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Can Digital Marketing Open European Doors?

For B2B brands, digital has opened up the continent in a way never seen before. Obviously, if an online brand has a website or social presence, it’s already global by default. Even if a UK-based brand sells to UK customers, most businesses will receive enquiries from overseas and quite possibly, even sales. 

To capitalise on European markets, the challenge lies in full targeting and servicing. To take the leap beyond responding to the occasional website enquiry is a big step. Whether a B2B SME or global corporate, all businesses face the same issues when translating the brand and product / service offering to new overseas markets. Should you steamroller the same content, brand image and products across Europe, or tailor to the specific needs of a country? The answer is somewhere in-between. 

Unavoidable business basics

Firstly, a product or service has to be available in the target European countries and supported with the appropriate distribution network / delivery system.  Brands have to be able to manage European customer orders, enquiries, payments and post-sales service. While this is similar to UK operations, some unique questions do arise.

Will shipping be direct from the UK; will costs be too prohibitive? What are the legalities of business in a specific country – for example, laws such as data protection vary greatly from region to region. For product-based B2B businesses, also worth considering are the differences across a range of physical issues - power requirements, size regulations, health and safety, and compatibility with other products. For pricing, a single currency (for now) definitely helps with digital deployment and sales, but varied tax systems can cause pricing issues.

Like any new business venture, access to the market and its business potential can blind strategy. That push into France for explosive sales growth is definitely enticing, but if that happens, can the business support it?

Businesses may view digital channels as a cost-effective promotion method and in some cases, full operation. Even without a need to employ staff locally or invest in infrastructure, it can be a dangerous balancing act. If a business does need local infrastructure, it should always be established first. Brands should never provide a second-rate service in new markets; they should ensure the same (or higher) standard is delivered as in the UK.

The language barrier

What approach should a business take in regards to languages? Should they offer an identical version of the current UK website with different language options, or a new site customised for each country? English might be the internationally accepted language of business, but buyers will definitely appreciate it if a company provides clear messaging in local translations.

Some businesses choose a simple ‘select your country’ drop-down approach – this also works well for UK visitors where English is not their first language. You can make it easy for visitors through the use of Geo-IP, or GPS for mobile, which uses automatically supplied data to pinpoint the visitor’s location. Alternatively,  country-code top-level domains, such as .de for Germany or .fr for France, can be used. 

If looking to replicate a UK site in different languages, brands need to consider the amount of content that will need translation and how this will be achieved – choices include internal staff, external translation companies or integrated translation solutions linked to the website’s content management system (CMS), like Clay Tablet.

Obviously translation costs money so some sites offer a stripped-down version of their main site for non-English visitors, but limited content can make European visitors feel second-class which will not score well in terms of visitor engagement.

Going loco

The success of digital channels ultimately relies on visitor engagement. Web users visit a site because they find its content meets their needs, which encourages them to explore further and indirectly, brings them closer to purchase.  Some translated content will be relevant across a range of European markets, while some more locally-focused content may not work.  Using a content management system to manage a network of sites and to share content appropriate to each language is a powerful business enabler. 

However, generating local content does require local knowledge and insight. A brand might already have employees or partners in European countries so how can they harness this knowledge without digital becoming a disaster?  A multichannel integrated approach makes it simpler to share central resources across sites and a CMS can act as a central repository for content. 

It can also improve management of European content contributors by granting access to country-specific areas, ensuring consistency in layout and enforcing display guidelines which adhere to a brand’s visuals.  Workstreams can also be imposed to ensure contributors and content editors follow specific approval paths to prevent unapproved content being published.

As a B2B brand learns more about its European audience, it can begin to personalise content to specific audience groups based on location, products, interests, life-stage or position in the buying cycle.  Analytics and testing offers crucial insight into visitors for a European audience which should hopefully pay rich dividends by helping them get closer to serving a visitor’s individual needs.