you wanna make it in Germany, you have to speak the language. Well, maybe YOU don’t need to speak the language, but it’s essential that you team up with native German-speakers in order to grow within the German market.
After several years of doing B2B marketing to different countries, I realised that no other nation values security, data protection and trust as much as Germans do.
According to Hofstede, the German-speaking nations, with Austria taking the lead, feel uncomfortable with uncertainty.
Cultures who rank high in Uncertainty Avoidance have an affinity for rules, regulations, punctuality and security.
What does that mean for you and your business?
It means that if you’re dealing with people who want to avoid risks at all costs, you have to make them feel safe.
In marketing and business, this means to provide all the information necessary and even a little more. Use data & statistics from trustworthy sources in your content. Make it easy for your potential client to find more about your company and the products/services you’re offering. Be transparent, and communicate the benefits of your offerings in a clear and understandable manner. The American way of “feely” marketing isn’t the best option for the German-speaking countries. Provide facts and if possible social proof.
And by all means, make sure your privacy, cookie and data security information are in place and up to date on your website.
Remember who you’re talking to
In Finland and Sweden, you’re used to calling everyone by their first name and address them in the first person. Not so in the German-speaking world.
There are 3 factors you need to consider if you shall use “Du” or “Sie” when talking to a potential business partner or marketing to a target group:
- Which industry are you in? Traditional corporate environments (banks, manufacturing etc.) require the formal “Sie” in the work environment. That rule also applies to website copy, marketing emails and any other content you’re providing. As a general rule of thumb, in B2B “Sie” is essential, in B2C it depends on your brand and the type of product/service you’re offering.
- Who are you talking to? This question is as old as human communication but sometimes forgotten. Is your customer/partner a well-educated professional in a high position? You better go with “Sie”. How old is your target customer? Millennials are more and more used to be addressed with the informal “Du”, however, not everyone would agree with that.
- How well do you know them? This question is relevant when you’re having more personal contact with your client/business partner. If you work in a more traditional environment, your German counterpart is older than you and you haven’t talked to them much, you should definitely address them by their last name. Once you get to know them better, one of you (usually the older person, or the one of higher rank) will offer you “das Du”, meaning that call each other by your first names from now on.
In all honesty, this whole “Du” and “Sie” thing can be exhausting at times. Through Social Media and digitalisation there has been a huge shift and these days it takes sensitivity to know when to use “du” and when to use “Sie”.
Tipp: When it comes to communicating with your customers through your website and social media it’s important that you’re consistent. Don’t address them with “Sie” on your website and emails, but at the same time write your social media posts with “Du”.
What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to conquering the German-speaking markets? Write in the comments below or send me a message!
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