How to Market to Americans
How to Market to Americans: Advice from a US business and marketing expert
Despite the similarities in language and culture between the UK and USA, each year many UK companies make the foray into the US market but soon return home empty handed. Simply paying attention to the fundamental cultural and structural differences between the two nations can save large amounts of time and money.
One way to help you define your best route to US markets is by first defining your own objectives for such a significant undertaking. These might be objectives for profit levels, types of contract, human resource levels and calibre of your degree of control over the US operation, among others.
Your opportunities as a British professional and business are many, with the advantage that Americans hold the quality of British goods and services in very high regard. Ways to make sure you stay ahead and further your success in the States include:
- Use your website and SEO techniques to help US customers and suppliers contact you easily, without the associated costs of trans-Atlantic phone charges. Know that Americans turn first to your website for information about your organisation.
- Offer local product or service support and information.
- Focus on the history or story behind your brand, company, product and/or service to attract target customers.
- Utilise the heritage and perception in the US of Britain as a world leader in highly-designed/engineered products, services, luxury goods and intellectual property (film, TV, music, leisure concepts).
- Help your US business partners better understand their own EU markets.
If you’re wondering how to start making the most of your American commercial opportunities, consider the following:
1. Geography - Focus is everything.
There are six time zones across the 50 States, with very large distances between the country’s major cities, which means it is critical to plan your meetings with great care. With Los Angeles and New York separated by a 5-hour flight, and traffic within cities increasingly an issue for frustrated commuters, it is not unusual for meetings to be held virtually. Of the 327 million inhabitants, the 5 most populous states in 2018 – California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania – account for 37% of the total. Thus, being focused is the name of the game. It helps to know that California is the size of the French economy, while Texas’ is the size of Brazil. At a city level, San Francisco, Oakland and Hayward in California are collectively about the equivalent size of the Belgian economy.
2. Language – Say what you mean and mean what you say.
While George Bernard Shaw observed the US and UK as “two nations divided by a common language,” this plays out when the subtleties of the high-context British English language are lost on the “what you hear is what you get” American perception. The US version has evolved over the last three centuries to be a functional tool that can absorb the millions of immigrants who arrived without its knowledge, needing to perform on-the-job quickly to successfully build the country. Assuming common British words are in the language will land you in the deep end, including fortnight, bespoke and turnover.
3. Culture – eats strategy for breakfast.
The clock is king
Be on time for meetings. Respect that Americans need to maintain a schedule. Deadlines are serious. Meet delivery and completion times or risk losing business.
You look wonderful, darling
Packaging is important for people, products and presentations. Neatness and attention to details are important. Are your shoes polished? The distinction between ‘looking wonderful’ and ’business appropriate attire’ is often unclear. Avoid wearing casual clothes to a company with formal dress. Do as the Americans - before you go, simply ask: “What’s the dress code today?”
Hi there, glad to meet you, what’s the bottom line?
Be prepared to quickly provide specific information about your products including pricing. Arrange your material, your story, and facts in simple formats. Can you distil your presentation into a one page Executive Summary?
Business before pleasure
Be willing to do business first, build the relationship second. Americans develop relationships through doing business. If they don’t take time to get to know you, remember no insult is intended – they just are keeping to a schedule.
Make it my way
Americans want choices, to have their opinions recognised. Be sure to involve people in a decision. Provide choices in your product so consumers believe you recognise their needs.
Guides are good
Americans use outside advisers as a regular part of their business lives. If lawyers or consultants are included in meetings, do not be offended or anxious. They routinely act as advisors to be sure that issues are addressed to avoid future problems.
Plan, plan, plan
Don’t be surprised when you’re asked to describe your market entry plan, your training plan, or your plan to increase revenue or where you plan to go on vacation. The assumption is always that you will have a plan, because without one, you might not reach your goals.
Do it now!
Even with the emphasis on planning described above, Americans still may make decisions seemingly on impulse. In their rush to ‘get things done’ they generally try to decide quickly and worry about the consequences later.
So remember, to succeed with Americans requires you to have a plan they can be part of, be ready to do deals their way, and get things done quickly.
4. Top tips – know before you go.
So how have UK companies like yours achieved success in the United States?
Carefully. Because of the massive size of US markets, successful companies tend to do their homework well in advance in order to avoid blunders and embarrassment. Similarly, successful UK companies take care in choosing their marketing partners abroad, assessing their business philosophies, gracefulness, reputations and deftness in managing the market.
Methodically. By carving up this vast geographic market in order to target (and thus manage) a series of smaller ones, or segments, many small and medium-sized companies coming into the US can focus on using their resources to best effect. It’s much easier to digest in smaller bites than one large one.
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