Marketing IQ – Germany

Convince English copywriting service

By Bob Cook

The first rule of marketing is understand your customers, take time to join Convince Copywriting as we look at different nations and nationalities from a marketing perspective. In part one of the series we will talk about Germany and the Germans.

Germany has Europe’s largest economy and the fifth largest economy in the world in comparative terms. The business and social culture is very different from the Anglo cultures (UK, USA) and from the Latin cultures (Spain, and South America). It is a culture that focuses on “Ordnung”, which translates as order, system, or organization. This philosophy dominates the German business world more than anywhere else and is felt by many to be the key to Germany’s growth and reputation for quality.

Understanding ordnung is the passport to successfully selling and marketing to German customers. That means that materials must present products and services as fitting into the customer’s systems and product line. There must be a strong focus on logic in the language and patterns used in the marketing materials.

German is the main language , but has distinct regional dialects. 49% of Germans speak English fluently, most others speak some basic English. The second most popular language is French which is spoken by just 3%.

The style of German marketing:
When looking at German B2B material it is common to see long detailed explanations. There is a preference for white papers and technical documents to support sales letters. Direct mail remains an important form of communication, but many business persons still read paper based newspapers and technical journals. Long copy in advertisements provides the opportunity for detailed factual persuasion, and multiple benefits are often presented in the same advertisement. Guerilla marketing and gimmicks to attract attention are looked upon with distrust within the businesses community.

Writing patterns:
Local commercials, business materials and print advertising often include English words and phrases. The high levels of English use is due; to the number of people who speak English, the lack of short equivalent vocabulary in German, and the fact that English is seen as being “cooler”.

Despite the focus on logic it is not unusual for German language marketing material to play with the double meanings of German words. In B2B materials this pattern is used to grab attention rather than be humorous. In both English and German advertising superlatives are not common, instead metaphors or similes are used for emphasis.

The humor commonly found in B2C marketing materials in Germany can seem quirky or strange to other nationalities. This humor tends to make fun of the ridiculousness of everyday situations.

Graphical styles:
Business communication must appear formal and professional at all times. This is done by using minimalist design, very clear structuring and formal colors (white, black, blues, grays). The aesthetic is closer to Scandinavian than to French or Mediterranean. Any attempt at cuteness in business marketing materials will normally be seen as unprofessional.

Popular cultural themes:
Germany has a long history of support for green topics and this remains a major issue for many businesses. Even if your product does not have a green aspect it is important that issues such as disposal are addressed in sales literature.

Many Germans are rightly proud of their country’s reputation for engineering and quality, particularly in the areas of automobiles and printing.
Current business topics include; labor relations, problems with the efficiency of German industries, and of course the worldwide recession (Germany is highly export focused).

Avoid ANY reference to Hitler, history or the Second World War. Politics and world news are also sensitive, with many Germans having strong well informed opinions. At a personal level avoid discussion of income or wealth.

Business relationships:
Expect business relationships to be formal and a little cold at first. It is not unusual to hear business colleagues address each other using formal titles. Low emphasis is placed on the relationship between individuals, the focus being the negotiations. Expect to find a preference for doing things according to the rules, and step by step. It is normal for major project milestones to be celebrated with a big meal and a lot of beer. In general Germans from the South tend to be warmer and less formal, than their more “businesslike” Northern countrymen.

Consultant: Betty Lin who has just returned from a year in Muester, Germany