Any brand seeking global success should carefully consider its content marketing strategy for Germany and the US: two important players in the international business world, with a vast amount of financial power.

These countries are also hugely influential when it comes to language. English is spoken by over 1.2 billion people around the globe, while German is the most widely spoken language in the EU.

But while Germany and the US may seem to have a lot in common, the same content marketing messages won’t have an equal effect in both. To effectively communicate with target audiences in each country, localization is essential.

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5 key differences between content marketing in German and US English

There are several fundamental differences in the way that marketing language is used in Germany and the US. Below we’ll share some tips on how to adapt and localize your messaging—whether it’s for your website, social media or ad campaigns.

The points below have been adapted from this article by Mila-Theres Wendland for Pagination, with added input from one of our trusted freelance linguists in Germany. 

1. Levels of formality

The use of different levels of formality, or linguistic registers, varies greatly between languages. For example, while English only has one word for “you,” German makes important (and sometimes confusing) distinctions between formal and informal speech with du and Sie.

When it comes to website copy and ads, German companies vary in how they address their audiences. B2C brands tend to use a more informal tone than B2B brands, and some may use du while others use Sie. It all depends on the relationship the brand wants to create with its target audience.

German marketing of Coronavirus-related information on BMW's website
Coronavirus-related information on BMW’s German site—notice the use of the formal Sie.
Marketing of Coronavirus-related information on Nike’s German site
Coronavirus-related information on Nike’s German site—notice the use of the informal du.

When translating German marketing materials to English (or vice versa), it’s essential to understand how these markers of formality change the tone of each message. The way you address customers and clients can totally change their perception of your brand—or even alienate them, if you’re not careful.

See also: 5 ways to ensure a quality localization – even if you don’t speak the language

2. Style and focus

Companies in Germany and the United States also differ in terms of their focus. In the article cited above, Wendland observes that many German brands try to build trust by providing detailed information about the specific benefits of their products or services.

American brands, on the other hand, tend to place more focus on “creating a feeling.” They often use descriptive words to evoke a sense of possibility—grow your business, sell smarter, reach new heights—rather than explaining exactly how they’ll help you do this.

This isn’t to say that one approach is better than the other; they’re both viable methods for attracting and convincing customers. You have to keep both of these strategies and styles in mind in order to successfully bridge the gap between the German and American markets.

3. Price vs. quality

According to one of our best freelance writers and translators in Germany, there’s another important difference in the way that German and American brands present their products or services. It has to do with values—both monetary and ideological.

In the US, many brands try to attract customers by promising the lowest price on the market. But in German marketing, quality is always more important than price. The cultural mentality dictates that if something is cheaper, it must not be as good.

As a result, German brands tend to spend much less time promoting discounts, and more time demonstrating the quality of what they’re selling. In other words, it’s not about getting good value “for your money”; it’s about getting good value, period.

See also: Content marketing in Spain vs. the US: 9 key differences

4. Structure and shorthand

It’s vital to organize your website or blog post well—especially for content marketing. But depending on which language you’re writing in, “well-organized” could mean totally different things. It’s easy to find examples of this on German and American websites.

Let’s start with the heading. Wendland says that American websites like to use “short and fun” headings, followed by several descriptive subheadings. But German websites “pack a lot of information right into the heading” rather than relying on catchy slogans and subheadings.

Another interesting difference is how companies use shorthand, and specifically numbers, to sell their services. For example, American brands often use eye-catching claims like “#1” and “24/7.” German brands usually prefer to spell things out: for example, “the leading brand” instead of “#1” and “24-hour support” instead of “24/7.”

Our colleague in Germany adds that companies there tend to prioritize their values and security policies in the structure of their websites. You’re more likely to see an explanation of GDPR compliance or the brand’s history than eye-catching sales numbers or a live chat box.

See also: Top 7 localization tools to optimize all your digital content

5. Calls to action

All marketers know that a good CTA is essential if you want to convert leads into customers. Wendland examined the call-to-action buttons used by German and American companies, and specifically those on the Salesforce website.

She found that Salesforce’s US site has two versions of a CTA to encourage visitors to get in touch with their sales team. The first is a prominent pop-up window that says “Need help?” The second is a smaller button with the phrase “Let’s chat” and a photo of a sales rep.

On the German version of the site, the CTAs are more straightforward and less prominently displayed. There’s a small button that simply says “Contact” (Kontakt) and one with a photo and a literal translation of “Let’s chat,” (Jetzt chatten) which is cut off by the character limit.

Note: Our colleague points out that this could also reflect a priority for more traditional communication channels over online chat, rather than an intentional linguistic choice.

According to Wendland, there are two main takeaways here. First, American companies tend to prefer catchy CTAs in the imperative form (i.e. “Get in touch”) while German companies would rather keep them short and to the point (i.e. “Kontakt”).

Second, it’s vital to carefully localize every last bit of your website. If you rely on automatic translations, you’ll likely end up with text that’s cut off or doesn’t match the appropriate tone and style for your target market (such as “Jetzt chatten”).

See also: 5 ways to ensure a quality localization – even if you don’t speak the language

Localize your US and German marketing content

If you want to market your products or services in both Germany and the United States, you’re going to need a solid strategy for both—and that strategy has to include localization.

It’s not enough to simply run your website through Google Translate and hope for the best. You have to consider aspects including formality, focus, style, structure, shorthand and tone if you want to communicate effectively with a global audience.

This is where transcreation and creative localization come in. By consulting native speakers and local experts, you can ensure that your marketing materials are not only accurate and appropriate, but fully optimized to foster a meaningful connection with your customers.

As a multilingual content agency, VeraContent specializes in this kind of work. We’ve built a global team of translators, writers and marketing experts to help your brand succeed across the world. If you’re looking for English and German localization experts, we can help.

Find out more about what we do and get a custom quote.

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