One of the shortcomings of a product manager is to assume that markets which are geographically close are also culturally and socially similar.
This is often the case for Germany, which, although situated comfortably in the centre of Europe, is in several ways quite different to the countries which surround it. I’d like to share with you some valuable learnings I have acquired over the past year by launching a couple of products in the German market.
Keep risk to a minimum
The Germans are not particularly well-known for their tendency to take risks. They like to be well-informed before making decisions.
This behaviour is evident in many aspects of business: from investment culture to legal issues such as data protection. And it’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked by product teams. Whatever industry you’re working in, think hard about trust elements when designing for a German audience. Things like official partner logos, certified stamps of approval (TÜV is a major one in Germany) and customer testimonials or endorsements all give conservative German consumers more confidence in unknown products and services. Aggressive advertising or sales pitches should be avoided – a better sales strategy for new entrants would be to go for honest, trustworthy PR.
Choose your connections wisely
Talking about trust leads us to the issue of networking. Not unlike many of its European counterparts, Germany values links to industry associations, political institutions (for example, working directly with, or being endorsed by the European Commission) and local business networks.
It may strengthen your position in the German market to have a strong partnership or affiliation with an established player. However, make sure you can “walk the walk” and are able to demonstrate how you genuinely contribute to these organizations! Examples could include attending industry events, providing white papers or other content, or participating in panel discussions.
Localisation is key
Despite the widespread assumption that all Germans understand English, this is not the case, especially if your target market is in the upper age groups. It is claimed that over 60% of the German population speak English, but this definitely doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t invest effort into localising your product.
Just like most non-English natives, the Germans are still more comfortable getting information in their native tongue, so a German-language website, blog and social media accounts will add value to your strategy.
Don’t compromise on quality
Do not underestimate the importance of quality for German businesses and consumers! In buying decisions, it often trumps all other factors including price.
Just take a look at some consumer research conducted by Google – of the 5 countries analysed, Germany has the lowest average number of apps installed per smartphone, yet it has the highest average number of paid apps.
Germans tend not to be afraid to pay for things, as long as they are worth paying for. As quality ranks so high in their books, when launching a new brand or product in Germany you’d do well to put simple and fast communication channels in place which allow for conversation, questions and complaints. You’ll find that German people will rarely hesitate to state their opinions, both positive and negative, in public places like app stores or online forums.
Remember: despite its relative conservatism, Germany is highly competitive and more and more open to new ideas and experiences. Although not an easy country to win over, when mastered, the rewards can be very high. Products and services which have clear benefits, offer value for money and are of high quality are likely to succeed in Europe’s largest consumer market.
Editors Note: There’s definitely a hunger for learning about Product Management in Germany. We’re pleased to announce a new ProductTank Munich meetup, alongside our growing ProductTank Berlin and ProductTank Hamburg events. Hope to see you at our next event!