Germany. The country of Angela Merkel, expensive cars, “Sauerkraut” and, at times, a harsh history. Thanks to Goethe, Beethoven, and Brecht, we have a rich cultural heritage of music, poetry and theatre. Nietzsche, Marx, and Adorno have made us think about everything from god to media to communism, and when we’re not listening to questionable German rap we watch Tatort on Sundays and complain.

Among other things, we have a reputation for being punctual, ruthlessly effective, and slightly neurotic, following rules to a fault. And Germany is also known to be a notoriously difficult market to enter for foreign companies.

In this article, I’m going to let you in on 6 secrets I’ve uncovered through extensive research (and first-hand experience) that you should keep in mind when devising a go-to-market strategy in Germany. And the best thing? These tips apply to any company.

01 The Power of Traditional Media

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Especially when you come from a tech-savvy, progressive country like the UK or the Netherlands, it’s vital you take into account that Germany holds quite a unique position within the Western nations. Germany not only has the largest newspaper market in Europe (and the fifth largest in the whole world), Germans also watched an average of 217 minutes of TV a day in 2017. Internet speeds are also comparatively slow and there’s a pronounced digital divide between urban and rural areas, as well as between young and old. Older people and people in rural areas use the internet significantly less than their younger and/or more urban counterparts. This has to do not only with the physical infrastructure but also the opportunity for knowledge exchange. This means that many, aside from not knowing how the internet works, don’t know why and how it can benefit them. For you, this means two things.

  1. Depending on who the target audience for your product or service is, you need to keep traditional media in mind when devising a marketing strategy. And while not everyone has the budget to produce and place TV and radio commercials, there are plenty of ways to make use of traditional media without spending a fortune. By using PR and sending out well-written press releases, you can generate plenty of buzz around your product or service in newspapers (beware of native advertising, though! It often sparks anger and mistrust). Another type of advertising that works is Out-of-Home (OOH) advertising. This is everything from physical to digital posters, flyers, and banners. Be smart with your placement: Do you work for a company in music? Then purposely let your flyers and posters be placed in music venues, bars, record stores or even rehearsal spaces. That way you meet people where they are. A unique, appealing design is a bonus.
  2. If you don’t have the budget and/or time to work a lot with traditional media there is still an insight here: If you’re advertising online or on social media is underperforming, it’s not necessarily your fault, especially if you’re targeting an older demographic.

02 The Slow Adoption Rates

Let’s play a little game. What year did German Chancellor Angela Merkel say the following sentence: “The internet is still uncharted territory for us all”.

If you guessed sometime in the early 2000s, you would be wrong. She said this sentence in 2013, a mere 7 years ago. And while this is a funny meme for Germans to laugh at on the internet it’s also a strong indicator of just how slow Germans are when it comes to the adoption of new technologies. One reason for this is a cultural one that we’re touching on later – that trust is something that has to be earned. But Germany also has a culture of “no need to fix it if it ain’t broken”. This means that any new technology not only needs to prove it’s useful, it also has to be a real improvement from the status quo, and it has to be trusted by the world’s most suspicious people. Not an easy task.

03 The Hard-Won Nature of Trust

Germany is a very individualistic country – that means that people watch out for their immediate family and friends, but are less focused on community than people in countries like, say, Turkey.

From time to time, Germans can be a tad neurotic. No matter how often you tell them how your product or service will benefit them, or that you mean well, sometimes they don’t want to hear it. They prefer to use the products they always have, do things the way they were always done. Why? Because they know them already.

There are two things Germans hate: having no control over a situation and the unknown. This means that trust comes incredibly slowly and has to be won over time (read on if you want to know more). This also means that Germans tend to be quite loyal to brands and sometimes even products in a specific brand’s portfolio. They resist change and want to hold on to the brands they have spent so much time becoming accustomed to.

For the marketer, this means that a significant amount of effort needs to be invested in understanding, communicating and developing a relationship with the consumer. And once a relationship is built, regular communication and tactics like retention marketing can be used to maintain these relationships.

04 The Need for Value & Product Benefit

As mentioned in the last tip – Germans often don’t see the obvious improvement your product or service will make in their life. Because of this, it’s all the more important that you not only make a point of introducing the benefits your product or service will bring, but also explain the what, why, and how of it.

Known as one of the less emotionally-driven, much more rational countries, Germans love direct, no-BS communication. Of course, Germans also love emotional and aspirational ads, especially ones that show things like success and money, in most product categories, they prefer messaging that is focused on facts and honesty and that doesn’t mess around. Does your brand’s moisturiser contain Vitamin E? Then tell your German consumers right away! And while you’re at it, also explain exactly how it is going to improve their skin. Make sure your claims are 100% correct and verifiable and don’t hesitate to use experts or celebrity endorsements to drive this point home. Germans have respect for rules and hierarchy, which makes experts all the more credible.

05 The Importance of Security

The slow adoption rates of technology I talked about earlier have one dominant cause: Germans are very preoccupied with questions of safety, much more so than their US, or even other European counterparts. This, of course, means the physical safety but increasingly also data privacy on the internet.

The European Union overall has some of the strongest data privacy regulations in the world and, according to experts, will lead the discussion of how to deal with data in the next 10 years. And one country, in particular, has been acting as a sort of catalyst in this development: Germany. While this means great strides towards a world in which Big Tech faces more regulations and scrutiny, it also means that in some technologies, such as AI, Germany significantly lags behind.

What does this mean for you? That depends on whether the product you offer is a product or a service, and whether your product or service depends on the internet, data storage, etc., or if you mainly sell through the internet or retail stores IRL. In all of these cases, it’s important to keep an eye not only on European data privacy laws but also Germany-specific ones. These can sometimes differ slightly. So beware of how you collect and store data, such as personal data and payment details, but also more marketing-related data such as GPS signals or search behaviour.

Lastly: keep in mind that, especially if you work with more recent technologies that people might not be as familiar with yet, or if you deal with more sensitive data (e.g. medical data), people might have concerns. They may voice these concerns in the form of comments, messages, reviews, but more dangerously – they might not say anything and just never buy from you ever again. To prevent this from happening, try to remain one step ahead of them and build trust by being transparent about the security of the customer’s data and their safety.

06 The Love for Efficiency and Performance

For my last tip, I want to focus on two very distinctly German stereotypes: punctuality and efficiency. The Germans build some of the most high-performing cars (and sometimes drive them, too), with Mercedes, Audi, and Porsche, to name only a few. This kind of ‘über-efficiency‘ is known around the world and has prompted many a country to wonder why their economy doesn’t perform like the German one. But everything comes at a cost: German productivity is also associated with an inhuman amount of bureaucracy, some of which can stand in the way of almost anything, from innovation to becoming a gondolier.

When operating in Germany, this is a value that should be kept in mind. In many ways it encapsulates some of the above points: for something to be adopted, especially if the product that is currently being used is ‘good enough’, it has to work impeccably and be a significant improvement. Many consumers in Germany want the company they’re purchasing from to not only have the well-being of the consumer but the whole ecosystem in mind. And they have to be able to trust that their money, data, and personal information is in safe hands.

Download this infographic here.

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