A European Market For Social Media? Does Not Exist

An agency head told me how he was on a call between the European head of marketing for a US brand and that brand’s board of directors. The chairman asked the marketing honcho, “How is the European market?” The marketer answered, “There isn’t one.” Awkward silence. “That is, there is no European market. There is a French market. A German market. A British one. And so on. I can tell you about those.”

In no other sphere of marketing are these national differences magnified more than in social media. Social media is, by its nature, participatory and thus takes on the form, tone, and color of its users. Social media in Germany is German social media. In France, French social media.

Then brands enter the picture. That social media strategy hatched in Dallas or Dublin, with a sum earmarked for translations, will not cut it.

Three reasons cookie-cutter strategies will fail in Europe:

  • Europeans as a broad group are less likely to engage with brands on social media than, say, in the United States or metro Hong Kong.
  • Europeans’ usage differ significantly country to country; Italians usage is not comparable to German usage.
  • Each market boasts strong local players that excel at the intricacies of their market’s social media usage.

Further, despite their desire to make data-driven strategic decisions, European marketers have long been starved of relevant cross-market data to make decisions. Knowing how many Italians use Facebook every day doesn’t tell a marketer very much about how he can use social media on his website to help Italian consumers explore his brand or products.

As a result, standard operating procedures for social media are uncritically rolled out in Europe. And when they fail, the result is chalked up to European exceptionalism (social media “doesn’t work” in Europe). In fact, social media works just fine in European markets; strategies are just off.

Leo Ryan of Social@Ogilvy shared an example with us: “Brands use social in Europe mostly for awareness, and some post-purchase. However, when we look at the impact of reviews, for example, we get their attention. They need to be thinking about functional content, not just aspirational content.” It’s as if marketers have been trying to blaze a trail through the jungle with a soup spoon, instead of a machete, and blame the spoon, the jungle, or both.

Europe’s many markets hold big potential for brands. But our research on local conditions makes it clear that many brands are missing out on that potential and offers tools (including Forrester’s Social Technographics® data) to turn the situation around.

Europe. Vive la difference! 



What seems obvious for us in Europe doesn't have to be overseas, which seems logical. Being half French, half German, I notice the differences between the two markets every day (on multiple levels). That's what makes it fun!

More than obvious

I've often found research to sound obvious; at least, if it's not entirely counterintuitive. The difference between this obvious thing and the obvious things we go around just knowing, is that this obvious thing is backed up by primary research. Primary research that furthermore tells us how and in what ways these markets (or the people in them) behave differently in social media, at least in their purchasing behavior. It's that level of detail that I'm thinking you're suggesting with the multiple levels. The report addresses findings that speak to specific, commercial levels.

Re: Obvious

You're absolutely right, I did not mean to sound like this article wasn't useful - quite the opposite in fact.

*Very Obvious* to anyone who lives in a European country

Pan European marketing does not really exist. Why? Marketing - whether in social media or in another form - is communication. Communication is language. Language is idiom. And Nation. And Culture. That's why British ads don't work in Norway. Or German social media campaigns work in Spain. This 'realization' is really quite insipid and really points out the poster's lack of cultural knowledge (outside of the US). The 'three reasons' mentioned do not in any way recognize the basic functional differences of language and culture between countries in Europe. So we get a reductive ad for a forrester tool instead.

On language and other differences

Earlier in the thread I commented on assumptions.

You may feel that the "realization" of difference country to country in Europe is insipid, but it's a fact that is defied time and again by brands operating here. And one of the predominant errors is that it's simply a question of language, so many campaigns are just translated.

The point of this research is less about the sources of differences (that's probably the work of ethnographers or historians) than their outcome - that is, how people relate to brands (that's work for marketing strategy). So interacting with brands in a *German* way may mean a much lower predisposition to interact with a brand's blog than among populations in Spain or even Austria. These are the kinds of issues I speak of in the blog post, in the report and that come through in the underlying primary research.