UK businesses looking to enter the USA market for the first time have a particular set of challenges to navigate. Like any market, there's an analysis that needs to be done to ascertain your target market and strategic approach. Still, perhaps one of the biggest hurdles is forgetting preconceived ideas about this English-speaking nation and truly addressing it as a new market.
Ulka Athalye is a Fractional CMO with expertise in global strategic marketing and business development, including specialist knowledge in the US market. Her insights have been instrumental in helping businesses transition from the UK to the USA, and her advice to business leaders hinges on one key piece of understanding:
"The US consumer has its own unique identity and characteristics. It's a vast and diverse market, more so than in the UK, Europe and even Canada. It's the most heterogeneous, multiracial society and the customer base has diverging needs, incomes and wants as well, so you have to look for distinct subsets of consumers rather than one homogenous base."
America's geographical landscape
It seems strange to consider geography in a digital world, but America's sheer size has implications for its multifaceted audience. The USA is a massive country with lots of different regions, each with its own culture. At university, we had a lecturer who asked us to consider Gene Pitney's song, 24 hours from Tulsa, in which the implication is that he's nearly home.
"Oh I was only 24 hours from Tulsa
Ah only one day away from your arms"
The lecturer (somewhat theatrically) highlighted that if you considered driving for 24-hours at an average speed of around 50mph in any other part of the world, you would think it a very long way indeed. The point is that the perception of space and distance is very different in the USA.
There is a solid urban as well as rural representation, and both markets behave differently. When you think of the US, you need to understand the entire consumer landscape and figure out who your target consumer is. You might find that it's very different to your country of origin.
Communication strategy in the USA
The style of communication is also unique in the USA. Arguably the birthplace of modern consumerism, customers are far more comfortable with the hard sell than in other countries. Knowing this impacts the type of advertising that works and what content and messaging strategy you might have.
While the UK is more subtle, contextual, and emotional, the USA is more direct and linear in how it communicates and how consumers process information. As a rule of thumb, they get to the point straight off the mark. Other markets are much softer in their communications. That said, each region will have its cultural nuances, so everything from messaging to imagery to tone of voice needs to be localised.
Another observation is that many businesses assume that the American consumer likes brands that come from different countries/cultures. There's a perception that what's not made in America denotes heritage. However, trends show a strong preference for US-centric products, which means messaging needs to reinforce a link or relevance to the US whilst still being honest and honourable. It is not to say that products and services from different countries will not be successful, but if you want to enter the market, knowing this helps to devise strategies successfully.
Digital differences in customer behaviour
Online customer behaviour is also different in the USA. It is a very populous nation with very high internet penetration, and it's one of the most social media savvy markets in the world. However, it's a mistake to assume that the way US consumers behave on social media is the same as in other markets.
As a micro illustration, research indicates that total Twitter usage peaks between 10 am and midday in the UK but the evening in the USA. This sounds minor, but it can have enormous implications for the success of lead generation and marketing strategies. The type of content that works is different as well. Again, the USA is more upfront - they tend to say what they mean, where the UK is more subtle. In the UK, social media use tends to be more about connection; it's more about self-expression in the USA. It's also worth remembering that different channels might play different roles in America to your home market. For example, if LinkedIn is an influencing medium in one market, it's likely to be different in the US. Therefore, messaging and content strategy needs to be customised with that in mind.
What do consumers value in the USA?
What this leads to is meeting the wants and needs of consumers. In the USA, consumer values are a little different to other markets. They tend to seek value, purpose and quality, which tends to be true across income categories. This is where many UK businesses can gain traction because purpose and sustainability are an increasingly important part of business in the UK, and many British companies are built on that. This has implications for which products fit the US market, why and how to highlight key factors in your marketing. Interestingly, these values tend to apply in both B2B and B2C arenas.
While there's no single way to approach the US, all of this means that you are wise to consider a localised lead generation strategy to enter the US market. Businesses need to be prepared to go back to the drawing board to embrace this part of the world, stand the best chance of success and minimise costly errors. While doing the research and groundwork might take time, once that foundation has been established, it should present a much easier transition from launch to growth and scaling up in this exciting market.