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What Relationship Marketers Can Learn From the Mittelstand Ethos

by Nick Worth  |  
June 22, 2016
  |  672 views

In spending time with brands all over Europe and the US, I see the biggest difference being that US firms take a "bigger is better" approach to company growth and operations.

In Europe, companies often prize stability and profitability above top-line growth. Though US companies often have large teams and complex technology stacks, marketers in smaller European enterprises usually take more personal responsibility for their part of the business, wear multiple hats, and develop lean marketing processes to accomplish more with less.

I particularly see this approach to marketing in Germany, where there is a broad-based understanding of the value of lean, focused midsized businesses to the national economy. In fact, those firms have a collective name—Mittelstand.

"In purely statistical terms, any business with fewer than 500 employees is an SME," according to Made in Germany. "But the term 'Mittelstand' is often used to include much larger companies, too, if they are run in the same spirit as a small or medium-sized enterprise."

Business historians describe Mittelstand companies as emotionally invested in their businesses, operating with a lean hierarchy and focusing deeply on customer needs. In the recent publication The Best of German Mittelstand, the authors characterize Mittelstand companies as focusing on "global niche dominance," in which a firm identifies a narrow part of the market to serve, and creating a long-term strategy to dominate that part of the market everywhere it operates.


Focusing on Niche Dominance

Relationship marketers in larger enterprises can take best-practices from Mittelstand companies and operate in that same spirit.

For example, relationship marketers should look to create a "niche dominance" plan that identifies the specific customer needs that they can best meet. To execute the plan, relationship marketers should empower themselves and their team to proceed and act even when there is resistance or divergence from elsewhere in the company.


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Nick Worth is CMO of Selligent, a leading independent provider of 1-to-1 engagement solutions for relationship marketers.

LinkedIn: Nick Worth 

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