Is Europe a Thing? What Content Strategists Need to Know

By the time you read this, the results of the U.K.'s general election will be hot off the press. In recent years, the U.K.'s traditional three-party political system has been shaken up by the emergence of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) whose single-issue campaign-driven by concerns about immigration and bureaucracy-aims to secure the U.K.'s withdrawal from the European Union (EU). UKIP's success has, in turn, driven the U.K.'s three main political parties to reformulate their responses to what is usually just called "Europe."

But the concept of "Europe" is so frequently bandied about that it bears closer scrutiny. In an age when companies and brands are promoting themselves globally, it's a significant issue. Is there such a thing as "Europe?"

Of course, European countries are united by many ?cultural norms and practices. Star soccer players from around the world are just as likely to play for London's Chelsea as they are for Spain's Real Madrid. Pop music is remarkably homogeneous: Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" reached No. 1 in every major European market. And there are some surprising juxtapositions: The British TV audience is addicted to gloomy Scandinavian crime dramas, while the cozy British whodunit show Midsomer Murders is Denmark's biggest TV hit.

At the same time, there are clear, practical distinctions that challenge cross-European campaigns. Most obviously, the EU has 23 working languages, and the picture is further complicated by multi-language nations, such as Switzerland.

Content that works in one national market will not necessarily have the same impact in a different country. Your content strategy needs to take that into account, incorporating the appropriate language skills either in-house or via external support. Your CMS will also need to be able to handle the task of efficiently delivering content to customers in their local language.

Despite the existence of the euro, even within the EU, there are currently 11 currencies in operation. And there are more nuanced distinctions that need to be taken into account. Preferred payment methods vary from country to country: Credit card use is relatively low in Germany, where more than 80% of transactions are made in cash (compared to 56% in France, 52% in the Netherlands, and 46% in the U.S.).

In a recent survey of marketing and ecommerce professionals, 21% of European respondents say that customer experience offers the most exciting opportunities for 2015, ahead of content marketing, mobile, personalization, and Big Data. This increased emphasis on customer experience further complicates the picture for cross-European campaigns, since customer experience initiatives must focus on every customer touchpoint in the quest to generate loyalty and stimulate repeat sales. For many companies, doing it well requires a considerable shake-up of organizational culture as every department and individual refocuses on the customer.

Social media adds to the customer experience challenge. In the U.K. in 2014, an estimated 400,000 complaints were sent to railway companies via Twitter. British actor, comedian, and writer David Schneider has a perspective to add here. He runs That Lot, a social media content company. In a BBC Radio discussion earlier this year, Schneider explored ways in which companies can use social media to engage with the public and to seek out and resolve complaints in an engaging and humorous way.

Done right, brand banter-which Schneider dubbed "branter"-can turn a sticky situation into a positive. However, it requires a new set of customer service skills, so that customer service teams are empowered to deal quickly with issues and have clear boundaries and guidelines

This sort of strategy can work well in the U.K., which is known for its irreverent and quirky humor. It may not translate so effectively into different cultural or linguistic settings. So while it's fair to say that Europe is unified by many shared values and behaviors, it's also worth remembering that to be successful, a Europe-spanning content strategy must be nuanced and adjusted for local conditions.   

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