Marketing a product in the US the right way

We spoke to Paul Snape, principal of Great British Marketing, a specialist UK-US marketing and business development agency, about how businesses are leveraging the British brand in the US.

What sectors or types of British goods are particularly popular with American audiences?

Right now, after the Olympics, the royal wedding and with the popularity of British music and TV shows such as Downton Abbey, there is a massive resurgence of the British brand kudos in the US – especially in consumer goods like clothing, luxury foods, cars and some household products.  

Why does the Made in Britain brand give them an edge and where is it less applicable? 

The UK is seen overseas, especially in certain markets, as highly creative and with high quality standards. We aren’t particularly known for mass production excellence, and so low volume, highly manufactured or bespoke products gain most from our British badging. This obviously gives any product where design is a key differentiator and where quality and dependability are important. It’s a real advantage provided firms know how far to push the heritage.  

What can SMEs do to take advantage of these trends when targeting the US?

Remember that Americans do passionately support their own brands until they see a difference in quality or value from overseas. Remember also that being British won’t ever be more valuable than being the best in a market and working in partnership with local experts, especially in sales, distribution and marketing, is key in a very diverse, geographically huge and socially very varied territory.  

UKTI teams in the consulates across the states are a great place to start; they are an under-utilised, and usually very well connected, resource that can often cost little or nothing to deploy to help you in the US. 

What brands would you highlight that are doing a great job of leveraging that brand?

In recent years it has often been luxury clothing and car brands that have made the most of their “Britishness” across the pond. Barbour, Karen Millen, MINI, Burberry, Clarks, Topshop, Hunter, Boden, Pringle, Jack Wills, Bentley and Rolls Royce are among the big successes, all on quality and exclusivity. 

Jaguar Land Rover, which has blended the use of British actors and celebrities in both PR around product development and high profile blockbuster advertising around the “above and beyond” strapline, has nailed it.  

There are also examples of firms making great inroads without throwing millions at advertising. Take Yorkshire Tea, for example. Leveraging the product’s popularity with expatriates and celebs, and strategically taking sampling and social media initiatives across the Atlantic, has seen an amazing impact and even resulted in the product being featured on blockbuster series Homeland.  

What do UK companies need to keep in mind when thinking about advertising their product in the US?

There is a huge range of media in the US and the style of advertising varies dramatically there compared to the UK. The rules differ and whereas here in the UK we tend to push product benefits, qualities and values, the US market is much more used to seeing direct comparison of products and services against competitors.  

That could mean your products, when they are successful, star in other brands’ commercials and have their flaws or performance highlighted. Even the language differences can create significant issues and potentially scupper communications campaigns unless they are localised comprehensively. 

The distances between cities, time differences coast to coast, and the wide variety of state and federal laws make distribution and retail, as well as advertising, an altogether more complex process and it shouldn’t be assumed that it can all be orchestrated from here.  

What about meeting people and promoting goods or services in person?

Although it is difficult to generalise, we find that often people are more open to meet and discuss propositions in the US [than the UK], however, the lead time between an initial meeting and signing a deal can be longer than here than in the UK.  

Americans like to know their customers and suppliers and often socialise, and you will find them much more forward in sharing views on politics, religion and other aspects of life.  There are big differences regionally regarding the way people do business too, just as we in Europe have massive cultural variances between say Scotland and Greece, meeting styles and business etiquette is just as varied across the states.  

As well as a perception of high intelligence and culture, we Brits can have a reputation for being direct and getting down to business right away and that can jar with the Americans, especially those in the more relaxed south and west coast. If you know people from the local market, pick their brains and listen to advice, if you have a distributor or agent, an ad agency or accountant, ask their view.  

Are there issues inherent in not being based in the US that SMEs need to be aware of?

There are certain sectors, such as logistics, construction and other trades, where local unions have huge sway and being a wholly UK owned business can make it effectively impossible to compete, but these are rare.  

There are two main issues to consider, neither insurmountable, but both very important.  Firstly, patriotism. If a product is made in the US it does have an advantage over similar quality and value products – the country is unashamedly patriotic, especially when it comes to mass market, lower price point consumer products. It is where quality, innovation, advanced manufacturing or design are important, that the British brand can add value and eclipse the home advantage.  

Secondly, the Americans are great at customer service and they expect our levels to meet their own high standards. This can be tough when we consider the East Coast is waking up when we have lunch, and the West Coast is having breakfast when we are ending our day at home. Partner with a US service provider or jump in feet first to support your customers with a US-based customer service desk – or the UK advantage will quickly become the opposite.

What about cost? How easy is it to compete with Made in Britain brands compared to locally-produced alternatives?

It isn’t always easy to compete on price due to transport costs, tariffs and raw material availability, and that has historically meant highly manufactured or value-added products and services tend to travel better to the states. 

That may be about to change somewhat as the much vaunted Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership comes closer to becoming reality in regular EU-US treaty talks.  Effectively flattening tariffs and legislative inequalities, it could be about to open the US to many manufacturers that were previously priced out of the continent by import duties.  

Make sure you understand the potential impact its introduction – possibly as early as 2016 for some elements – could have on your products and get ready to react to take advantage of change ahead of your competitors.

Read more on Made in Britain:

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It’s great that UK firms are increasingly looking overseas and raising their aspirations right now, especially to the US which is still the biggest global market that speaks our language, or almost does. The challenges are great, but the potential rewards are greater still and, with the right local partners in the US, anything is possible, especially with a British brand to leverage.

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