I recently went on a wonderful vacation to Europe – The Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany – and while I wasn’t trying to pay attention to anything marketing or business related, my brain subconsciously took some notes. So, here are a few of the things that I noticed.
As you might expect, much of the outdoor signage is quite charming in keeping with the architectural style. There are some exceptions for the big international brands. For example, the McDonalds in Vienna clearly displays the golden arches. While this seemed so out of place on a gorgeous Baroque building, I completely get it from a branding perspective.
The use of icons on street and other public signs was quite clever and more elaborate than what I typically see here in the U.S. However, my favorite sign was one that was displayed in a German train station above a coffee stand that read, “Pimp your coffee.” I found this entertaining and effective in conveying the intended message of adding sweeteners, creamers and flavored syrups to add some pizzazz to black coffee. But, I can’t imagine this same message getting approved and appearing in a major U.S. airport or transportation center.
This is an example of how cultural differences and preferences shape the marketing message and content (advertising, movies or otherwise). In Germany, marketers can be less “politically correct” in their use of humor in messaging. Generally speaking, when it comes to movies, Europeans have a higher tolerance for content that might have a sexual connotation or contain nudity. Violence is considered to be much worse than either of these themes.
While the U.S. and Germany share many similarities, here are some other differences that I found while further researching the topic of how Germany and the USA approach advertising and media differently:
Marketing and Brand Message/Overall Tone
Germany – Focused on product features, neutral tone.
USA – Focused on product benefits.
Germany – More formal and less personal. The goal is information, not conversation.
USA – Companies aim to be friendly and speak directly to the customer.
Germany – Crisp and clean colors and layout with a message focused on technology.
USA – More playful and pastel palettes with messages focused on an experience and fun.
Length of Content
Germany – Ads are longer and contain detailed information, descriptions and analysis.
USA – Ads are typically shorter with the goal of simplifying the message and reducing the amount of detail.
Germany – German customers want to get directly to the point. Convenient customer service is highly valued and exceptional service will be rewarded with loyalty. The worst thing businesses can do in the German consumers eye is to not deliver on time.
USA – Americans don’t like criticism or hearing harsh messages. American advertisers soften the message (sugar coat) as a way to mitigate this and show kindness. American consumers need to be quickly convinced of how something will benefit them directly.
Credit Usage/Payment Processing
Prior to traveling to Europe, I was advised to make sure that I had local currency since I might
not be able to pay by credit card (my preferred payment method). This turned out not to be the case, as credit cards were widely accepted. Granted, I was in larger cities and tourist destinations. I also noted that almost all of the merchants used handheld payment devices. I’ve since learned that credit cards are often structured differently in many European countries.
Credit cards are frequently tied to a bank account where the balance is due at the end of the billing cycle or after a certain period of time (charge cards) or payments are made in installments (revolving cards). In both scenarios, the cardholder is granted credit with a short maturity period resulting in less interest paid and less credit card debt.
Retail and Dining
We arrived in Munich in the early afternoon on a Sunday. We were ready to hit the ground running and have a late lunch and explore the city. I was surprised to see that most of the restaurants and shops were closed and the city seemed quiet. It hadn’t occurred to me that this might be the case. Some restaurants did open later for dinner. As it turns out, Sundays are considered sacred time off to be spent with family. While it may not have been a particularly fun day for us as visitors, it was fun for a lot of local people, which is a good thing for quality of life.
Several of our clients do business internationally and international trade in general is extremely important to our economy. All of these little things reminded me how important it is as marketers to understand even the subtle cultural differences and preferences and take those into consideration as we craft our marketing messages, create materials and plan events or maybe even our next meal. It is the heart of engaging and effective communications.