The Atlantic divide: Are the world’s thought leaders coming together or drifting apart?

James Watson

A content strategy often starts with a set of assumptions about culture, not least around which readers the campaign is targeting.

European marketers planning a first foray into the US face a market that, on the surface, is intimately familiar, owing to America’s global cultural reach. However, the relationship is more complex than it might seem. The same is true of American marketers seeking to make sense of Europe’s varied marketplaces, overlapping language groups and cultural variations.

Marketing stereotypes dictate that Americans are more forthcoming and direct in manner, whereas their British and European counterparts are more circumspect (although, currently, Brexit is doing its best to dispel that notion in the UK).

But what differences do we observe when looking at content-oriented thought leadership campaigns from both sides of the pond? And what’s the overall direction of travel?

White-paper whitewash?

The first distinction is perhaps that of intent. EU lawmakers gave an early form of thought leadership – the white paper – the purpose of “launching a debate with the public [and] stakeholders”. The term has since been repurposed by marketers the world over, but, in Europe, the original intention of addressing broader business issues and stimulating debate still largely applies. Work with Capgemini, Barclays, Siemens and other European brands often puts a strong emphasis on the wider idea, with a separate conversation about product taking place elsewhere.

But in working with our US clients – companies like Cognizant, State Street, Workday and Oracle – we often see a far greater emphasis on specific product or service sets, which more explicitly connect insight with commercial opportunities.

Of course, there are exceptions, the most prominent being American consulting firm McKinsey, which remains true to its origins as a propagator of ideas and wider opinion. Nevertheless, it stands apart as a US business that is bucking the market trend.

Show me the money: revenue, reputation and relationships

A second difference that can be observed lies in the differing ways in which American and European marketers measure success. Across the US, our clients – especially the Silicon Valley tech firms – place far greater emphasis is placed on tracking revenue metrics.

Given that the spotlight more and more often shines on products and services in the US tech space, this makes sense; it is often easier to attribute revenue-oriented metrics, such as MQLs or meetings generated, to thought leadership. Indeed, FT Longitude’s annual research (below) into the state of thought leadership highlights that over a third of US-based brands rank revenue generation as their primary focus for thought leadership, well above the 25% noted in the UK.

In contrast, Europe’s marketers are often more interested in tracking brand and reputational movement, monitoring how successful their thought leadership campaigns have been in positioning their company at the centre of emerging ideas and issues. Although brand recognition is perhaps the most challenging metric for marketers, it is still a surprise that it doesn’t rank more highly on the US marketers’ to-do list.

Relationship building is another popular focus in Europe, but less so in the US. This highlights an interesting gap in the market. Our research (below) reveals that US campaigns would benefit greatly from activation through in-person channels, which was by far the most highly voted-for means of consuming content for US executives, highlighting an appetite for more in this format.

Homogeneous or just humungous?

In the area of the content activation, the differences between the two regions fall into sharper relief.

In the B2B world, language discussions in US content marketing are limited to the use of American English. Meanwhile, those overseeing content campaigns in Europe face a market made up of 24 languages. As a result, European-focused teams tend to prioritise a few key languages. This usually boils down to serving the three core economic hubs: the UK, Germany and France. As a result, the rest of the continent has to make do with repurposed content without any level of localisation.

For an American marketer, this is akin to launching a pan-US campaign solely in California, New York and Texas. For nuanced issues, such as healthcare reform, this can backfire without careful localisation.

Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that US-targeted thought leadership campaigns can scale more easily than in Europe. A further example of why this is the case may be seen in the rise of data privacy and regulation as a far greater consideration for marketers today. The implementation of the EU’s GDPR demands a far greater focus on regulatory compliance for local European marketers. With US tech companies now calling for similar rules in the US, this will be an interesting area to watch to see if a convergence or divergence of approach becomes the order of the day, and whether the US’ ostensibly greater homogeneity allows a more generalised approach.

A final word on Europe

There is perhaps one further European stereotype to explore, which is that of the UK being the early adopter, and thus leader in European terms, when it comes to thought leadership-focused marketing. Evidence of London’s popularity in the segment can be seen in both the supply chain and on the demand side. Far more multinational companies locate their marketing hubs in London, rather than Paris or Frankfurt. And relevant agencies and suppliers, including FT Longitude, tend to follow suit.

Nevertheless, interest from continental Europe is rising fast. Companies such as Credit Suisse, Siemens, The Adecco Group and Capgemini have become increasingly sophisticated originators of relevant research and content. With brands investing more heavily in content than ever before, all eyes will be on what will happen on 29th March 2019, when the UK formally moves outside of the EU’s boundaries.

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About the author: James Watson

James oversees project delivery and all the processes involved. In this role, he helps manage and coordinate the research, editorial and project management teams in order to deliver high quality thought leadership campaigns.

As an editor, he has over 15 years of experience in both business journalism and research. Some of his specialist areas of coverage include IT and technology, urban issues, energy and sustainability. Prior to co-founding FT Longitude, James spent five years at the Economist Group in the UK. Earlier, he worked in both South Africa and Singapore, reporting on the dot com boom (and bust). He is now based in Zurich, Switzerland.

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