Bringing Brands Across the Pond How European brands can succeed in the U.S.

How European brands can succeed in the U.S.

June 29, 2016

This country has a strange relationship with foreign-ness. Our presidential candidates talk about building a wall along our border with Mexico, while at the same time our consumers are paying premium prices for Italian leather, German cars and Swiss chocolates.

For all our talk of buying local and our love of “Made in America,” American consumers are very happy to buy blatantly, proudly foreign goods.

But only when those goods are presented in the right context with the right backstory. Only when those goods come backed by the right brand.

Why Bother?

The U.S. represents an enormous market for European brands. Consumer confidence and spending in the U.S. are on an upswing. Plus, U.S. consumers spend more, sometimes significantly more, per household than anywhere in Europe. And there are over 300 million of us.

But the U.S. is also a competitive, sometimes challenging market. And not everyone succeeds.

Swedish fashion brand H&M opened their first U.S.-based store in 2000, and their five-hundredth U.S.-based store this year. For them, expansion into this market has been an overwhelming success.

Tesco’s bid for the U.S. market didn’t go so well. After opening 150 Fresh & Easy stores, the British grocer’s U.S.-expansion ended in cut-rate liquidation and retreat in 2013.

“Americans may not know much about Formula One or MotoGP, but every American knows that Italy is the land of Ferrari, Gucci, Prada and Pirelli. Italy, in the mind of the American consumer, is a place that produces high fashion, stunning vehicles and a lifestyle worth envying.”

So is the risk worth the reward?

Maybe. Entering a new market is a complex thing. But successful, intelligent marketing and branding can easily mean the difference between success and failure. Here are four tips that will get you on the right track.

1. Leverage Your Country’s Stereotype

If you’re a European brand, there’s a good chance that American consumers already have a perception of the country you come from. You’re selling a mechanical product that originates in Germany? Consumers will already assume it’s well-engineered and well-made. But sometimes, the connection isn’t that obvious.

Several years ago, Dainese/AGV, an Italian manufacturer of motorsports protective gear and helmets, came to our agency looking for help increasing their sales in the U.S. The company was extremely successful in Europe, based largely on their long-time associations with Formula One and sponsorship of MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi.

That’s a marketing strategy that didn’t translate well for U.S. audiences. Mention Valentino Rossi to the average American consumer, and they’re more likely to think of a rare cocktail than Italy’s racing legend.

To U.S.-based consumers, Dainese/AGV’s Italian roots were its biggest asset. Americans may not know much about Formula One or MotoGP, but every American knows that Italy is the land of Ferrari, Gucci, Prada and Pirelli. Italy, in the mind of the American consumer, is a place that produces high fashion, stunning vehicles and a lifestyle worth envying.

So we made that stereotype the basis of Dainese/AGV’s marketing.

We developed and executed a strategy that focused on the fine hand-stitching in Dainese motorcycle leathers, the stunning design and function of AGV’s helmets, and the fact that consumers could get custom-fitted by an honest-to-god Italian tailor for their next set of protective gear.

We helped make Dainese and AGV not just European brands that no one in the U.S. had heard of, but Italian luxury brands that offered style and sophistication. Brands that U.S. consumers aspire to be associated with.

We didn’t invent any new perceptions about Italy, we just connected Dainese and AGV to the perceptions that U.S. consumers already had.

2. Launch & Localize Social Media

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat know no geographic bounds. They give European brands a chance to lay the groundwork for success long before a single CEO, salesperson or marketer sets foot in the U.S.

But it’s not simply enough to tweet to your local audience and hope that consumers in the U.S. will pick up on it. Even though they (often) speak the same language and share many cultural connections, European and American consumers are different. Especially when your brand is new to the country.

When the Netherlands-based watersports manufacturer Jobe launched a push to introduce their stand-up paddleboards to a U.S. audience, they already had a strong social media team in-place in Europe. Still, they brought our agency’s social media team on-board to handle their U.S.-based outreach and promotions for those same accounts. Our local knowledge and cultural understanding allowed us to make their social media outreach far more effective to consumers in this country.

3. Let Consumers Interact with Your Product

The Internet’s great, but for many products, especially products coming to the U.S. for the first time, the Internet isn’t enough. Consumers need to experience your products and your brand in-person.

For H&M, this means spending billions opening retail locations. But that’s not the only way.

Jobe knew that its American consumers would need to experience the company’s paddleboards first-hand to fall in love with them. Retail outlets would be a good start, but most retail outlets aren’t located on a lake or river that would let consumers paddle the goods. So Jobe planned a demo tour, and asked us to help.

We helped to build their demo tour into a multifaceted U.S. Jobe SUP launch that brought together a strong social media aspect, co-sponsored events, PR and much more. For a fraction of the cost of deploying a single retail outlet, Jobe will activate a significant amount of local dealers, get their paddleboards under the feet of hundreds of U.S. consumers and their message on thousands of U.S.-based screens.

4. Find a Local Expert

No-one knows his country, and its consumers, like a local.

I’m proud of my agency, but if you asked us to deploy a marketing campaign in Belgium, we wouldn’t be as effective as a firm working out of Brussels. Similarly, the most capable European agency will be at a disadvantage here.

If you’re bringing a European brand into the U.S., find a U.S.-based marketing partner who you trust. Let them fill in the local knowledge you might lack, and help your European brand reach American consumers effectively.

Take the Plunge

There may be no better time in history to bring a European brand to the U.S. American consumers have money to spend and the willingness to spend it. Logistics are easier than ever, and you have more options to reach U.S. consumers than ever before.

Do it right, and your European brand might become a piece of the next chapter in the American dream.

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