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  • Writer's pictureVincent Stöber

German Zeitgeist – Episode 1: German Culture


While Germany is still considered Denmark’s favourite trading partner, a successful expansion to this market with its 82 million consumers requires that you embrace the often invisible differences on a cultural level.

This series will shine a light on the current status of key topics for Danish businesses in Germany. We have gathered some of our most important first-hand insights as native Germans living in Denmark.

Mentality

Looking at Germany through the lens of a Danish business, the mentality of your average German customer audience can be best described as more conservative, old-school and a bit more mistrustful than you are used to from Denmark or the Nordics.

In many cases it will require you to provide more information, proof, facts or details about your product and your company than you are used to from your previous market entries.

Germans like to be right (and sometimes even like to prove you wrong). Also, the typical German consumer likes to make well-informed purchasing decisions rather than being an impulse buyer. Convincing them is all about building up a solid basis that makes them feel informed, secure and being in good hands when doing business with your company.

Language is another key component to keep in mind. Most Germans will not be comfortable with you addressing them in another language than German. While some Germans will perceive you as less trustworthy when they realise you are a business from abroad, many won’t even understand your message as English skills of many Germans are not at all close to Danish levels – the older your target group, the worse it gets.

Hierarchy

Compared to Danish company culture, you will see that hierarchy structures in German companies are a lot more visible and perceivable. In German businesses, the hierarchical levels do not only determine who is responsible for what but also imply how you have to address a person on a certain level in the company’s hierarchy. How much official and perceived hierarchical differences there are is also highly dependent on the industry you are dealing with. – these points also tie into the aspect of formality levels later on in the article.

Bearing hierarchical differences in mind is especially important when you as a Danish company are dealing with German business customers. When looking for business partners or B2B customers in Germany, the strict hierarchy structures make it important to reach out to the correct hierarchy level for your requests, offerings or proposals. Otherwise, might get lost in the organisation or not be taken seriously. And, of course, the bigger the German company you are approaching, the more relevant this aspect becomes.

Formality

When doing German business, finding the right level of formality can be one of the trickiest things to do. However, it is also one of the most important things when addressing your audience. This counts for both B2B and B2C contexts.

One of the main parameters to figure out is the question of “Sie” or “Du”. This means, whether you should address your audience by their first name or last name. Your choice here also implies how formal your tone of communication has to be. It has a strong influence on how your communication to the German audience is framed from the very start.

For this parameter, there is no golden rule. It is heavily depending on your industry, your target audience and the image you want to create about your brand. Nowadays, both versions (Sie & Du) are still fashionable in Germany, however, there is a trend towards the more informal “Du”, especially with young, digital companies. But there are still many industries and niches where using “Du” would be considered a no-go.

Attitude

German consumers are a lot more conservative in their purchasing behaviour than it is the case in Scandinavia. While this slowly starts to change with the younger generations at the moment, it is still very much the case with German audiences around 35 years-old and above.

You should consider this more conservative attitude when looking at the payment methods you offer to your customers, which personal information you want them to provide and how digitally-based your product or service is.

In many cases, the conservative attitude of German customers represents a huge invisible obstacle for you to achieve a sale when you have not adjusted your approach accordingly. This might include measures like offering more old-school payment methods, explaining why you need to collect their phone numbers or email addresses and what you will do with their data. It makes good sense to not only provide the legally required minimum on explanation and transparency here.

Bridging to the next paragraph, it also depends on the geographical area your target audience is located in. Generally, rural areas in Germany tend to be more conservative than urban ones about the points mentioned.

Regional Differences Considering Germany’s geographical size, it is not too surprising that it holds plenty of regional differences in culture. The two most important factors can be categorised as north vs. south differences and rural vs. urban differences. As for the north vs. south differences, it might make sense for you to see the Northern part of Germany as close to Denmark and the most southern part as being close to Austria in terms of mentality and behaviour. It is also important to mention here that most Danish stereotypes about Germany are more related to the South (mainly Bavaria).This entails everything from Oktoberfest to Lederhosen and après-ski. Concerning the rural vs. urban differences, you will usually find a more open, forward-thinking and more international culture in the big cities than in rural areas. Berlin is still considered Germany’s most international, open-minded and most colourful city. If you consider opening an office in Germany, the young and vibrant capital is by now also one of Europe’s best locations for expanding start-ups and scale-ups. With its 9 neighbouring countries and lots of cities located close to international boarders, German regions can be strongly influenced from the neighbouring population. We hope you got good value out of this episode for your German endeavours.

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