6 Things European Companies Should Avoid When Marketing in the US

Bill Maher hosts the skewering and politically pointed “Real Time with Bill Maher” every week on HBO. When not on TV, he travels far and wide delivering his opinionated yet wonky standup routine, including to audiences in Europe, where he tours fairly regularly.

Maher remarks on occasion how impressed and amazed he is by polyglot Europeans who “get” his routine and are as culturally and politically up to speed as his American fans. He doesn’t even need to adapt or “dumb down” his act for audiences comprised of people who not only don’t live in the US or speak English as their mother tongue, but can’t vote in any US election and, seemingly, would be less attuned to the peculiarities and finer points of American politics.

However, European-headquartered companies looking to enter the US market for the first time or increase their presence shouldn’t rely on the same one-message-works-for-all approach. What plays well in Europe won’t necessarily be the ideal match for your American target audiences and customers.

Importance of Cultural Translation

We’ve all seen examples of overseas-headquartered brands entering the US market for the first time (or aiming for a US expansion) make news for the wrong reasons. And I’m not even referring to humorous translations or global branding fails that continue to make us snicker. Examples such as Aldi’s experience with shopping carts in this country point out both cultural and practical differences between European and American consumers.   

Simple translation and localization of content may seem like a crafty cost saving move (it already exists, why reinvent things?), but, in the end, can potentially make your brand seem out of touch or come across as an outsider to your American customer base. This is largely due to the expectations and experiences of the typically introspective American consumer.

First and foremost, Americans are still incredibly ethnocentric. If it doesn’t feel like it’s “from here,” it stands out. Not necessarily as better or worse, just… as different. The world is becoming more global and interconnected every day, but American consumers, whether considering a B2B or B2C landscape, still consistently see things primarily from an American point of view. The combination of a large and influential consumer market, a consumption-based economy and generations of an inward-focused geopolitical perspective will do that to a country.

This is in stark contrast to Europe, where people not only speak multiple languages, but travel around more regularly as a matter of course, work across borders more readily and are more accustomed to a frictionless, multicultural commercial and economic experience. Compare consumer banking systems and experiences between Europe and the US as just one tangible example.

So how does the C-level executive or owner of a European business who wants to raise the profile of their brand on this side of the Atlantic ensure their message is being heard by an American audience with a short attention span and a lot of competing noise? For starters, avoid these six mistakes that can trip up your marketing communications strategy in the US.

6 Things EU-Based Companies Should Avoid When Creating a Communications and Marketing Strategy for the US Market

  1. Manage and run marketing completely from Europe

One clear recipe for disaster is to have people who have never lived and worked in your target market develop and execute your customer outreach strategies. Can’t afford a full-time marketing team or even a single person? Work with an experienced freelancer or agency like Mach Media that knows the US market well and can craft and measure the success of campaigns.

  • Give your US marketing team (no matter how large or small they are) insufficient control

Whether budget, strategy or staffing – give your US support team on the ground the authority and responsibility to run programs they feel will be most effective. If you hired correctly (see reason #1 above), then trust your instincts and show your team you trust them to promote your brand in this market optimally.

  • Rely heavily on customer case studies or testimonials from outside the US

This is a common mistake, particularly for companies launching their first-ever US presence. You have no track record in this market, so you instead use your existing customer testimonials from Europe. Problem is, if your target audience in the US is unfamiliar with your customers, that limits the credibility of your successes. Better to wait until you have US success stories to point to, or even partner on projects with industry groups like the European American Chamber of Commerce to demonstrate your effectiveness.

  • Copy/Paste Your Marketing Strategy from Europe

Different regions can and often do have slightly different business strategies. You wouldn’t rely on the same approach in a country where you’re new to market as you would in a region where you have a 20-year track record. Like your business strategy, your marketing strategy should be tailored to the market, your brand reputation and, of course, your budget.

  • Rely on simple translation and localization for your customer touchpoints

Rather than taking all your existing marketing materials from Europe and translating and adapting them to the US market, consider creating a brand framework and key messaging that are tailored to the US market. These building blocks still need to mesh with your brand identity in Europe, but some differences are ok. It shouldn’t just be a checklist job for a freelance translator.

  • Overlook the importance of “cultural translation”

Stories, examples or partnerships that work in your home market in Europe may or may not fit into the US landscape. Ensure your marketing ideas and programs will resonate with your target consumers in the US by doing A/B testing in focus groups (formal or informal), conducting target market research studies or attending industry events.  

We’re well past the obvious examples from yesteryear, like KFC’s ad campaign that made Chinese consumers a bit nervous when “finger licking good” was translated as “eat your fingers off.” But marketers make less obvious mistakes every day when trying to expand into a new country they are less familiar with. Don’t fake it; instead turn to local expertise to get your message across best.

Compliments of Mach Media

About Mach Media

Mach Media is a full-service marketing and communications agency with offices in Europe and the US. We inspire today’s executives to be tomorrow’s rock stars by helping them deliver memorable and powerful communications that drive their business forward.


or cameron.heffernan@machmediagroup.com