Promoting products and services through marketing and PR is a very different ballgame in the United States compared to Europe. An integrated “owned”, “earned” and “paid” campaign that takes pain to avoid these mistakes will yield the best results and help European companies succeed on the American market.
Promoting services and products on the American market looks at first sight very akin to how things are done in Europe. Are Americans B2B and B2C consumers not comparable to their European counterparts? And are the right means to reach them not very similar to what is used in Europe? The answer to both questions is to a large extent: no. European companies need a dedicated American marketing and PR playbook if they want to be successful on the American market.
Before we dive into what that American marketing and PR playbook needs to look like, we list a couple of typical mistakes made by European marketers who are tasked with the expansion of their business in the US:
What Europeans Do Wrong (Most of the Time)
1. Trying to Boil the Ocean
“You cannot boil the ocean” is an American expression, meaning that you cannot change everything at once. Here’s the thing, the American market has 300 million consumers and it’s simply way too large for any European company to attack all at once, at least not with the kind of budget normally reserved for one European country.
Omar Mohout, a prominent Belgian professor in Enterprise who teaches at the Solvay Brussels School of Business and Economics, recommends that European companies first target one specific American socio-demographic or geographic segment.1 For instance, say you developed a SaaS accounting solution perfect for small and mid-sized organisations in the US. You might choose to first target only American law offices in a handful of major metro areas rather than attempt to seek the solution across multiple industries and geographic markets. In other words, figure out how to thrive and be successful in one specific niche, possibly one specific geographic market (for example, Texas). Then you will have something to show when it’s time to convince investors to participate in your next big round of funding. Both your organic growth and the extra funding will help make the next chapter in your American expansion story become reality.
2. Underfunding the Effort
This second mistake is closely related to the first one. Not picking a segment that is small enough to be able to thrive in will cause you to underfund your marketing and PR effort. But even the ones that do manage to pick a doable segment will often commit critical budgeting mistakes. Marketing and PR agency costs run higher in the United States than they do in Europe (especially if you are contracting agencies on the West and East Coast). It stands to reason that the cost of any effort aimed at brand awareness and lead generation in one European country is much smaller than attacking the EU as a whole. The same rationale applies to the US.
[su_pullquote]Aim for what you can reasonably afford. Don’t overreach on market size and in the process underfund the effort.[/su_pullquote]
The per unit cost of leads may vary in the US as well, if only because the degree of competition in the tech space is incredibly intense. Even the cost of sponsored posts in national trade websites will cost much more than you are used to in Europe. Google Adwords campaigns are tricky given the competitive nature of many US tech businesses; it’s not uncommon for bidding amounts run so high as to make the ROI on leads untenable.
What can you do to avoid this? Aim for what you can reasonably afford. Don’t overreach on market size and in the process underfund the effort. Do plenty of research into your target market and what works and doesn’t work when it comes to marketing and PR. Don’t be shy about reaching out to local agencies for advice. What you learn from them could be the difference between success and failure.
3. Not Speaking the Language
European marketing and PR professionals may underestimate the effort that should go into producing professionally worded content for the US market. If you are not a native speaker then there is a good chance that writing perfectly crafted English copy for your target American audience is out of your reach. This means that you will need to call upon copywriters and/or translators, or even a local marketing agency that can oversee the effort and conduct quality control. The people that help you in this endeavour should be American native speakers. For instance, British spoken and written English is as different from American English as orange marmalade is from grape jelly. American consumers are best addressed in American English.
Speaking the right language doesn’t only pertain to how things are said. It also has to do with the core messages of your marketing campaigns and the manner in which you articulate them. Clearly American culture is very different from European culture. And the American consumer mind is wired differently from the European one. Americans tend to be benefits-focussed and tuned into finding a “good deal”, much more than the typical European consumer is. In other words, a simple translation of a brochure or website into American English will not suffice. You have to “think” like an American to attract their attention in an authentic way. Otherwise, you risk alienating your target audience within seconds.
4. Picking the Wrong Channels
You have selected a segment that you want to target, but now the work begins. You will need to select the best mix of channels to achieve your marketing and PR objectives given your budget and target audience. If you are new to the market you will have to spend a majority of your time creating awareness. Don’t forget to track your inbound leads and properly attribute their source (e.g. Twitter ad, Google AdWord campaign, trade show, etc.) in some kind of spreadsheet. That said, a lead attribution will only partially help inform your marcom spending decisions. Take SEA (Search Engine Advertising) for example. For European marketers, SEA equals Google AdWords. But Bing has about a 20% share of the American search engine market. While it’s not the largest search engine both in terms search volumes, you can’t afford to ignore it in the long run if you hope to pick up market share against your competitors.
What Europeans Should Do (All of the Time)
[su_pullquote]The marketing and PR campaigns that yield the most results are the one that are fully integrated.[/su_pullquote]
Any modern marketing and PR campaign must be an integrated campaign. Integration implies that you will try to have your “owned” (your website, blog, etc.), earned (media coverage) and paid (advertising) channels working together to reinforce one another as much as possible. In many cases “shared” (online shares) is added to the mix which then makes for the PESO (paid, earned, shared & owned) acronym. In what follows we stick to the first three tracks and count shared with earned.
Here is a list of types of tools that are available for marketing and PR campaigns in the US. For each campaign you will be making a very unique selection of building blocks. And since you have now been fairly warned about selecting the right market segment, speaking the right language, funding your effort sufficiently and employing the right channels, all of your building blocks will now be poised to yield the highest possible return.
• Website with content and style tuned to an American audience (either a US site or American pages on your global site) and plenty of call-to-actions to help people convert through the sales funnel.
• Blog with articles that depart from the benefits of your products or services as they are relevant to American buyer personas.
• Newsletter to send out content that is geared towards different buyer personas.
• Distribution of press releases to wire services (such as Business Wire) and American outlets that serve your target audience.
• Offering interviews to journalists that attend a tradeshow at which you have a booth.
• Pitching of stories, on an exclusive basis where practical, to journalists.
• Press tour whereby you visit the offices of journalists for one-on-one talks (this assumes you are a sizable player in your respective industry).
• Contributed articles to trade magazines.
• Advertising in print or online media.
• Promoted content and/or ads on social media.
• SEA on Google and/or Bing.
• “Sponsored posts” (native advertising)/advertorials in print or online media.
• Sponsoring of podcasts.
Integrating Owned, Earned and Paid
The marketing and PR campaigns that yield the most results are the one that are fully integrated. Pitching interviews on a story in October, promoting posts on Facebook in January and paying for a sponsored article in March can and will have some impact, but they are not nearly as powerful as a fully integrated campaign where you bring everything together in ways that are mutually reinforcing.
Let’s illustrate this with an example. Let’s say you are a software company that just conducted a survey about a hot issue in your industry. How can you now maximise the impact of that survey in terms of awareness and lead generation?
• Owned: You can make the survey report available on your site for people who leave their email address (make sure you respect American CAN-SPAM regulations while you are at it); write a series of blog posts on the results, illustrated by an infographic; dedicate a status update to the survey on your Facebook page; and publish a slide deck on your SlideShare account.
• Earned: You can send out a release about the survey (after having given a scoop to TechCrunch or another tech news outlet if it’s got a strong enough news-hook), pitch interviews with your CEO about the results and use the survey to feed your proof points for a contributed article in a key trade magazine.
• Paid: Companies will typically not pay to promote a survey, but the buzz that is created by the survey will allow your now “primed” audiences to be extra receptive to any advertising campaign that you would want to run in the months to follow after the campaign.
About the Author
Jo Detavernier is VP and Partner in Manzer Communications, an independent marketing and PR agency in Austin, TX that helps both domestic and foreign B2B tech companies grow and prosper on the American market through content marketing, digital marketing, lead generation and media relations services.