Entering the US Market: How to Localize for Americans
You want to expand your business to additional domains and broaden your horizons. You want to unleash your product or service for a new target market but also be unleashed into unexplored terrain. Why not dive into one of the most commercially-fertile, linguistically-varied, technologically-centered markets on the planet?
Localizing is always challenging, and entering the US market—such a sizable and diverse one—can seem all the more daunting. But, with clever market research, sound investments, and a solid plan, it is far from insurmountable and will be well worth the while.
Some vital factors to consider before entering the US market are:
- What it means to successfully globalize,
- Who Americans are and how they speak,
- How marketing and workplace realities have changed,
- The small business world in the US.
Two Tales of Entering the US Market
Once you understand the importance of localization, i.e. translating not just words but cultures, you will be prepared to globalize your business. Approaching any new locale must use extensive market research, careful planning, and a decided attempt to understand the people. Aside from considering the obvious factors like population size, language(s) spoken, and other sociocultural factors, it is advantageous to research even further the lives of your target demographic, including current consumer tastes and job security, as we see in the two examples below. Both of these international companies brought their services to the United States, one successfully and the other not as much so…
Exemplary Tale: Nestlé
Switzerland-based, 155-year-old Nestlé has been in the States since the early 1900s. For one, the company opened up US-based factories early on. More importantly, when times were tough for Americans, Nestlé introduced worksites in areas of the country that were in desperate need of economic aid.
While part of Nestlé’s success in the US has to do with its array of products (i.e., wide-ranging and highly popular goods such as chocolate, instant coffee, iced tea, and even infant formula), what’s important here is that the company’s leaders paid special attention to US needs.
Cautionary Tale: Carrefour
The French retailer known for its “hypermarkets” (essentially, a supermarket, department store, and more all under one roof) attempted entering the US market in the late-1980s and mid-1990s. Whereas Nestlé owes part of its success to its product expansion, Carrefour’s aim of combining an extensive collection of products under one roof proved detrimental; Americans weren’t accustomed to such a huge selection of offerings and services all in one location.
Other important factors played into Carrefour’s collapse in the States—namely, its competition with the monolithic Walmart and the time-consuming nature of globalizing for retailers—but its failure to cater to US shopping habits certainly carries heavy influence.
What Americans Want, Need, and Expect
Because of the distinctive blend of cultural personality, language demographics, and shifting economic climate, entering the US market means a promising, if not challenging journey.
Americans Appreciate Fast and Easy
It’s safe to say that the inhabitants of the land of drive-thru restaurants and 24/7 stores are accustomed to speedy and straightforward. It is critical, therefore, that you hit the ground running—both with your market entry strategy as well as imparting the specific message you want—and that you’re making your localized product or service readily available.
SEO Is Increasingly Important
Search engines have already solidified themselves in our lives; at the literal touch of a button, anyone can gain instant access to a vast world of information and communication. It’s no exaggeration to say that people expect—and perhaps even rely on—immediate and simple answers. And nowhere is this truer than in the US.
Naturally, this means that a positive first impression is imperative. Your business’s very first communication when entering the US market must be salient, engaging, and clear-cut, otherwise, you risk losing the interest and respect of potential (or even current) clients.
‘The Land of the Free’ ... Access to Technology
The United States has been the birthplace of some of the most game-changing technological revolutions. Americans are raised with technology and vice versa; they seldom even need content to be translated, particularly English-speaking Americans, because the source is already in their native language. In other words, if your multilingual content in a way that seems natural and genuine, your US audience will be able to detect it right away.
The good news is that the American taste for technology and innovation offers you more opportunities than ever to interact with them. A localized website, a mobile app, promotional videos, presentations, blogs, and social media accounts are just some of the ways you can easily get your product or service across to your US prospects. Plus, more options for reaching your American target market means more possibilities for connecting with them in a fruitful way.
Myth: The United States Is ‘English-Only’
English is the language—native or acquired—spoken by the overwhelming majority of Americans. And, while there have been attempts in the past to suppress the use of non-English languages, the reasoning for America’s moniker, ‘the melting pot,’ still stands...
English Is the Majority, but There Is No ‘Official’ Language
The idea of being a multilingual nation was present even in the United States’ inception when its founders intentionally didn’t declare an official language. This has led to a varied linguistic tapestry, with ever more additions.
Americans Speak Hundreds of Languages in the Home
According to a recent WorldAtlas report, over 350 tongues aside from English are spoken by those in the US, the most common of which are Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and French. Even in foreign households where English is spoken, families often report speaking English “less than very well.”
Spanish is the second most common after English, with an estimated 42 million speakers (representing about 13% of the total population) and even within this language, there are distinctive traits. Regional variations from Mexico, Central America, and even US ‘Spanglish’ all represent unique vocabulary and syntax. Imagine the potential cost of ignoring such nuances!
A company that not only understands but caters to the different linguistic hues of their American customer base by using an effective localization strategy is a company that can take confident, successful steps into the US market.
The New Norm of Professional Landscapes
It’s no secret that the shape of the business terrain has morphed since the growing introduction of remote working capabilities, and global health and economic conditions have been known to help steer the home-to-office transition. What this all means is that there is less in-person interaction in the workplace and everyone, especially tech-savvy Americans, depends more on virtual communication.
How This Affects Sales and Marketing
CSA Research (Common Sense Advisory) studies show that one of the fundamental components that businesses’ have in their plans for the future is to significantly increase their digital marketing, which only makes sense given the shift away from person-to-person sales. So a central localization foundation is ideal for helping you build a strong website, email campaigns, and online advertisements.
Another pillar reported in business plans is to further globalize. Expanding to new locales and attracting new clientele can help compensate for revenue loss in home markets if any. The scope of your expansion may vary depending on the languages you want to incorporate—especially for a country as diverse as the US—and can change over time, so a scalable solution like Phrase and, of course, a strongly localized approach, make a huge difference in your market entry.
One perk to the less personal/more digital sales approach is that small businesses can now more easily compete with bigger ones; without the need for substantial budgets to attend conferences or hold meetings abroad, small businesses are on a more level footing with their larger colleagues.
How This Affects the Workplace
There has been a marked rise in the increase of remote workers, and this is particularly true for the tech-filled US. In fact, the United States had a jumpstart on this wave. You must appreciate the fact that Americans are already in the habit of virtually exchanging information and services. Therefore, if you want to have an impact on the average American consumer, especially those speaking a foreign language, you must distribute content or products that are completely intuitive to access and understand.
The US Is a Breeding Ground For Small Business
As of yet, there is no clear consensus on how ‘small business’ should be defined. Some argue that it’s the number of employees or physical locations, while others say it’s how much profit is generated or the percentage of total sales that the business contributes to its sector. But what is clear is that whatever your definition may be, the US is the hub.
One of the special aspects of small businesses in the United States, in particular, is the amount of minority-owned businesses (companies owned by women, military veterans, Hispanics, African Americans, as well as other racial/cultural identities). Of course, not all of these businesses have a non-English base, but the ones that do sincerely appreciate collaboration with anyone who is willing to help them address their unique demographic.
Despite the many huge conglomerates that call the US home, people in the States tend to surround their small businesses with a loyal, tight-knit community. And if you want to become a part of that community you have to, pardon the pun, speak their language.
Another benefit to joining forces with a small business in the United States is that you are lending a hand to a company that has likely been overlooked or excluded at least once by its larger counterparts, possibly because of a language divide. Helping your customers help their customers not only presents you with more opportunities in the future but fosters that sense of community.
In times of economic distress, not only are small companies more likely to be ignored, but they have a higher risk of failing altogether, and this goes doubly so for minority-owned businesses. It’s a harsh reality, but it also brings opportunities. If you take the time to really learn how to identify with the community and honor the fallen business by putting an honest effort into localizing for this target market, you can successfully—and respectfully—fill the void.
So, will you be a Nestlé or a Carrefour?
Ultimately, your success or failure when entering the US market depends on the care, attention, and know-how you dedicate to the task. It has everything to do with localizing for the United States’ specific needs, appreciating its ever-changing professional and technological climate, and seizing opportunities with US small businesses.
Last updated on September 22, 2023.