US vs. France: Speak Different Languages in More Ways than One
Tips for helping founders communicate their brand content to their customers in both markets.
Creating engaging content in a foreign language is one thing as a content creator, especially when you are not native to that language. But, recreating content in your own language, whilst trying to engage with a market culture different to its original, is another. This can be particularly challenging when you are creating content for cultures that speak and relate to their customer base, almost like opposites. For clarity, I am speaking about creating content from French, into English, to be appealing and comprehensible to markets that reach beyond the Municipality of France and other French States’ borders, particularly to the US. The challenge has little to do with translating French into English; but to translate what would be interesting to a French audience, into what would be interesting to an American one. What I learned are some hard and fast rules that may help founders, entrepreneurs, and content creators who are either French or American create their brand content that would appeal to either, or, and both.
How to Refer to Your Customers
The US is very informal when referring to their customer base. There is no differentiation between the formal vs. informal way of speaking to someone; it just isn’t a part of the English language. Of course there are always prefixes one can use, but when referring to your customers, it is unlikely you will refer to them by “Mr.” or “Ms.”, especially in a startup environment. Plus, when you are speaking to your customer, you are speaking to them in a relatable way to ensure they feel comfortable with you and your brand. In the US, you want to connect with your customers, befriend them, get to know them. It is hard to do that when your brand refers to its customer base using prefixes that may create a bit of distance between your customers and your brand. You may end up sounding less friendly, and more anonymous “salesy”. Also, as an aside, prefixes are generally hard to maintain in this more inclusive world we live in, with people who neither refer to themselves as a mister or a missus.
In French there is a difference between the formal “vous” vs. informal “tu”. Both refer to “you”; however, in France, you would refer to your customers more formally. This isn’t seen as being distant with your customer base, but being more polite.
It’s About the Words You Use and How You Use Them
In the US, the way in which you speak to your customers is pretty straight to the point and short. You do not tend to communicate your brand story and/or write your brand content like you would if you were writing a novel. You want to hook your customer base with who are, what you can do to solve your customers’ problems, and let them know how they can stay engaged with your brand. Of course, in the US, you want your customers to feel like you are positive, upbeat, excited to sell to them, and exciting to buy from. The language you use is always inviting, and generally optimistic. When communicating your brand, you can invoke an emotional connection with your customers; but your connection must go beyond that. You can tell your story; but also tell them how you are going to solve their problem.
In France, if you spoke like that to a French audience, your content would:
- Not make much sense, given in French you would have to use more words and create longer sentences than in English; and,
- You will likely not connect with your customer base.
Let me explain the latter…the French language is artistic and poetic in of itself. Plus the way French is written is more abstract than English. French content must invoke a feeling, emotion, and/or experience within your customer base. Your brand story can be more theatrical and emotional. Your brand story can provide more detail and can be longer; so that it leaves a true impression on your customer. What I noticed from French founders, is that their brand can speak from their heart directly to the hearts of their customers; cultivating deeper meaning and connection. There is less language around how to solve their customers’ problems; but more how their customer should feel when engaging with their brand.
In addition, it is very important in France to create content that is completely without error and/or mistakes. It invokes trust and reliability in your brand. (Audrey Maffre March 2020)
What is the Bottom Line?
In the US, one cannot leave your customers without a call to action. Once you have your customer based hooked, there needs to be further information as to how your customers can stay engaged with your brand; and/or how they can support your brand. There is simply a stronger focus on convenience and directness when communicating with your customer base in the US. Leave them understanding how you can help them, and then reciprocally, how they can help you.
In France, call to actions resonate a bit less. However, in my experience I see this changing. Particularly, with early stage startup founders who have a younger culture, and have likely been influenced by other markets. I see them including call to actions in English, whilst maintaining the rest of their content in French. As previously mentioned, there are differences in the way English and French are written. Therefore, it would be harder to write a call to action in French that would resonate in the same way an English one could; because it would be longer, more poetic, and would likely be less “punchy”.