Doing business "globally" with Americans

The topic of 'how to do business globally, or even transatlantically' is so vast and constantly changing, you could easily fill a library on the subject. But even though it's a topic best approached with formal research and discussion, it comes up informally all the time, with companies constantly asking me for advice as someone who has worked in marketing in both the US and UK. Most of the time the companies that I come across are European companies that want to cut corners and launch a product or service to the US as cheaply as possibly, often making zero investment in the process, other than getting their product on the market there. A one hour conference call talking about America should do it, right? Spending marketing money on ensuring your company looks attractive to Americans is often the last thing invested in, or thought about. Dumb, huh? But I've seen it a dozen times. I'm sure the same exists for US companies wanting to get into Europe, I just meet less of them.

A topic that may be easier to tackle, and hence often the best place to start, is how to get your company's nomenclature up to speed if you are going to "appear American." Plus I'm one of those geeky linguistic types, who likes nothing more than to ponder the etymology of rarely-used words, so this topic interests me greatly.

For instance, someone asked me the other day whether their business should be characterised as 'global' or 'international' - and this got me thinking. It's a very good question. If you are running a business located outside the US, and want to be seen as American-friendly, you have to accept some truths about the country (truths which, I've often found, a lot of people from other countries don't like accepting).

One of these truths is a tendency on the part of Americans to use the word 'international' to mean 'outside America.' Weird, huh? Given that the US is part of this thing called the globe. And with globalisation ruling the roost, we can't really pretend to operate solely on our shores anymore - especially web businesses.

But true it is. Just look at how CNN International is the name of the part of the news organisation that's outside the States.

It is indicative of how a lot of Americans tend to look at the world: "us" and "them." If you don't like thinking about that truth, and working your product around it, you perhaps should look to launch in another country. But you won't, because the huge market opportunity of the US is so compelling, dammit.

So a top tip is, if you want to set up shop in America, and you are running a global business, you probably don't want to call yourself an international business. That just highlights the point about your company which you are desperately trying to sweep under the carpet right now.

Another thing is how professional your website looks. Trust me when I say that I use a lot of websites that don't appear very professional (in an American sense of the word). And they work just great and I love using them. However, to impress a mass market in the US, you have to remember that Americans are exceptionally protective of their privacy and safety. Intrusions on their person or home will be met with a proverbial shotgun. This extends to the look and feel of your website. If your site looks in anyway dodgy, you ain't getting invited in for fried chicken and biscuits, I can assure you. Having Google ads on your homepage is not the route towards looking professional, unless you are Google, that is.

Americans are also exceptionally thorough people, both at home and in the workplace. When they do QA on a product or service, they do QA. Just asking your four best friends to look at your site for glaring errors might work in Europe, but it is nowhere near enough to satisfy the appetite for quality that you will be met with on American soil. Americans are louder than average and more quick to lodge complaints. If they find something wrong with your website, they aren't likely to keep it to themselves.

If you want to see what a professional website looks like to an American, look at the types of online services that Americans gobble up. (E.g., Hulu.com looks a lot more professional in an American sense of the word than PirateBay.org). Just because you are a small startup - the "small guy in a big overbearing market" - a "fighter" - doesn't mean you are going to be held to any different standard than that. Which means that you do have to consider making that investment in 'frilly' things like look and feel, ensuring your language is friendly within the boundaries of the country you are launching it in, and ensuring your entire marketing image fits into a marketplace where your positioning will always, without fail, change the minute you cross the pond.

It's a huge topic that I hope to blog about more. A few starting points to ponder, anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent points! I would also add that an awareness of spelling differences is necessary as far as making a site more professional and American friendly. "globalisation" vs. "globalization" for example. Small details matter to us and we would pick that up in an instant. Good post.