European businesses expanding across the Atlantic to seize the massive US market is not news to the startup world. A variety of factors such as the size of the market play into this — and the US is also considered almost 4x more startup-friendly than the UK, according to StartupBlink.
“Let’s be honest, there’s a lot more customers and a lot more money in the US if you’re looking for an English-speaking market,” says Matt Lerner, founder of SYSTM, a platform that offers startup growth programmes, and former VC.
But launching a product and communicating its value to the US market can turn out to be harder than it looks. So what do startups need to know in launching — and marketing — a product or service stateside?
1/ Avoid assumptions; account for nuance
Isabelle Guis, CMO and CEO for North America at Brevo, a SaaS solution for relationship marketing, says that what worked for you in one country may not work in another. “You should not be reusing your old playbooks: you should look at each country in a different way, and if you make approximations or wrong assumptions [about a country or culture], it could be very detrimental.”
She added that thinking of the US as a monolith is the wrong way to go about marketing in the country as, culturally, each state is different from the other.
So if you base your team in one location, you realise you lose the time to talk to the other side of the country
“A Texan and a Californian are very different — and industry in Texas and industry in California are very different. So you probably won’t be as efficient if you look at them as one country, even if they speak the same language. For example, the time zones are an important factor to consider. So if you base your team in one location, you realise you lose the time to talk to the other side of the country.”
Lerner, however, says that the approach isn’t all that different from Europe to the US. “People [in the UK] don’t take themselves seriously; like they're kind of cheeky and self-deprecating. You don’t see a lot of that in America, but I think it will actually play well. American companies take themselves a little too seriously and it looks kind of transparent.”
He adds that though there’s that difference in messaging, British voiceovers and British actors all work well in the US too. “So in terms of creative choices, I’d actually start by using a lot of the same creative choices — but making sure that you change the language because Americans have different words for things.”
2/ Hire local talent — and generalists
Guis says that it’s crucial to hire local talent to create marketing content that resonates better with the local audience — to have sales teams that work across all the time zones.
Startups and scaleups should make sure they have found product-market fit before hiring a whole team in the US, says Lerner.
Once you’ve figured out your playbook, then you bring in specialists to help run it and scale
For him, companies that approach the new market by just “picking up the phone and calling American clients” will be the winners as the cost is way lower than for those who “try to open a US office, poach a US VP of sales and spend all this money to get their feet on the ground” before they validate the market.
“Once they have a target market validated, and a good product fit, okay, now let’s talk about an organisation to do sales and service in the US.”
He says that while startups are still figuring out what works in terms of sales and marketing strategy, founders must be heavily involved, and there’s a lot of experimentation — so you don’t need to hire specialists with years of industry experience.
“Once you figure out your playbook, put out content marketing, get a social following and get leads — once you’ve got a particular growth motion, then you hire experienced people who are really good at building brand campaigns, can experiment and optimise and get more followers. So once you’ve figured out your playbook, then you bring in specialists to help run it and scale.”
3/ Start early; speak to everyone
“The earlier you invest, the better,” says Guis. “Even if you’re growing in Europe and the US is a small market for you, it’s still worth investing in SEO and in advertisements because you’ll see the return two years from now — and it’s cheaper to do it early than trying to do it at a larger scale, three years later.”
She adds that companies should try different campaigns and double down on the ones that work, because you don’t want to scale and invest in the wrong campaign and end up losing a large amount of money. “In terms of go-to-market, creating campaigns specific to the market, starting small and reiterating until you can scale and invest, even if you’re not ready, is always good because you learn — and it’s a huge market so you cannot address it in one campaign.”
Lerner says this is where a customer relationship management (CRM) tool comes in handy as it can help understand your target audience in a new market. “There’s 500m people, but maybe only half a million could potentially be your customers. That’s why you want to get out there with content and emails.
“For example, on social media, we do search engine optimization, and then we wait to see who’s going after it. When we see that engagement, that repeat engagement, through lead scoring on Brevo, we know who to follow up with, and where to have our sales teams spend their time.”
4/ Don’t shy away from GenAI
Tech advancements such as GenAI also present opportunities for marketing.
You can have faster iterations and find patterns of engagement throughout the consumer journey
“I’m very excited about AI,” says Guis, adding that it can help marketing find patterns in consumer activity and other data. “With Brevo, AI helps with segmentation and content creation of email title or body, as well as engaging with each customer at the optimum time of the day based on past success. You can have faster iterations and find patterns of engagement throughout the consumer journey.”
She says it could also help figure out the different marketing strategies required while scaling overseas. “In Europe, people use WhatsApp a lot more, whereas in the US, they're strong on SMS — so all of this will help actually personalise and create more engaging campaigns with AI.”
Lerner says that if you’re a marketer and you’re not finding ways to play with AI tools every day, you’re missing out.
“Chat GPT and Midjourney create content that’s like an eight out of ten for both copy and design. It’s not amazing — the best content on Twitter or LinkedIn is still mostly human-generated. So we’ll see. But what it means is there’s no excuse for paying a human to do anything that’s less than an eight out of ten — nothing needs to be bad anymore. So that could be a cost-saving measure.”