Case story

ReSound: US marketing success

With over 40 percent of its business from the US, Danish-based GN ReSound is doing something right

American demographics are unlike any other market; the messages and aesthetics that target Americans can never come in a “one-size-fits-all” campaign. For many foreign countries, marketing to the States can be an uphill battle.

Some companies, however, are making it look easy.

Danish-based GN ReSound is one of the top five global players in the hearing aid industry. With forty percent of its business coming from the States, however, ReSound has a lot invested in the US market.

“If we do well in the US,” explains Charlotte Bang, Head of Brand Support & Group Communication for ReSound, “then the company will do well. My job is to make [a campaign] that will work and that can be adapted for various local markets, including the US.”

But getting there, she says, can be like walking through a minefield.

Like no one else

Formerly the company’s International Marketing Manager, Charlotte spent her first few years with ReSound in San Francisco. What she learned there, she explains, was that marketing in the US is like nowhere in the world.

“One thing I have learned is to listen to the US,” says Charlotte, “because it may well be ahead of you. Our US subsidiary is doing more than any other subsidiary, marketing-wise. They have closer contact to the customers, and they also see very aggressive marketing from our competitors, so they have more experience on what works and what doesn’t.”

Their advantage is more than just proximity to the local market, however. It is also the pervasiveness of American marketing savvy.

“You might say that Americans are born marketers,” says Charlotte. “Marketing just seems to be something that’s a part of the culture in the US. I see what our US marketing people do to sell our products. I see the way they think about their markets, create their materials and how they use the messages and materials we create from headquarters here in Denmark. If we create a product campaign or an ad that the US marketers don’t like, they won’t use it.”

While tailoring a message for a specific local market can involve myriad subtleties, for the most part Charlotte identifies a few key differences with messaging in the States.

Direct connections

“In over ten years of working with the US,” says Charlotte, “I’ve learned that it is important to keep communication simple and direct. We tend to have some very sophisticated messages here, and the US has been instrumental in helping us to be clearer.”

Those direct messages are necessary not only in internal communications, Charlotte explains. Whether it’s between the message and the market, or between the distributor and end-user, Charlotte says that American consumers prefer a direct connection.

“Our environment in Europe is more clinical,” says Charlotte. “In Europe, we like the idea of patients. It connects to distributors’ feelings of pride in their knowledge and their status as knowledgeable professionals. In the US, it’s more about selling a product and a service. It’s not about having a ‘patient’ but having a ‘customer’ or ‘client.’”

This direct connection extends to American’s aesthetic sensibilities as well, and has a major impact on ReSound’s visual branding in the States.

“What we do in Europe is more stylized, not so real,” she explains. “But Scandinavian clean lines and whites are rather cold in mainstream American eyes. Americans want something that is more real, more direct – something with which they can identify and connect.”

Strong customer orientation

Similarly, Charlotte notes, Americans are less interested in technical specifications, but in how those details translate into “human” benefits.

“One of our key messages is about design excellence. This really resonates with our European subsidiaries and their audiences. But the Americans aren’t hooked on this stuff at all. They are not interested in the concept of design for its own sake. Americans like to know: what will the product will do and why should I buy it?”

To illustrate, Charlotte describes a focus group with audiologists in the US that revealed quite a lot about the American concept of a value proposition:

“The audiologists only wanted to talk about the consumer. ‘Tell me what’s in it for my customers,’ they said. Of course, they cared about their service, but they were very focused on how they would sell the product. ‘The benefits to me,’ they told us, ‘are the benefits to the customers’.”

For ReSound, selling in the States means letting go of technical jargon and industry hierarchy that works so well in other markets.

“It all points to the strong consumer orientation of the US, and the generally less formal way people engage with each other,” Charlotte explains. “In the US, it’s important to keep it simple, clear and connected.”

Customization (with a “z”)

Charlotte tells a story about her early experiences developing ReSound’s websites – one that she says illustrates the strong US focus of Americans.

“When I first started with the company, I was doing an international website and a US website. Gnresound.com was the British English version. A retired US teacher sent me a corrected version in red ink of the entire site. It didn’t even occur to him that it might have been British English.”

But, while Americans can be prickly about their formatting, they’re even quicker to pounce on a generic message.

“In our experience,” Charlotte notes, “you can’t expect to use British texts in the US and just change it a little. It’s not just about the spelling and word choice. You’ve got to rewrite them to quite a degree before they ring true in American ears.”

Part of this customization process, Charlotte explains, has to do with remembering the ethnic diversity in the States – an important component in US marketing.

“Whenever our American subsidiary produces materials themselves, they will always include photos of African-Americans, Asians or some other combination. And we try to anticipate this by having our global materials incorporate multiple races as well. Of all of our geographies, the Americans are the only ones who ask for that.”

Charlotte notes that this may be part of the connection Americans have with products and services – that American consumers, in their wide range of ethnic and racial diversity, will very often look for themselves in their products.

“Essentially,” concludes Charlotte, “Americans are born consumers. When marketing to the US, be direct with a hard-hitting proposition that works – with strong benefits and strong human connections. And remember to attach a very clear call to action.”

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