Prove yourself in B2B

Who do you think you are?

In America, your foreignness is probably not an asset. You’re going to have to prove yourself.   

There are a lot of stereotypes about Americans, but one of the most prominent is their ignorance of other countries. Can most Americans tell the difference between Denmark, Holland and Belarus? Possibly not. Do they think that Norway is the capital of Stockholm? Possibly yes.

Many Americans do have an affinity for foreign things and have positive associations with “European quality,” but this is often a vast generalization. And, it tends to be only the major, more high-end brands such as Rolex and BMW that enjoy the benefits of this association. Ask a little deeper and many Americans may not know which European country these brands come from.

Prove yourself

The US director of a Danish company with US offices in Texas admitted, “You are a nobody when you come to the US. No one cares that you come from another country and may have another way of doing things. We have to prove ourselves.”

So when a foreign company tries to sell its products or services in the US, it will struggle if it attempts to base its marketing messages on the assumption that people know (or care) about its national heritage, and cultural and business values. Phrases such as “based on clean Scandinavian design values” will only create confusion unless these values are communicated specifically and in a relevant way. (Even then, will Americans actually see these design values as a benefit?)

Make a reference to “Danish quality,” and your US audience might wonder if you’re in the pastry-baking business.

Storytelling gone wrong

In the mid-00s, one Danish valve manufacturer had this message on its website: “Like ripples on a pond from the island of fairytales.” What was the relevance of this? They were trying to relate the business to some aspect of Denmark’s cultural heritage where it simply didn’t fit. If it was an attempt at storytelling, it was incomplete, and the audience was left without a clear understanding of how this connected with the company’s products. On the face of it, it was lazy marketing. Unfortunately, companies that do not allocate sufficient resources to marketing are often guilty of this type of irrelevant cultural message.

The whole reason for making these claims and references, of course, is so you can make a deeper connection with your audience beyond the actual marketing message. Almost everyone in Scandinavia will understand the importance of “Scandinavian design values,” which means there are things you as the marketer don’t need to say. When it is possible to make these connections, these messages are effective in communicating several underlying benefits and features in just a few words.

But Americans will not have any associations with this message, so it will just create a distance between you and your audience and make it even harder for you to motivate them to engage with your brand.

Don’t assume too much

Still, it is tempting to use these simple and culturally familiar messages. It may seem like a way of differentiating the brand and giving it uniqueness in a foreign market. And “borrowing” these messages means that you don’t have to come up with your own.

What’s a better way for a new brand from a European country to overcome these challenges in the US market? You really need to start with the assumption that your audience knows nothing about your country. Your foreignness is not an advantage; don’t rely on your country to create your product benefits and your story – create these yourself, based on your specific values, benefits and goals. Find out about your audience and in particular the decision-makers and influencers in the buying process. In order to create messages that motivate and engage them, you need to meet them at their level and understand what’s important to them.

Relate personally

Contrary to popular belief, business decision makers are not automatons; they are individuals who have personal preferences, desires and motivations. They can be influenced by many different things, and you will save a lot of time and money by finding out as much as you can about them.

This is good advice in any industry, and most cultures. However, in more homogenous countries, there is broad convergence about business values and decision-making criteria, particularly amongst B2B buyers. In the US, of course, it may not be wise to treat all your B2B buyers the same; there can be vast differences in the way people do business and respond to marketing messages.

For example, the key buyer from the company you are pitching to in the US might have a specific regional or cultural heritage that could influence his or her decisions. Do you know what the appropriate social etiquettes and business values are? Are you ready to do the kind of small talk that might be necessary to build rapport? What messages and approach might make a real difference in your proposal being accepted?

As a foreigner, part of “proving” yourself is establishing effective ways relate to Americans. And, with regard to diversity in the US, you can never be too prepared for effective personal communication.

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