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When In Germany, Do As The Germans Do

Cultures vary widely, so strict dictionary translations from one language to another don’t usually yield natural text in the target language. Translation from English to German is no exception. German marketing language must be informed by the way the German market uses the terms and expressions.

Although you may not speak German, understanding some differences between German and English marketing language can help you understand the Germans more and reach the German market more effectively.

This guest article by Mila-Theres Wendland, first published by Pagination, explains what you need to know about German marketing language.


Introduction


Being specialized in one marketing language does not mean that you have what it takes to be successful on the international market. What works in one language does not necessarily work in another, the culture and norms of different countries as well as their general way to communicate has a big impact on how different nations market on their websites. English and German are two very important languages and their approach in marketing is, contrary to what many might believe, actually very different. But to optimize multilingual SEO you have to know what the differences are between both of these languages to reach success not only in your native language but also targeting the foreign language.


Resources can be limited on these topics so we took it upon ourselves to add the most important differences about the English and German marketing language in one article. For great SEO you don’t only need to look at the keywords but also the general structure and approach is important. The target in the focus as well as the overall use of English terms that have started to find their way into the German language as well, which also help with SEO. And then of course the general content of structural items like the meta description and title tags, general paragraphs and their headings but even the use of videos and images is different in each country.

Knowing exactly these differences takes a lot of practice and knowledge but it is your best shot at optimizing a website for multilingual SEO and turning visitors into customers.


Translate from English to German


Despite the fact that the English and German languages share the same Germanic roots, the two countries themselves are very different. If you are already putting effort into reaching German customers, you will want to make sure to approach them in a way that is the most natural and appealing to them. Knowing the differences between the American and German messaging approach is the key to success. But what exactly are those differences?


Differences Between the English and German Messaging Approach


If you start by looking at the cultural differences between the two countries, then their language approach will begin to make more sense.

Americans tend to be proud of their rather informal culture. Everyone is called by their first name, and receiving or giving compliments on the street isn’t unusual.


“English has a informal culture, Germany, in contrast, has a formal culture”

Germany, in contrast, has a formal culture. Addressing someone by their first name is only acceptable if you are talking to someone you know well, and casually chatting to someone on the street is relatively unheard of. Germans tend to be organized and punctual, and like to get straight to the point. This reflects in the way they express themselves — they have the concept of addressing someone in a formal manner built right into their language.


While English always uses “you,” German differentiates between “du” (which is the informal way to address someone) and the formal option, “Sie.” Formal speech is generally preferred unless speaking to children, family or friends. In addition to the formal pronoun “Sie,” surnames are used to maintain a professional distance at work, especially when talking to superiors or customers.


There is also a “semi-formal” option of addressing someone — in this case, you would use “Sie,” but instead of using their surname, you would use their first name. This is common among teachers addressing older students to show a certain level of respect toward the young adults. Some companies also choose this level of formality as a middle ground. When in doubt, though, you should always address someone formally. Adhering to these frameworks ensures effective communication in the target language.

One size really does not fit all, though, and research confirms that German B2C companies prefer to use an informal voice and be less personal in general, while B2B companies prefer a formal tone over an informal one.


Choosing what voice to use in Germany really depends on your audience, and figuring that out might not always be easy. Finding the right voice is crucial, because even if you have amazing content, graphics and designs, that won’t matter in the end if your target audience isn’t the one you are looking for, because your communication might seem too informal and not respectful enough.


The two leading German telecommunication companies, for example, Vodafone and Telekom, are in the same industry, and you would think with a similar demographic, but Vodafone chooses to address their customers in an informal manner while Telekom chooses to do the opposite. This might be due to the fact that Telekom used to have a monopoly in Germany and their clientele is a little older than Vodafone’s, while Vodafone is working to reach the younger generations.


In the US, on the other hand, there is only a fine line between formal and informal English, so it is really easy to switch between tones as they don’t have dedicated pronouns or declinations of words, etc. to make phrases sound specifically formal.

The two leading German telecommunication companies, for example, Vodafone and Telekom, are in the same industry, and you would think with a similar demographic, but Vodafone chooses to address their customers in an informal manner while Telekom chooses to do the opposite. This might be due to the fact that Telekom used to have a monopoly in Germany and their clientele is a little older than Vodafone’s, while Vodafone is working to reach the younger generations.


In the US, on the other hand, there is only a fine line between formal and informal English, so it is really easy to switch between tones as they don’t have dedicated pronouns or declinations of words, etc. to make phrases sound specifically formal.




Business or Customer: What Should You Focus On?

Many people might already know that German, compared to English, is a very formal language, which is reflected in German marketing strategies. What they might not know, though, is that each country also has a different approach in terms of what they focus on.


Let’s start by looking at the focus in the United States. What I’ve predominantly found is that American websites lay their focus on the vendor. Not only do they shift their focus toward them, but they also often choose to directly include the word “business” as an overall keyword, like “Grow your business with Salesforce,” rather than addressing why their product or service is great for potential new customers.


“Americans focus on the business, while Germans focus on the customer”

They prefer to directly concentrate on why the software or service they offer would make your company grow and be successful. American websites like to use a lot of adjectives to describe features on their websites, like “help small businesses sell smarter and support faster in a single app.” This language is used to create a feeling and make it sound as incredible as possible, even if that means skipping product features that may be harder to process.


German websites, on the other hand, tend to get straight to the point. They do concentrate on the actual features, and the paragraphs tend to list more of them directly rather than caring about all the beautiful ways you could describe them. The focus in Germany lies on your current or potential customers and also on trusting the company. So instead of addressing you, they will rather name all the great benefits their software or service has for your customers and why you should trust and use that company’s product or service to gain more customers.


In German, less descriptive phrases are used as well, and the focus is on the actual key points. One German website simply states: “Start-ups und kleine Unternehmen” which just translates to “Start-ups and small businesses” — straight to the point, without any additional adjectives, focusing on the key aspects.


As mentioned earlier, on German websites, rather than creating a feeling, they try to build trust, and another example for that can be found on Salesforce. They use the slogan, “Unternehmen vertrauen auf Salesforce” in German, which translates to “Companies trust Salesforce,” The difference between the American slogan (“Grow your business with Salesforce”) and the German slogan might not seem big, but as mentioned earlier, what the company ultimately focuses on in each language is still different.


The US focuses on the growth of the business, while the German website focuses on trust.


Even though English uses more descriptive words in marketing, the paragraphs are still shorter than their German equivalents, which is due in part to the sheer length of german words, as well as how sentences in German are structured. Overall, German texts can actually be up to 20% longer than the English equivalent.


When creating a website in the US, make sure to put an emphasis on the vendor, while if you want to reach a German target audience, you should focus on the advantages for the customers and keep it simple by sticking to the key points.



Most Important Differences in Terms of the Focus


USA Focus

Germany Focus

Focus on vendor

​Focus on regular or potential customers

Growth of business

​Trust

Using language to create a feeling

​Information

Shorter text

Longer text

Header and Paragraphs: Characteristics and Peculiarities

When you finally click on the website, the first thing your eyes will be drawn to will probably be the main heading. As for the paragraphs in general, their headings are rather short and fun in English, while they also tend to add subheadings that are a little longer and actually involve a description.

“Headings are rather short and fun in English”

On the opposite end, a longer descriptive heading is preferred in German, and subheadings are also a rarer occurrence compared to in the US. Germans rather pack a lot of information right into the heading and renounce slogans, etc.


What is very noticeable is that a lot of numbers are used in English too. For example, they might state that they are the “#1” in the world or that with the help of their service, your company could do the same tasks “20x” faster than beforehand. Typically speaking, US websites are overall very bold in what they claim and love to use actual numbers to catch your eye.


German websites either crop out numbers completely or instead use adjectives to describe the same thing, as that seems more professional to their German customers. The German version suddenly omits “20x” completely and #1 turns into “the leading company worldwide.” Different examples also include terms like “24/7” or “1:1 service” changing to “24-hour support” and “individual appointments.”

Another aspect is also that a lot of America-based companies obviously have a lot of services or products that have their own proper name. These names are also often used in German, even though they theoretically are English terms, and they sometimes give additional insight into the product as well.


Adobe, for example, uses “paint with fresco” on the English website. Fresco is one of the many services they offer. On the German website, in contrast, they use “malen auf touch-Geräten” which signifies “painting on touch devices.” Even though it is not necessarily self-explanatory, Adobe expects their US customers to understand but also complies with what was mentioned previously: that a nice-sounding phrase is more important than adding an additional explanation like they do in German.


Call to Action: How Forward Is Too Forward?


In marketing, it’s all about advancing the customer to the next step of the buying phase. A call to action is a great tool to offer the customer quick and efficient help as well as easier navigation. These are often displayed as little buttons, which you can see on basically any website. Some examples are the buttons “contact,” “buy now” or “watch demo.”


In any website in any language, you will find these calls to action, because the goal of all businesses around the globe is to sell their products to make a profit. There is a difference in how prominent they are, though.


On Salesforce, for example, there are two different versions of this pop-up window for the United States. The first version is pretty big and says “Need help?” It has a picture of a sales associate and looks like a chat window.


The second version is a little more toned-down, with an additional picture added to the button: “Let’s Chat.”


In the German version, there is initially no big pop-up chat, but rather a small CTA button that says: “Kontakt.” At first, one might think that this is due to not having a chat function available in Germany, but upon further inspection, eventually, the chat icon does pop up. One just has to stay on the website longer before it will switch to the second option.

Use of Videos and Images: Germany vs. USA


Videos and images are also an important part of marketing, and as in all previous points, here we are also able to find certain differences. Let’s start by looking at the overall disparity in the usage of graphics.


Graphics, images, videos and icons can generally be found more in the United States. German pages, on the other hand, tend to have a fairly minimal design; in fact, they often have a white background instead of a colored one.


There is a contrast in the use of banner images as well. A slide show, for example, is often used in America, while in Germany it would not be. In the US, they static images that fit with the overall idea of having a website that is more interactive and also visibly appealing.


Also, the images themselves tend to be more generic or even boring, while the US counts on colors instead. Where the US would place colorful graphics with numbers and just a short description, Germany wouldn’t place a graphic at all but rather go for a heading and a bulleted list with more data and facts.


One regular problem with website graphics is that a lot of text displayed within images is not translated. So when an image has English text within it, it remains that way on the German site rather than being translated.


Even German-based companies like SAP use English images instead of offering the images in the native language of their customers. Most of the time, this doesn’t seem to be a big problem, as the info in the pictures is not necessary to understand. A problem occurs, though, when things are explained using German words and the stock image shows the English version. This can be very confusing, especially for German natives who are not comfortable enough with English.


Just like images, videos are also less common in the German market. Articles are often provided instead of counting on the more visual approach. And even if a video is offered, a lot of times it is not translated or dubbed. Of course there are logistics involved, but in many cases, not even subtitles are provided.


To be able to find a video on a German website, you might have to search a little longer, as they are often embedded on the site with the article, while in the US they often show you a CTA button that leads to the video instead.


On American websites, there is a more visual approach that fits the theme of a more informal communication, as well as slogans that they like to use for headings, etc. instead of more formal, informative text.


LearnningTree is an educational technology firm where we help people learn languages by making them easier to learn. It is headquartered in New Delhi, India Reach us at Info@learnningtree.com or @learnningtree