Senior International Digital Marketing Executive
The French online market is ripe with opportunities. With a population of over 65.1 million, of which 68% are active internet users, the ecommerce market in France is currently worth $47,085m and is expected to grow 6.2% each year. It’s a lucrative market for businesses who are looking to grow internationally.
However, there are key differences between France and the UK and bulldozing into the market without understanding these differences is a sure-fire way of setting your expansion up to fail.
Brits often refer to the French as brothers, sisters, neighbours or cousins, so it’s easy to forget just how different the two cultures are.
For example, French people prefer to be referred to in a formal way. Many brands in the UK speak to and address their audience informally but this is disrespectful in France. The language used across all marketing messages in France needs to be adapted to take this into consideration.
Another thing to factor in is differences in national holidays and bank holidays. The holidays celebrated in France, and the days they are celebrated on, differ to that in the UK, so promotional offers and sales will need to be planned separately.
The first mistake many businesses make when expanding internationally is replicating their objectives and KPIs from the UK.
There are two issues with this. The first is that some aspects of digital marketing in the UK are more sophisticated than they are in France. While the French digital industry is becoming more advanced each year, it sometimes falls behind the UK when it comes to the tools, skills, and opportunities available. Campaigns that work in the UK may not work in France, limiting what digital activity you can undertake or the results you can get.
The second issue is that consumers in France do not necessarily replicate those in the UK, so results are unlikely to be the same as what you achieved at a like for like stage in the UK.
Expecting the same growth rate or yearly revenue figures as you achieve in the UK sets your expansion up for unnecessary failure.
The average word in French is 25% longer than its English counterpart, and sentences also tend to be lengthier. This needs to be factored in when writing ad copy and meta data, as the translated content may not fit into the limited characters available.
Another factor to consider when creating ad copy and meta data is whether your call to action (CTA) will be deemed acceptable in France. Strong and persuasive language such as ‘buy now’, which is often used in the UK, creates mistrust in France, with consumers more likely to go for copy using softer CTAs.
For example, rather than ‘buy now’ it would be better to use “Commandez ici”, which, when translated is a much softer CTA of ‘order here’.
Good grammar is important worldwide, but while a typo is unlikely to put a UK consumer off from purchasing from your brand, this is not necessarily the case in France. A spelling or grammatical error can instil brand distrust and send consumers to another site.
On top of this, grammatical rules in France are very particular. Navigating the various accents or the differing punctuation rules can be a minefield for non-native speakers. A small error, such as using the wrong accent, can reduce the trust users put in your brand, making it all the more important to have a mother tongue speaker conduct the keyword research, as well as write the content.
While there are similarities between the UK and France, there are still differences in culture which need to be considered when localising your website.
Duplicating and translating web content is unlikely to tap into the interests of French consumers. Instead, you will need to have a mother tongue digital marketing expert conduct research to find out exactly what your audience in France is searching for and use these insights to create a bespoke content strategy. Everything from the about us, to product descriptions, to informational ranking content, will need to be tailored to what users in France want to know.
You will also need to localise the imagery used on your website. Stock images tend to reflect UK and US culture and may not get buy-in from French consumers as they can be unable to relate. Even product and bespoke lifestyle imagery may need to be retaken to better represent the French market.
The media landscape in France is different than in the UK. For one, there are no tabloids in France meaning the more fun, light-hearted campaigns that work well in the UK do not work well in France, getting no to minimal pick-up.
News stories in France, in general, are more serious and usually need to be backed up by data, interviews and well-known sources before it is considered credible enough to be covered. This needs to be considered when creating a French PR strategy, as it is not enough to simply translate an English campaign.
In France, consumers are more aware of trust signals when it comes to online retailers than people in the UK are. Ensuring you have all the relevant local governing bodies’ approval and that their badges are visible on your site adds a level of credibility that is essential in France.
It’s also important to ensure you use (and display) payment and delivery options that are well known and trusted in France, rather than assuming they are the same as in the UK.
The best way to avoid mistakes when expanding into the French market is working with a mother tongue digital marketing expert who innately understands the linguistics and culture and can appropriately localise your website, content and brand message to best resonate with French consumers.