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.