Author : Molokini
More and more, we're coming across businesses looking to Germany as an attractive prospect. The economy is solidly growing in Europe and Germans are expanding into the digital sphere. But when it comes to successfully gaining a foothold in the German market, cultural considerations are of utmost import.
As in most western countries, the internet is usually the first port of call for Germans looking to find out more about a business, their products and their services. The way you choose to present a business, products and services online can have a huge impact on whether or not you are well-received or completely ignored in the DACH (Germany- D, Austria - A, Switzerland - CH) regions.
Here we've compiled a list of some of the most important aspects to plan for when planning a digital marketing strategy for a Germanic audience.
BRAND STRATEGY & DESIGN
When you think of some of the top German brands worldwide (Volkswagen, Adidas, E.ON, Deutsche Bank and Audi) it's easy to see that a minimalistic logo and simple colour palette that clearly conveys the business and what it represents, are very important in Germany.
In the UK, symbols, numbers and colours seldom have any superstitious connotations, and the few we do have are not really taken very seriously, but this is not true for Germans. Cultures that are more immersed in tradition and custom will often carry on superstitions tied to things as basic as a hand gesture, colours, shapes, animals, and numbers. So before you start marketing yourself in Germanic nations, double-check that you are not unwittingly making any faux pas with your choice of colour palette or symbolism. For example, if your design is purple and you're planning to target the heavily Catholic city of Munich, Bavaria, you might want to come up with another colour scheme for this demographic, as violet hues represent mourning, crucifixion and death in Catholicism.
Bottom line: Stick to clean, simple designs, avoid any numbers that could be deemed 'unlucky' and when it comes to colours, take note of the hues top German brands are using. If your own palette falls into the same shades as existing German enterprises, you're on the right track.
WEB DEVELOPMENT AND USER INTERFACE
Most Germans do speak English, especially the younger generations. In fact, it's very rare to come across a German who is NOT proficient in English to some degree - but, not surprisingly, they prefer to read and communicate in their own language.
With this in mind, setting up your website in a bilingual format is essential if you don't want to alienate your German audience, so don't skimp on the translations. Even if the copy is grammatically correct, cultural differences and unexpected connotations can create road blocks. Saving money on translation in the short term can be tempting, but can cost in the long run.
You will also need to remember to make allowances for the likelihood of some very long words for the German version of your website. In the German language, when two (plus) nouns meet they become one. Washing machine becomes ' die Waschmaschine,' and it can even get as overwhelming as this: ' Handschuhschneeballwerfer' (hand+shoe+snowball+thrower) - or a person who wears gloves to throw snowballs. Our internal guideline when designing components (such as dialog boxes) on a German website, is to leave room for labels to grow by at least 50%.
In terms of design, Germans prefer a simplistic layout that looks clean and provides direct information that is easy to find, so don't overwhelm with distracting content such as videos or animations. Your German website should be very simple to navigate, as more complex motifs are likely to alienate a German user.
Keep in mind as well, that Germans value security above all. So when it comes to entering their personal data and payment details on a website, they will be hyper-vigilant. Before they part with any personal data or money, they will need reassurance from other reputable sources about your product or service. As such, it's well worth having your company assessed by accrediting bodies, such as the widely accepted seal of approval from the TÜV. Following a successful audit, you will be given a quality stamp, which can be placed prominently onsite, to reassure Germans you are an ethical organisation.
And if you're planning to host an online shop, don't think that accepting PayPal, Visa and Mastercard will be enough to encourage online purchases. Debit cards in Germany (GiroKarte or EC-Karte) are not to be confused with credit cards, and if you don't accept them on your website, you will lose business, as debt-shy Germans are very reluctant to use credit cards. It's also worth offering users the option to pay by 'Elektronisches Lastschriftverfahren' (direct debit) - as this is a common payment of choice.
Lastly, you'll be face with the difficult decision regarding domain and/or URL structure strategy. To find out more about your options and how this all works, read this useful guide from Search Engine Land or stay tuned to our blog for a separate article scheduled soon.
Bottom line: Hire a professional, native German-speaking translator for your website and remember that text expansion is inevitable, so have this in the back of your mind when designing the website. In terms of design and user journey, stick to simplistic, straightforward formats and navigation and remember to get approval from relevant accrediting bodies and research the most common payment methods you should be accepting, if you're planning to sell online in Germany.
As with their website navigation, Germans prefer their language to be direct and to the point; so don't sugar coat anything or beat around the bush. Whether you are writing website content, a blog or a social media update, just say it like it is.
Additionally, facts, figures and expert opinions are essential. It's all very well and good saying you're number one in the UK, but if you haven't got evidence to support this claim, it will get you nowhere. Germans are generally very pragmatic, so it's no use trying to sway with words alone; they will need statistics, case studies, awards and detailed evidence to support why you are a better choice than the competition.
If you're hoping to reach a mobile audience (during the morning / evening commute for example), bear in mind that Germans are frugal by nature and streaming videos or image-led content requires a lot of data to load; so opt for less weighty formats in which to present your products and services.
It's also worth noting that DACH regions are still lagging behind in terms of digitalisation and traditional media (print) is still widely used, so don't rely on your social media channels and website alone to generate brand awareness. If you want to have a more profound impact you will have to include traditional PR into your marketing budget. Germans have an incredible variety of publications on offer, with hundreds of different newspapers and magazines to choose from. The hitch however, is that not all of them are particularly receptive to foreign companies who fall short of the 'Fortune 500' mark. Due to this, getting good press coverage in Germany is no easy (or inexpensive) feat. In order to appear in German media, both on and offline, you must be willing and able to pay significantly more than you would in the UK.
Bottom Line: Be direct in your language, stick to the facts and support any claims with detailed evidence. Also, remember to use lighter formats in which to present your brand story online so you're not hogging unnecessary bandwidth for mobile users and be ready to set aside a significant budget for traditional PR; you will need it.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION
When it comes to keyword strategy, directly translating from English into German doesn't work. As with all international marketing campaigns, localising SEO tags and descriptions is essential. English-speakers might prefer to search for a more generic term like 'network tester,' but a German would be more specific in their search, typing ' Tester für passives Netzwerk' (tester for passive network) into Google instead.
On a more technical side, make sure that you are using hreflang attributes (a tag which tells the search engine which language you are using on a specific page) to ensure that content is not duplicated. Without using this attribute correctly, your pages will lose credence in the search rankings and you will struggle to get a healthy level of organic web traffic. Hreflang should be used on all pages that have a language variation. Canonical link elements (a tool for showing search engines which version of a URL is the dominant one, to avoid duplicate content issues ) could also be used to avoid duplications, but should not be used simultaneously with hreflang, as Google recommends not using rel="canonical" across country or language versions of your site.
Bottom Line: Localisation is key. When translating your web pages into German, the user’s online experience must be culturally correct and relevant. Also, do not neglect the importance of the hreflang tags in your regional SEO strategy.
The use of social media in business is on the rise in Germany, but be careful which channels you choose for your social media campaigns. Look into the demographics and usage levels for each social network to plan an effective campaign. At the time of writing this article, roughly half of organisations in Germany are reported to use social media for marketing purposes and even more are planning to do so in future.
The most common platforms are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Xing, LinkedIn and Google+. It's worth noting that Xing is a more widely accepted professional networking channel than Linkedin and Google+ has a surprisingly high user-base in Germany, but overall, Facebook is still reigning supreme. Twitter can be a bit iffy, so unless your research shows your key demographic is committed to this network, it might not be worth too much of your time or effort.
As with website content and the overall content strategy, ensure that all your social media content is going through a quality translation service and is aimed at the end-user. German's will not be interested in directly translated, English-centric news, holidays and events; so make sure you tailor your content to the local demographic and concentrate on creating updates which are DACH specific.
Bottom Line: In general, focus Xing over LinkedIn for professional purposes and consider being more active on Google+ overall. If you do nothing else on social media though, make sure you have an active Facebook account and tailor all your posts to the German market.
If your next stop is Germany and you would like more advice or assistance putting together a solid, localised, marketing strategy, get in touch with the experts at Molokini Marketing to set up an initial consultation.
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