6 pitfalls to avoid when using English marketing content in Europe


With today’s profusion of digital channels, even local, smaller businesses can promote their products anywhere on the globe. Often though, they cannot rely on a budget for localization and are forced to re-use their original English marketing content. In a digitally mature and culturally diverse market like Europe, this is not ideal, with respect to triggering the attention of potential customers. However, by adapting it a little, your English content can become more palatable to a European audience. In my work as an international marketer, I counted six typical, and sometimes amusing, pitfalls that companies should avoid on the English marketing materials they are using in this region:

1)     Sports metaphors (and other idioms): this is my personal favorite and a frequent bias for US companies. OK, sports can be a high emotional driver, but it will help you relate with your audience only if it’s the relevant kind of sports. Dear friends, you surely remember that, in Europe, we’re watching (mainly) football, not baseball. This means that when you use expressions like “home run” or “improve batting average”, we really – really –  have no idea what you’re talking about. The same is true, in general, for all English idioms, as they cannot be translated literally and require an extra effort from the reader. I would recommend not to use them in key sentences.

2)     Getting too friendly: since the dawn of the internet, the written word has generally become less formal and English, having only the “you” and no distinct form of polite personal pronoun, is perfectly suited for a friendlier tone. In some European countries, however, we still tend to see a slightly more formal written communication as a sign of trustworthiness, especially if coming from a traditionally conservative B2B business. I recently received an email from a professional services provider with this subject: “Hey Erica, let’s shake things up!” … Hey, I wasn’t aware we were BFFs!

3)     Overstatements:  try to limit your use of superlatives and exaggerations, even if you really are a leading player in selling ground-breaking innovations. In some cultures, self-professed qualities can cause your communication to backfire. So, if you don’t want to sound like a second-hand car dealer, you should avoid claims like the one I just read on the website of a (very) large corporation: “Supercharge growth with our solutions”. Yeah, right, and I’m Santa Claus.

4)     Abstract words: to avoid misunderstandings, it is better to keep your international, English communication simple and concrete. Very often though, I see professional texts cluttered with abstract concepts, which sound out of context in cultures where the vocabulary of humanities is rather the call of journalism or academia, than that of business. Keep your audience in mind – and your audience may be a close-to-retirement procurement manager of a small spare parts provider in the Italian province who, when reading about your “holistic approach”, may wonder if it has anything to do with his wife’s yoga lessons.

5)     Buzzwords: this is one of the trickiest. Buzzwords, especially in the technology industry, show you talk the talk of innovators. But don’t give it for granted that they resonate in other geographies, too. Let’s take a popular one these days: “insights”. Everyone wants insights, right? On data, customer behavior, sales… except that there is no exact equivalent of “insights” in, for example, no less than French. Every time a French reader will see this word, their brains must make an extra effort to contextualize it within their knowledge framework, and gone is your 8-second attention span opportunity. Instead of plastering your landing pages all over with #trendtopics, help the reader: find the mot juste.

6)     Too much focus on benefits: it is intrinsic to the problem-solving, Anglo-Saxon business culture to focus on the benefits for the customer rather than on the technical features of their products. Especially in geographies with long traditions of industrial manufacturing though, like Germany for example, caution is recommended. There, potential buyers may prefer to assess by themselves if a product is a right fit for their needs. Wasting the precious space before the scroll line on your website to say that your new conferencing tool helps “increase sales and accelerate lead conversion” will only annoy Mr. Chief Engineer, checking his emails after a shop-floor inspection and thinking: “Mann, I’ve got no time to lose, what are you actually selling?”.

Finding the right balance between promoting targeted content and optimizing marketing costs is not an easy one. But if you start tweaking some simple details like the above, your international marketing communications will immediately look more polished. And immune to bloggers’ fun.

What needs to happen to move the customer experience needle from ‘just getting by’ to ‘exceptional’ every time? Read the CMO Review Report: Navigating change in the digital landscape.

Erica Vialardi
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Erica Vialardi

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