“It’s exciting to see that searching for peer advice is a human phenomenon,” says Jacob Salamon, International Marketing Director at Bazaarvoice. Social commerce is a global trend, but people in different countries use social tools differently. I sat down with Jacob to discuss how businesses and consumers in Europe view social.
1. How do people and companies from different European countries differ in their approach to social?
The approach to social across Europe is slightly different country by country. The English, for example, are very engaged in Twitter, and their usage and preferences for user-generated content when shopping are extremely similar to that of US shoppers. The French are passionate about blogging – more so than Americans or anyone else in Europe. Germans are professionally connected via Xing (rather than LinkedIn). And the Dutch prefer Hyves over Facebook.
When it comes to businesses engaging in social, many of them are moving in the same direction, albeit at different speeds and in slightly different ways. Forrester’s Social Technographics profile tool identifies how consumers around the world vary in their behavior and willingness to participate. This is affecting how brands engage with customers and how quickly they can build social strategies that will resonate with shoppers. But businesses worldwide are uncovering that social conversations are a treasure trove for product and service insights. Brands such as QVC-UK, Argos, and Homebase are already using social data to make improvements to their products, and to change the way they segment and market to their customers.
2. Should brands strive to maintain or create a singular social presence across their international operations, or should they develop different voices for different markets?
People want to connect with people that are like them – whether that’s based on interests, location, or preferences. Some brands have done a really good job of segmenting their social data; Dell is a great example. They use local content for each of their global sites, because shoppers are looking for opinions from people who live in a similar part of the world and speak the same language. But other clients choose to aggregate all of their global content onto a single site, and allow customers to filter and sort by location, experience level, gender, Facebook friends, and much more. I personally see a benefit in aggregating content. I am an American that lives in London. When I research products on Apple.com or Amazon, for example, I often read reviews from the US sites, because I’m searching for the literary or technical opinions of fellow Americans.
In terms of an overall social presence, marketers need to understand how their brands are perceived and positioned in each market. One of the principles of international marketing is “global versus local marketing.” Brands like Coca-Cola and Starbucks – where the brand promise is similar worldwide – should strive to form a single social strategy and experience. But for brands that have a distinct identity in each market, unique social strategies need to be developed to fulfill the brand promises in those markets.
3. How are European shoppers using user-generated content to inform purchase decisions?
It’s exciting to see that searching for peer advice is a human phenomenon, which transcends location and culture. Shoppers all over the world are social, and they want to hear what other people think and feel. But there are slight cultural differences in the way shoppers digest or prefer peer feedback. We conducted cross-European research with Forrester in November, and we found that French consumers strongly value aspects of the in-store experience, like speaking to salespeople and product experts. They like to ask specific questions and receive answers before making purchases, and they trust the opinions of experts and store staff more than others in Europe. So we advise our French clients to emulate this in-store experience when approaching social, by incorporating community Q&A facilities and featuring expert editorial content.
German and UK consumers instead focus on product durability, value for money, and functional benefits of products they’re considering. Eighty-six percent of UK shoppers (and 77% of German shoppers) rely on reviews when purchasing online, which mirrors the usage rates we see in the US. Trust in advertising is declining worldwide, and consumers trust one another more than ever before. Europeans are just as hungry for user-generated content as others around the world.
4. What’s your advice to a US-based startup that wants a new international office to reflect the company culture of their US headquarters?
Someone once mentioned to me that you need to have a cultural linchpin to setup a new office, a person fundamentally linked to the core business. Whether that’s someone that has been with the company for a long time, or someone that purely embraces the values of the business, this person needs to see their charter as maintaining the cultural “vine” abroad as an addition to their day-to-day work.
My advice to other US-based businesses looking to expand internationally is to find a strong leader to jump-start activity and operations abroad. This needs to be someone who truly understands both cultures, or is at least curious and invested enough in how both cultures can be bridged. This person should be able to translate and adapt the core values of the business in such a way that gives them unique, local flair. And the single most critical personality trait to look for in this individual is respect. Respect is crucial in so many ways, especially when you’ve got an incredibly diverse workforce of people from many different cultures, as is the case with our London office (with over 15 countries are represented!).
** QVC-UK, Argos, Homebase, and Dell are Bazaarvoice clients.