For many companies, selling beyond their home market is an essential driver of business success. But successfully selling into other markets is often easier said than done.

In 2007, when the No. 1 retailer in the UK opened its small-format grocery chain in several western US states, it struggled—and pulled out within six years. Despite the shared language and heritage, the multinational British business misread the American audience. The small grocery stores, which were marketed for their convenience, low prices, and ready-to-eat meals, were self-service. Of course, it's never just one thing that causes a company to shutter a business, but analysts believed it was just too much to ask Americans to scan their purchases, make their payments, and then bag their groceries.

One mistake companies make is to treat the US as if it were one culture. US states are not exactly like different countries, but they do have different markets. In fact, the small-format grocery stores and their prepared meals might have worked better in high-density urban environments vs. suburban plazas.

The key to successfully translating your business, and how you market it, into the US can be summed up as "Minding the Gap"—understanding the cultural, practical, and legal differences... and overcoming them through smart localization of key marketing activities.

Localizing Key Marketing Activities

B2B deals are done people to people, not on a digital-only path. Business relationships are based on trust. And trust is based, at least in part, on a sense of mutual understanding. Cross-cultural understanding is key to global success. And being able to speak the language of your new marketplace is essential.

The risks of getting lost in translation between Europe and the US are perhaps more subtle than the risks companies have encountered moving into Asian markets. (Most European marketers understand that what the world calls football, Americans call soccer, and that biscuits and cookies are two different things.) But B2B marketing depends on rapport, and rapport is hard to build unless the buyer feels an affinity with you. That means when best-practice European B2B marketers sell into the US, they make sure football becomes soccer and biscuits become cookies.

That doesn't mean you need to completely overhaul your marketing strategy, or even your marketing materials. Much of your marketing can be adapted to work in the US. Centralized vs. localized is not a black/white, either/or decision. Some marketing activities are best kept centrally in Europe, and some are best localized for the US market. Best-practice marketers know which is which.

Seven Tips for Localizing Your Marketing

When marketing to the US, best-practice European B2B marketers localize the following.

1. Buyer Personas and Buyer Journey Maps

US buyers are often more direct than European buyers. Where brand reputation may be a key decision-making factor in Europe, return on investment (ROI)—"show me the money"—is much more important in the US.

So, with their European buyer personas and journey maps as a starting point, best-practice marketers…

  • Create a US online listening post.
  • Actively engage with their potential clients.
  • Use a local firm to compile call research and survey insights.

Then, they adjust and build their personas and journey maps accordingly.

2. Content Strategy

To begin localizing your content for the US market, take your centralized or global content strategy, then customize it to fit localized buyer personas and buyer journeys by integrating local-market insights.

Your strategy and channel mix for your content assets may change for the US market. For example, in the US, B2B buyers rate sales rep engagements and presentations as most impactful in the sales process, whereas in Europe buyers rate analyst reports as much more impactful.

3. Content Assets

Once you've localized your content strategy and evaluated your engagement touchpoints, you'll need to conduct a content audit across all touchpoints in the buyer journey.

Determine which content assets can be customized to fit the US market, and what additional content assets need to be created. Elements to be localized include language, calls to action, offers, images, customer references, and legal requirements.

4. Data Sourcing and Aggregation

Most data collection and privacy laws in the United States are different from those in most European countries. European B2B marketers need to localize data intelligence and segmentation in the US market, which has more liberal data privacy rules for contacting businesses.

The US has incredible sources for data and market research, which best-practice marketers use to gather and integrate information about the prospects (including social data), information about the company (D&B/Hoovers, fiscal-year, installed-tools data, procurement requirements, org developments, etc.), and market insight—to reveal the right approach and touch for each buyer or groups of buyers.

The efficiency of your campaign will be only as good as the data that goes into it.

5. Insights and Targeting

Data is just information if it's not made actionable with insight. Best-practice marketers make data actionable with behavioral, demographic, and psychographic information. This is where a grasp of the nuances among the different regions and cities of the US can help you reach your prospects effectively.

6. Accounting for Local Data Collection and Privacy Regulations

Best-practice European B2B marketers take the strategic segmentation developed centrally and localize it to ensure target segments are measurable, accessible, and profitable. The execution of localized campaigns can be done by a local team or a centralized shared-resources team, but those campaigns must be developed—and executed—accounting for local targeting, data collection, and privacy regulations.

7. Teleservices and Inside Sales

Digital marketing is part of the journey, but not all of it. Even though the buyer's journey mostly begins online, in B2B selling in the US you can't underestimate the human element. People buy from people. Best-practice marketers understand the importance of the human touch in the marketing and sales process, and they know that human touch works best when there's relatable cultural affinity and quick responsiveness to buyers' inquiries.

Finding the Right Balance as You Expand to the US

How the balance between what to localize and what to keep centralized gets struck ultimately comes down to this question: "What needs to be globally templated, localized, or created to market our product or service most effectively in the US market?"

The rationale behind keeping some marketing activities centralized is two-fold:

  • First, to ensure global brand and message consistency in order to deliver a consistent customer experience throughout the lifecycle
  • Second, to maintain cost efficiency, harness centralized marketing technology, and minimize duplication of efforts from one locale to another

The rationale for localizing other marketing activities is to ensure a connection with your local buying audience and local competitive environment. A local buyer needs to feel understood and in turn to understand what makes your company different. A timely, locally relevant response is critical. So is adherence to local data collection and privacy laws.

Localization of content is important for accuracy, nimbleness, and relevancy; but centralization is important for cost-efficiency, consistency, and control.

And, in every case, there's a balance to be struck to mind the gap.

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Want to Break Into the US Market? Here's How: Seven Tips for Localizing Your Marketing

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Ray Kemper is chief marketing officer of Televerde, provider of demand generation solutions, marketing technology services, engagement strategy content, and planning and data consulting services.

Twitter: @RayKemper

LinkedIn: Ray Kemper