Marketing in the US vs Marketing in Germany: Key Differences You Have to Know

by Julia Litvin

Note: All findings are generalizations. Check on case-by-case basis what works for your product

The many aspects of marketing translation: A German-American case study1

  1. Marketing copy varies from country to country, not only because of linguistic but also because of cultural differences;

  2. Both US and German cultures are considered to be quite close but often take different marketing approaches;

  3. German writing tends to be more impersonal and formal, more informative, and focus more strongly on product features and text;

  4. American copy tends to be more direct and informal and uses images besides text to convey the message.

Marketing and brand message, a tone of voice:

Germany: product features, neutral tone

USA: product benefits, lighthearted tone 

Addressing the client, level of formality:

Germany: impersonal sentences, formal, aim to inform and not to start a conversation

USA: company presents itself as a friendly “we,” speaking directly to users, a chatty atmosphere 

Colors, images, layout:

Germany: crisp, clean, earnest, technology-focused message

USA: more playful pastel palette, experience, the message of fun

Analysis of Advertising Content: a Cross-Cultural Comparison of American and German Advertisements

TABLE 1

Number of Cues in American and German Advertisements

0-3 cues   

4-6 cues   

7+ cues   

%

%

%

American adv.     

32.0

39,3

28.7

German adv.

30.5

57.9

11,5


German advertisements are more likely to feature some product attributes (e.g. performance, nutrition, safety, other senses than taste, price and value) compared with American advertisements;

TABLE 2

Differences in Cue Usage among American and German Samples

Information Cues

American Sample (%)   

German Sample (%)    

Price-value

18.0

24.0

Quality

37.7

31.7

Performance

38.0

59.9

Components or contents

49.3

32.3

Availability

29.0

10.7

Special offers

11.3

15.3

Taste

28.3

291

Related to other senses 

2.3

36.6

Size

-

2.6

Convenience in payment 

3.3

0.6

Nutrition

5.3

21.0

Packaging 

17.3

4.6

Shape & design

16.7

3.2

Guarantees

0.7

2.6

Safety

1.0

11.2

Independent research

1.3

0.3

Company research

3.0

0.6

Research (no source indication)

9.7

0.3

New ideas

14.0

12.4

Name of the firm

85.7

79.0

Financial information

9.3

7.2

Practicality

38.7

7.2

Varieties of the product

13.3

6.6

Instruction and place  for usage

15.3

0.9

Customer satisfaction/loyalty

41.3

21.6


German advertisements reflect price/value information more frequently than American advertisements;

American advertisements focus on information about components/contents, shape/design, practicality of the product, findings of research and customer satisfaction/loyalty;

TABLE 3

Differences in The Level of Information Cue Based on the Product Category

German adv.

       American adv.   

0-3 cue  

4+ cues  

0-3 cue  

4+ cues  

%

%

%

%

Automobile & Accessories

36.4

63.6

24.4

75.6

Clothing

26.9

73.1

14.0

86.0

Furniture/Durables

20.0

80.0

-

100

Food-bev.

20.4

79.6

43.6

56.4

House cleaning

17.6

82.4

-

100

Media

48.5

51.5

50.0

50.0

Fin. services

44.9

55.1

50.0

50.0

Other services

36.4

63.6

61.5

38.5

Telecomm.&Internet

26.1

73.9

20.0

80.0

Other

75.0

25.0

25.0

75.0

Total

30.7

69.3

30.1

69.9


The number of information cue used in the advertisements of food/beverages is the highest in German sample;

Furniture/durables and house cleaning products advertisements are more informative in American sample;

German advertisements emphasize mostly intangible product attributes while American advertisements tend to focus on tangible and visible aspects of the product.

Culture and German Advertising2

  1. German ads have greater use of information and details;

  2. From the American perspective, the German’s need for abundant information and an extreme amount of details appears to be overdone;

  3. For Americans the German ad can seem cluttered;

  4. Germans would have just the opposite impression of American ads, where the perceived lack of details  might  seem  trivial,  simple-minded,  or  deceptively reticent;

  5. German ads are loaded with detailed information; products are described and analyzed.

Comparing Mobile Ad Effectiveness in the US and Germany3

  1. Tablet and smartphone owners in Germany are more likely than American device owners to make a purchase online via PC after viewing an ad on their tablet or smartphone.

mobile-ad-effectiveness

How American Marketers Can be Successful with a German Audience4

  1. Germans love online services but they are pretty skeptical about foreign shipping addresses and even more so if there are translation mistakes on the website. Make sure you hire a German native speaker; 

  2. Unlike Americans, not all Germans own a credit card. A more popular way to make a payment is a bank transfer;

  3. Germans absolutely love quality products (TÜV certified, for example);

  4. Germans prefer simple and meaningful advertisements, totally focused on the product or service.

Germany - Trade Promotion and Advertising5

  1. Regulation of advertising in Germany is a mix between basic rules and voluntary guidelines developed by the major industry associations;

  2. Many advertising practices that are common in the United States, such as offering premiums, are not allowed in Germany.

B2B Content Marketing in Germany –  Things You Need to Know6

  1. Germany is lagging behind in terms of digitalization;

  2. A lot of companies also block access to social media sites, which impacts your content distribution strategy;

  3. If you expect your target audience to consume content via mobile (e.g. while commuting), keep in mind that the barrier to stream a video or load a lot of pictures is higher because a lot of users will watch out for the amount of data it requires to load;

  4. TV is much more influential than online or social;

  5. German B2B clients are harder to reach online than their American counterparts;

  6. Twitter-presence is common in Anglo-Saxon countries. Not at all in Germany;

  7. Blogs are not a trusted source of information;

  8. Germans are less interested in news-related participation via social media than people in other countries;

  9. Facebook is still the biggest network for news while Twitter attracts media coverage but has struggled to appeal to the wider public;

  10. Highly educated people are significantly less likely to use social media than people with low/no education;

  11. Focus on Facebook and Xing for your social B2B Marketing;

  12. German consumers are extremely concerned about the use of their personal information and how the data is handled;

  13. German people are very pragmatic. Especially in a B2B context, (potential) clients will want to have a proof of concept;

  14. Content marketing will work best if the authors are clearly identified and publish thought-leading content on a regular level;

  15. German B2B deciders will take a close look at the person behind the content;

  16. The Person behind a brand is a huge factor for German B2B deciders;

  17. Focus on building a solid case for your product/service, backed up by data and case-studies;

  18. Emotional messaging won’t work as well as it does in the US.

The Cultural Difference between German and American Customers7

  1. For Americans sugar coating is a way to mitigate and soften criticism as well as a sign of kindness;

  2. Sugar coating is non-existent in Germany. They want to get to the point;

  3. Germans are not used to cold calls as much as Americans. The attitude of the German lead will be more open and positive. With the American lead you have to be very efficient and tell him quickly how he will benefit;

  4. Germans appreciate when you provide convenient customer service. They are very loyal when they see that you go above and beyond;

  5. There is barely anything Germans hate more than not delivering on time.

International E-commerce Chart: How German Online Shoppers Differ from American Consumers8

  1. Germans use online payment services for smaller purchases but for bigger purchases, like a sofa or TV, they prefer to purchase on account;

  2. Because of this added security for customers in the case of purchase on account, there is a considerable risk of returns to retailers;

  3. German customers' willingness to pay by credit card and debit card is lower compared to U.S. consumers because Germans historically have been reluctant to live beyond their means;

  4. There are differences between the U.S. and Germany in what "payment by credit card" even means. In Germany, the bank will cover the outstanding balance on your credit card from your debit account within 30 days, and you will not be able to roll it over to the next month;

  5. Communicate consistently over multiple channels, use a one-to-one approach, take your customers seriously;

  6. Understand German preference for modesty, green issues, and social responsibility;

  7. The German society has a bias to moderate views and low tonality that supports more the 'we' than the 'I';

  8. In Germany, marketers can afford to be less "politically correct" in their humorous messages.

Sources:

1. http://www.nyacommunications.com/translation/the-many-aspects-of-marketing-translation-a-german-american-case-study/

2. http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/gbl/vol8/iss1/7/

3. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2012/comparing-mobile-ad-effectiveness-in-us-uk-germany-and-italy.html

4. http://www.tworiversmarketing.com/blog/blog-entry/2014/11/04/how-american-marketers-can-be-successful-with-a-german-audience/

5. https://www.export.gov/article?id=Germany-Trade-Promotion-and-Advertising

6. https://maelroth.com/2015/07/b2b-content-marketing-in-germany/

7. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cultural-difference-between-german-american-customers-settos

8. https://www.marketingsherpa.com/article/chart/international-ecommerce-chart

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