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Old 02-15-2005   #1
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Cultural Differences by Country

I would really like to get some insights into the differences of each country as far as what cultural differences should be worked into the design, marketing approach and copywriting of a website.

For example I have been told that the U.S. popular use of repetition is not well received in Germany.

The French it would appear will look at every page of your site and then just leave. I would love to know how to increase my 10% conversion of visitors of my action page.

So I am reaching out to our European counterparts to give some insight and possibly get a few threads going on these topics.
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Old 02-16-2005   #2
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Canadians tend not to like extremely "In your face" advertising, and also tend to mistrust implications that you should buy a product because of patriotic reasons, unless it's a patriotic product. The assumption is that you have a crappy product and are trying to gloss it over with flag waving.

Having said that, an acknowledgment that we actually have a country is always appreciated - how hard is it to leave space for a postal code as well as a zip code? Especially on sites that actually ship to Canada. I imagine citizens of other countries dislike this as well.

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Old 02-16-2005   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcanerin
Canadians tend not to like extremely "In your face" advertising, and also tend to mistrust implications that you should buy a product because of patriotic reasons, unless it's a patriotic product. The assumption is that you have a crappy product and are trying to gloss it over with flag waving.

Having said that, an acknowledgment that we actually have a country is always appreciated - how hard is it to leave space for a postal code as well as a zip code? Especially on sites that actually ship to Canada. I imagine citizens of other countries dislike this as well.

Ian
I will add this to the list of country differences... thanks for the input Ian.
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Old 02-18-2005   #4
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In my experience:

- No European country likes the "in your face" marketing. Keep it matter of factly. Dry language is preferred to WHOO HA!!!

- Be aware of the difference in Spanish, French and Italian between proper treatment and familiar treatment. The word "you" In Spanish is: Tu or Usted and in French tu or Vous. This is VERY important when writing marketing copy. Don't let a translator make the choice for you. Only if you target teenagers or a very "cool" or non traditional products such as tatoos or body piercings can you use the familiar term. You can compare it to treating your customers as: "what's up buddy". Not very good if you are selling corporate services for example. In some parts of these countries people don't even use the familiar terms with their own parents. For a more complete description of this go to: http://everything2.com/index.pl?node=tu%20versus%20vous

- In Spain patriotic symbols are not liked in general due to historical reasons. The flag was over used by the 40 year dictatorship and unfortunately the excessive use of flags by any country is related to fascism and lack of freedom. I know this occurs in other European countries where the use of flags is construed as manipulation.

- If you are an American company trying to sell in Europe be aware that the Clinton credits are depleted. BUT the negative image of America now does not have to be an impediment to business. American business still enjoy an image of quality, seriousness and effectiveness. You can hear in the same sentence someone complaining about Americans while stating their products are the best. So keep your site non-political and strictly professional.

- People in most of Europe are still weary of buying over the Internet. If you add to that the fact that mediterranean and many eastern European countries like to conduct business in person, over a meal or drinks, the Internet becomes a difficult place to conduct business. The solution is to offer a visible telephone number that people can call, or as a second choice, an online chat. People in Europe always call before, during, and after a purchase. It would be funny if it weren't such a support hassle. They simply want to know that there are real people behind your business. It is normal for people calling just to say: "Hi I just wanted to know if you guys are there, I'll go ahead and buy now" and to call you 5 minutes later and say: "I went ahead and bought your product I hope it is as good as it sounds". So I strongly recommend considering phone support for your European markets.
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Old 02-18-2005   #5
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Spanish trends

For those of you interested in Spain's market. It might be interesting to look at the information on the Spanish Internet User Association. It's in spanish, so would work for those of you who speak the language. Once you sign up to receive newsletters, you can also look at studies and statistics. They also have a nice list of news from all of the major news portals that either focus on internet+technology or have a section for that. I find that monitoring trends can also help understand the cultural differences.

If anyone knows other great resources for spain...don't hesitate.

Also would be interesting if those working on that market, what are your opinions about online purchases. I think the situation is getting better, gaining trust...but not quite there yet.

I hope this won't be off topic. Seems to be related to cultural differences by country.
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Old 02-18-2005   #6
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flags

Jorge,
you commment on the spanish flag reminds me of a conversation I had with a usability consultant who was working with me. he was saying that he didn't like the use of flags for languages. He said it could be problematic, since English is spoken in so many countries...which flag do you put up? Perhaps its being a bit picky, but nonetheless, its an interesting point.
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Old 02-18-2005   #7
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Yes the use of flags does bring problems. I use a pull down menu titled "languages" and have the languages in writing.

Europeans have a thing with complaining about their neighbors, I guess it is the history of the continent. Every country seems to have invaded the rest at one point or another. If you think this is silly just think about the confederate flag and the problems it sometimes brings. As its application to web localization try to avoid it. French is spoken in several countries in Europe, do you want to offend the rest by using a french flag? Same goes with German, Italian, Dutch ...

The European Union is an economic union, not a cultural union. Although some are closer than others, like Italians and Spaniards, the norm to apply is that they all have their own peculiarities and they do not necessarily like each other. Mentioning that your product is successful in France will not help your Spanish market, and the same with Holland and Belgium or France and Belgium. In Holland some bed time stories for children speak of the "spaniards coming to get you if you don't behave" going back to the sixteenth century. (as told to me by a Dutch national).

A quick note on translating: Do not hire a belgian to translate your site into Dutch IF Holland is your target country. Dutch visitors will notice the difference and dislike it.

Now I know I'm being radical here but I just was trying to make the point clear ;-) It's not like the next big European war is about to start, in fact a European constitution will be approved soon.

Last edited by Jorge : 02-18-2005 at 07:49 AM.
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Old 02-18-2005   #8
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Europe is a very diverse place - beware generalities

I've read this thread with interest - but a word of caution - in these threads it's very easy to fall into generalising.

For instance, I've seen the statement that Europeans are wary of buying over the internet.

This is in fact true sometimes - and very untrue at others. In the UK, a lot of business is done over the internet, as well as in Scandinavia.

I do appreciate that flags can also be sensitive - but as a tool for identifying languages it is practical and, in my experience, widely accepted.

But I must be careful not to generalise myself. People are individuals as well as country nationals and would not often classify themselves as Europeans.

Interesting the point about Belgians and Flemish - I have seen a lot of evidence of Belgian Flemish speakers viewing Dutch sites. If you want more evidence of this Jorge, ask your Dutch national if they are from north of the rivers or south of the rivers (in the Netherlands) and what the difference is between southern Dutch and Flemish?

And why does the Nederlandse Taalunie - an examination board for Dutch - have offices in Belgium?

I do agree it's right to be local - but beware of seeking a small opinion base because you don't always get the right answer and typically a rather generic one.

As for a European constitution - Jorge you are a rather optimistic....
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Old 02-18-2005   #9
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I was generalizing on purpose, if we try to get specific about every little cultural difference not only between countries but inside countries then it gets too crazy to handle.
I think that avoiding possible sources of trouble is a good rule of thumb. You are right about Holland. The person I know is from Amsterdam. I hear there is a radio show in Holland with the sole purpose of poking fun at Belgians and how they speak dutch. Not that it is not correct, but just different from their way of speaking the language. I understand Belgians are more inclined to visit a Dutch site than the other way around. So a Dutch site may be the way to go.

As for Internet use it is widespread in Europe, specially Email and search but buying is still very low considering the conversion ratio. Some of the points I mention above are true in order to understand why Europeans do not buy as much as Americans over the Internet. Another reason, at least in Spain is how difficult it is to have your bank allow you to use your credit card for Online purchases, this happens in some South American countries as well. Also I would like to know the difference between cash and credit card purchases in the US compared to Europe. I'm sure that also is a factor to consider.

You say not to over simplify, but I think you have to be aware of a few facts before going into a new market in Europe. A recap of what I said:

- Be aware of cultural differences in the use of language and the use of proper nouns.
- Patriotic symbols not related to a business may not be perceived well and Flag use can be sensitive.
- American businesses are well considered in their effectiveness and professionalism, use it to your favor.
- the Internet market is stil growing in Europe and is not as commonplace as in the US, you may need to include a more personalized approach.
- Do not consider Europeans as one, they have big cultural differences and in some cases dislikes.

Do you really think politicians here in Europe are not going to get away with selling us the new constitution? In a few days Spain will be the first country to approve it in a public referendum. Don't get me wrong I did not say I approve of this particular constitution, it leaves too many things behind, but I do think it will be approved.

See guys? two Europeans bickering ;-) Just kidding Andy
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Old 02-18-2005   #10
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Credit Cards?

Jorge - you are still saying 'Europe' and then making broad generalisations which in parts are the direct opposite of the truth.

I know that there is an issue with credit cards in Spain - there is in Germany too - but believe the penetration and use of credit cards in the UK is one of the highest in the world. The average is something like 4 credit cards per person which is absolutely crazy and the rate of growth of online in the UK is greater than in the shops. It's big business and people are spending.

I've seen a statistic somewhere (someone please remind me) which shows that the growth rate of online in Europe exceeds the US in percentage terms.

I would never bicker with a fellow European (especially one I'd like to encourage to join the SMA-EU ) but I find myself correcting perceptions from outsite Europe that conclusions - such as credit card use - can be applied across Europe - and they can't be.

The other one is Pay Per Click - not so popular in Spain I understand? But boy is it rocketing in the UK, Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands and France.

And it's going to spread!
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Old 02-18-2005   #11
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Yes each and every country has its own particular market with its PROs and CONs. Credit card usage as well as many other factors can vary broadly. That is why I specified Spain as the country in Europe that I knew of that had problems using credit cards for online purchases, I was not generalizing. As with everything some things can and must be generalized in Marketing if you want to be able to target a broad market or any market at all. You have to assume certain factors to be true or you will not be able to create a broad reaching message. This does not mean the generalization applies to every citizen in that country. It means that hopefully it is true for my target audience, let that be segmented by income, sex, race, education etc.. I still don't think I made any assertion that is basically not correct, but rather gave some insight to some aspects of the European market. The Internet use in the UK is closer to the US than any other country. The growth is fast because most countries have not reached a peak yet. Once this limit is reached it will grow at a more normal rate. What this tells me is that the growth is large because there is great room for improvement. In Spain that piece of data is used to manipulate public opinion into thinking the Internet use is growing quickly thanks to state funded initiatives. When you have a 2 dollar business and you double that market your business is growing fast but it still sucks. This is true for Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, I'm not saying it is for the UK at all. Still I believe the potential is there for all those countries and the rest of Europe as well, that is why I support the idea of localizing sites for other markets. Even considering the cost, a smart and well budgeted translation and localization project will be rewarded. This is also true because the positive side of many European countries not having a huge Internet market is that there are also fewer companies competing out there.

As for PPC in Europe I prefer to put my efforts into organic results and use PPC as a support, not the main strategy.
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Old 02-18-2005   #12
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Just to clarify, I do not consider Europe as one big market, but as a sum of many markets with many things in common as well as many that are not.
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Old 02-18-2005   #13
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Thanks for the clarification

Jorge - thanks for clafiying your position - don't disagree with anything you've said there - apart from PPC. There are European markets where 'search marketing' is incomplete without a PPC element and I think that's going to be increasingly the case.

But keep on localising - I love it
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Old 02-18-2005   #14
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Which brings up a pet peeve of mine - I work, travel and offer services to the US market for a good portion of my business, my company is incorporated in the US, and most of my friends are American.

But it still annoys me to be called an American. Not because I have a problem with Americans, but because I'm *not* one. I also don't have a problem with women, but I'd prefer not to be referred to as "her"

If you decide to offer to a market, offer to the market. Specifically, don't write a page aimed at Americans and assume it will appeal to Canadians. Don't write a page intended for one European country and just assume that the rest will line up to buy products from it.

Either make the site general enough that nationality isn't particularly an issue, or be VERY specific.

The one problem with this is that, unlike many other countries, Americans really do react well to patriotic branding. And they are a very important market. I hesitate to suggest that an American company avoid an effective marketing tactic for their primary audience just because of other countries preferences. It works both ways.

My suggestion would be to NOT assume that the US site is your generic "english" site. Rather, make your US site your US site. And make a different site for the international English site. Either that, or just have an international english site.

Something else - I have no problem visiting a site I know to be US-centric and seeing that, sure enough, it's US-centric. But a site that purports to be international *should* be international, not US-centric. These are 2 different things.

I use the US here because it's the most obvious example to me in my daily work, but the same applies to other countries, as well. I've visited sites based in England and barely understood half the words and phrases in it. I had to actually visit England in order to start understanding some of the slang and local idioms. And I still don't understand any reference to any sporting event.

Which also applies to Americans - leave the baseball and other sports analogies off the site - the rest of the world may not understand idioms like "hitting a home run" "getting to first base" "it's the bottom of the ninth" and so forth.

It's charming if I know it's an English site catering to an English audience. At that point, I'm a "tourist" and accept this as the norm. but If I'm on this site because it's being touted as an international brand/company, then I don't want localized English - I want international English.

The same applies to french, spanish, chinese, etc. The language reflects the culture, and the culture reflects the language. If you are trying to promote a culture neutral website, you need to use culture neutral language.

Likewise, if you seek to offer a culture specific site, then you should use culture specific language and design.

Decide. International or localized.

Don't assume your local site is international just because it's on the web and accessible internationally. There are significant benifits to offering a localized site to visitors, but it comes at the cost of actually doing your homework.

One thing I like to suggest is that you hire (or subcontract) an SEO, writer or designer from the area you are designing for, and listen carefully to them. Even if you have a talented and capable team of your own, I recommend you bring in an expert on the local area while developing the localized site. Language isn't good enough - you need someone familiar with the culture, as well.

Of course, I'm probably biased because my undergraduate degree was in cultural anthropology, but it's my opinion nonetheless

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Last edited by mcanerin : 02-18-2005 at 02:26 PM.
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Old 02-19-2005   #15
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While agree that many people would look to outsource copywriting I think with some solid research and an intelligent approach it can be done effectively inhouse.

The main requirement is intelligence... both as mental capability and thorough background (research) of your audience.
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Old 02-22-2005   #16
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approaching the European market

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jorge
Just to clarify, I do not consider Europe as one big market, but as a sum of many markets with many things in common as well as many that are not.

Speaking of Europe as "a sum of many markets with many things in common" and likewise, many unique, here's an interesting article I read a while back that I dug out after following the discussion. its not about SEO, but its still relevant.
Think Global, Act European
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Old 02-22-2005   #17
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A good article and very relevant to the discussion.
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Old 02-22-2005   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarZ
Speaking of Europe as "a sum of many markets with many things in common" and likewise, many unique, here's an interesting article I read a while back that I dug out after following the discussion. its not about SEO, but its still relevant.
Think Global, Act European
Good find and great read.
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Old 03-01-2005   #19
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Quote:
Either make the site general enough that nationality isn't particularly an issue, or be VERY specific.
That's true and it's easier. For my point a view you've got a few differents market in Europe.
- North countries well connected to the Web and good buyers with english sites (Norway, Sweden, Netherland, UK, Denmark)
- Mid countries well connected to the Web and medium buyers for english sites (France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Austria, Italia, Greece)
- Mid countries well connected to the Web and good buyers for french sites
(France, Belgium, Switzerland)
- Countries who prefers having their own langage site (except french & english) to be good buyers
(Spain, Germany, Portugal, Italia)

My2C from Quebec
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Old 03-07-2005   #20
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I have not had time to come to the boards in a while, but this is such a great thread ...

I am in the process of doing a Masters in international commerce. In this course, there is a week just to go through some of the basic cultural differences that you can come up againsnt.

Some examples.

Do not make an american wait (he will consider it an insult since his time is valuable)
To a Latino time has different conotations, as many a long wait in the reception can prove.
If an Indian tells you that you can call him anytime, he really means it.
The japanese nod there head as the listen, it does not mean yes, it means simple that they are listening.
In france the work place is highly structured, adn the bose has lots of space.
In an arab country , the boss will often be found in the middle of a caotic small, none impressive office.


I have lots of material on this stuff. I can post it if people are interest ?

saludos

Patrick
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