Danish cultural values

No time for modesty

Especially relevant to Danes, this is good advice for anyone who tends to underplay their strengths

Can you imagine an American business executive standing back and letting others form their own opinions about his or her company? It’s just not the American way. To make an impression in the US, you have no choice but to meet them at their level: with confidence, ready to talk clearly about benefits and how your products meet their needs.

In some countries, modesty and quiet confidence are positive values in business. But in the US, modesty is not a value. Carlsberg’s now outdated, but forever classic, Danish understatement (“Probably the best…”) would render your product stillborn in an American market. Simply put, Budweiser is the “King of Beers.”

Equality or equal opportunity?
In Denmark, you don’t need to go far to see a billboard advertisement claiming that a product is just a “little” better than the rest.

“Local and a little better”


“a little more than the usual”


“a little better break”

These simple examples indicate big differences in the psyches of Danes and Americans. In a 2002 article published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Michelle R. Nelson and Sharon Shavitt conclude that Americans rate achievement highly, whereas Danes “look down on conspicuous success and braggarts.”  Americans believe that everyone has the equal right to be successful – Danes believe that everyone is equal.

Americans aspire to and appreciate success, and it is quite natural to show off and talk about your achievements. But many Danes have difficulty stepping up to this. “Whereas a rags-to-riches American Dream story emphasizes competitive behaviors to rise above others, the [Danish] Janteloven rewards modesty and blending into the group,” say Nelson and Shavitt.

Understanding these differences will help you create an effective strategy for approaching the US market.

Modesty does not inspire confidence
To make an impact without compromising modesty, some marketers like to find clever, “intellectual” marketing messages in the hope that people will be able to see the benefits. In countries where modesty is preferred, this can work as people are used to deciphering messages and understanding implied benefits. Perhaps this is the reason behind Carlsberg’s clever and humorous “Probably the best beer” claim, which, however, created doubt in millions of peoples’ minds for many years.

The US audience is different. They expect messages to be direct and bold and the benefits to be spelled out overtly. Budweiser’s “best-selling beer” claim carries a simple message that people understand immediately.

So although a modest, underplayed approach reflects of common values and norms of behavior in Denmark, it is likely to put up a barrier to success on the US stage. In fact, a modest approach in the US may even have the opposite effect, being perceived as lack of enthusiasm and lack of self-belief. This won’t inspire confidence in a potential buyer, and if there’s one thing a B2B buyer wants to see, it is that you have absolute confidence in what you are selling.

Remember: your competitors will not hesitate to make bold claims and communicate overt benefits.

Back up that bold statement
But confidence, in this case, is not the end of the story. Once you have hooked the attention of a potential US buyer, you need to be able to back it up with details, evidence and service. If you have a unique, innovative technology, for example, make sure your audience can find out everything they need to know about it – through their preferred communication channels.

And when they finally engage with you, be ready to provide the service to back up your claims. Your contacts in the US will expect a high level of tolerance, service and, above all, availability. Just like Americans, customer service never takes a holiday.

The language of service in the US is also decidedly different from the language of product. It is yet another great American marketing paradox: the product says, “You need me” while service says, “I need you.” It is here where the directness and honesty of other cultures often clashes with American service values. When communicating your service message to Americans, you are prompt, you are committed and you are complimentary.

Remember: the customer, whether B2C or B2B, is always right in the States – even when they’re excruciatingly wrong.

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