A tribute to an intercultural classic

Whenever I meet new business partners in an India-related context across the globe, I cannot resist asking the question: Please tell me what, from your perspective, seem to be the most frequent challenges while doing business in India? – and a part of me already knows that one of the most enduring topics on the top of the charts list is going to be mentioned: The issue of not knowing when a Yes, in an Indian behavioural cultural context, is a Yes.

What I am going to describe happens to me, as an Indian, as well.

I often find myself, even while I am receiving good news, such as for example “Confirmed”, “Yes, it will be done ASAP/by tomorrow/next week”, “Consider it Done”, or, even more confidently, “Yes!! No problem!!!” initializing a process of trying to work out, among others, the following points:

  • Is this a Yes about the relationship (me), or is it a Yes about the subject (it)?
  • Is the Yes a Yes that will also work tomorrow? Have I provided all the necessary information? Have I made myself properly understood?
  • Is it possible only under special circumstances (for example, a colleague has brought both dinner and a sleeping bag to the workplace), or doable in general? Is what I asking for an exception, or an exemption, without my having realized it?
  • Would it now be a good idea to respond with: ”wow, thanks, that is good news, and what can I do to support you?”
  • Is the one and only person responsible for the “Yes” communicating with me, or is a feedback loop with colleagues and/or superiors required, so that the “Yes” does not only signify an individual´s expression of goodwill? Am I communicating with the person accountable for the end result?
  • Is the Yes an agreement, or is the Yes a commitment?
  • Is it a Yes to the problem that needs to be fixed, or is it a Big Picture Yes about the process?
  • Did I fail to notice that I was actually being told a “Yes, and….”?
    Could the missing “and …” part have provided me with the additional information that the outcome would be a “No”?

When I look at my long distance communication with other Indian counterparts, have I said “Yes” often enough, in a world where a continuous necessity to adapt often seems to be the only constant? Just recently, a conference hotel where I had booked a large group for a team event and made the prerequisite down payment informed me that my booking had been cancelled six weeks prior to the event, because I had neglected to “confirm the reconfirmation”. It would have been really essential to emphasize at periodic intervals, that the Yes is a Yes is a Yes is a… – I guess you got the picture.

sayyesI am told that I often behave in a predictably Indian way whenever I am confronted with a deadline and someone writes that “it would be really nice if you could provide this by…”. I automatically wait for a few days after the deadline before I respond with “I am happy to report that I am in the process of completing the article”. That´s a “Yes” as well, only a bit more on the elastic side. But then, I am also reacting to a request that I could too easily interpret as negotiable.

This only really works if I speculate successfully that the other side, knowing that I am an Indian, has calculated an invisible additional buffer. In the short term, I have gained additional time. In the long term, I have just helped cement a cultural stereotype, which is not really helpful.

Have I covered all the aspects? Probably not. A “Yes” is, and, as it seems, continues to be in many cases, a point of departure rather than a point of arrival.

When I ask around for good practice recommendations, one of the responses is “Prepare for a Plan B if turns out that it wasn´t a Yes after all”, which does not contribute to an atmosphere of eye-level cooperation, predictability and trust.

Some experts would encourage you to “Learn to Love Ambiguity”, or “Minimize your expectations at the beginning of working together, so that you gain room for pleasant surprises”. It´s not a great long term setting, if your time is mostly occupied with interim damage control. Others may encourage you to spend a lot of time ensuring micro-feedback loops, so that you can celebrate micro-targets. For example, you get the “Yes” confirmed as “Yes, it´s still a Yes” by sending the Indian colleague a friendly reminder every 41 minutes or so : In this scenario , I would feel sorry for both you and the Indian colleague, as both of you might eventually be too exhausted to even appreciate a positive outcome.

I personally benefit from understanding that “Yes” can be the beginning, and is not necessarily the end of a process when we start working together. I try my best to make my counterparts aware of their co-ownership towards achieving a joint result, ensuring that my motivations and requirements are well understood in advance. I invite their participation not only for the end result, but also for the steps leading there, such as creating a realistic time line where things are possible not only as exceptions, but as a rule. In this way, we ideally move together from a simple agreement to the task, towards the far more co-responsible commitment to the process. I invest in time getting to know my counterparts and understanding the environment they work out of, in turn letting them understand where my thoughts and requirements are coming from.

It seems that we often have the tendency in India to start with a huge bandwidth of options, such as the ones described earlier, and then progressively shrink it, while our understanding of the person and the process grows.

If this happens to you, you could gain a practiced eye enabling you to recognize what goes into a “Yes” process – making it easier to repeat success stories and cut off non-efficient processes, with greater confidence and rapidity. You establish a functioning communication culture together with your Indian partners, with a good understanding not only of what you said, but also of what you actually meant, and vice versa. You build a good working relationship, the outcome of which will be the “Yes.” As an Indian friend once summed up:

“When my trust grows, my sentences grow shorter”.

After having spent some time together exploring the “Yes”, some of you may ask “and what about the ‘No’”?
Now, that´s another interesting story…


sujata_banerjeeAbout our guest author: Sujata Banerjee has been working in the field of cross-cultural management since 1992. She was born in South Germany, has consistently maintained home bases in Germany and India, and benefited from work experience in both countries. Her main areas are: Intercultural workshops, expatriate and reintegration cycle coachings as well as corporate strategy in internationalization processes.


We are looking forward to dive deeper into this discussion with the “Serviceplan International Roadshow: INDIA INSIGHTS” on Tuesday, November 22nd 2016 at the House of Communication Munich. Are you interested in participating in the event? Please contact the dedicated event team via email. The number of participants is limited.

Download invitation.


Digital is where consumers are watching brands.

Digital India is the big buzzword on everybody’s lips these days but the scale at which digital penetration is about to explode will ring a bell in your mind.

The key to success for any business in India, is to have a strong digital presence these days. Relevant content on mobile which entertains, informs and engages the consumer is definitely a winner for the 4-screen Indian viewer. Indian internet users who are living in metro cities spend about 24 hours on the internet every week. [Daily the Germans spend at least 2:08 hours online. Users who also go online with mobile devices spend 2:43 hours a day (Source: http://www.ard-zdf-onlinestudie.de/). That’s half an hour less than the Indian users.] Women internet users are rising but the average time spend by women is less than men. However, there is a huge demand on content online. Indians are spending 9.9 hours per week watching traditional broadcast TV, parallelly they also browse smartphones, stream video and watch TV on their laptops or smartphones.

Video Content Consumption

Indians are mostly engaging for downloading video. 82% India’s video streaming audience access video content every week. India’s massive smartphone user base an average video streaming time of 7.4 hours per week. This creates a great opportunity for content creators and distributors so there is an enormous potential for content distribution on digital devices.
[Europe is way behind: http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/nielsenglobal/eu/docs/pdf/Nielsen-global-video-on-demand.pdf]

What are Indians watching?

3Music Shows / Music Videos77%
4News/current affairs from local TV networks77%
5News/ current affairs from overseas TV networks70%
6Local drama series69%
8Local sport, available on local TV66%
9Overseas drama series65%
11Overseas sport not easily accessible on TV59%
12Children’s programs32%

Source: Nielsen (2015 VOD)

Research Online – Purchase Offline

Consumers in India are researching for online information on any product they have to purchase. They are reading recommendations, people’s experiences, seeking digital opinions before they make a final purchase on goods/services. Recommendation from social networks or friends is something, which is highly in trend these days; a lot of brands are looking for testimonial based ads with real consumers.

The Smartphone Consumers

The number of smartphone users growing everyday, at a very fast rate. There are 170 million internet enabled smartphones currently in India with about 3 million added month on month for the next one year. There is also a boom in “app” business to woo consumers.


Globally Indian ecommerce market is to grow fastest. Today ecommerce is an indispensable part of every Indian’s life today, with homegrown brands like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Myntra, urbanclap wooing the consumers with different tactics every few weeks while Amazon still going strong to provide the bigger platform amongst all. Today ecommerce is offering all kinds of goods and services at the door step of the consumer. Convenience is the key here across all categories of groceries, beauty salon, taxi, solutions, FMCG etc.
The ecommerce sector has seen unprecedented growth since 2014, almost by 34% compound Annual Growth (CAGR) from US $ 3.8 billion in 2009 to US $ 16.4 billion with a projected growth to hit US $ 100 billion by 2019.
Increase in the online shoppers in India from 20 million in 2013 is to 40 million in 2016.

Factors that foster growth in the current Indian landscape are:

  1. Increasing disposable income across households
  2. Expanding Urban scenario
  3. Small families
  4. Evolving preferences
  5. Ecommerce


We are looking forward to dive deeper into this discussion with the “Serviceplan International Roadshow: INDIA INSIGHTS” on Tuesday, November 22nd 2016 at the House of Communication Munich. Are you interested in participating in the event? Please contact the dedicated event team via email. The number of participants is limited.

Download invitation.


How do I come up with a film that is complete and takes place around me? Above, below, left, right and even behind my back something can take place. All of a sudden, the rules are different from a normal film in 16:9 format. The following points should make starting out with such an idea easier. Please think now deeply about your brand, and ask yourself the following six questions:

1. Where does my target group like to be?

By using virtual reality glasses, you get the feeling that you are, all of a sudden, in another place. Merely: Which place is the right one for my brand? What do I know already about the needs of my target group? Which are the places that stir up emotions? Which places does my target group know already from my TV spots?

2. In what kind of situation do they want to be?

When it is not a specific place, might it then be a specific moment? A moment with other people? Is it funny, moving or romantic? What is incredible when it happens once to me? Or where would I like to stand directly next to?

3. Where does my target group like to be sometime?

As a spectator, I can suddenly look at the world from someone else’s eyes. And, admittedly, clearly stronger than from a point-of-view-perspective with 16:9 filming.

4. Where can only my brand beam the people into?

Do I organise special events, at which the target group can virtually be present? Do I have a celebrity, whom they can get close to? Should everybody test sit in my new car? Or in a car that has not been build at all yet?

5. What does my brand world look like?

When people spoke about customers entering into a brand world, it mostly referred to a stand or a shop. Virtual reality and 360° films are the first media that can actually bring customers into a brand world. The opportunity for an emotional experience with the brand! Furthermore: How does it look there? What are the colours, how do I meet the people? What sounds or music do I hear?

6. Which place or what experience supports the campaign message?

VR is a new medium, and not just simply a single measure. In the media mix of a campaign it can, for example, take over the part of proving the advertising message. When I claim something on TV, I can make it possible for the customer to experience it via VR or a 360° film.

Two weeks of Cannes are over – an extremely great, exciting but also exhausting time. Strenuous for the brain and the creative muscle. 25 judges from 25 countries. 25 completely different minds with different views, with statements, inflammatory speeches and discussions; simply fantastic.

My conclusion from the area “Direct”: there weren’t any radical, major trends, but there certainly was a “hidden trend”, namely Gender Equality. This issue is becoming more and more important. No matter whether female, male, transgender or homosexual – every person has the same rights.

This is recognised not only by the NGOs but also more and more Super-Brands are showing a clear stance and taking a stand.
A great example is Doritos:

My other highlights

Snapchat, WhatsApp, mail and Facebook … That all trends in communications bring a work that Grand Prix shows that our voice is our most original communications organ, proving “The Swedish Number”:

And yes, breast cancer prevention can be fun. A lot of fun even:

My personal favourite is Case OPT-Outside of REI: it’s incomprehensible when an outdoor retailer abolishes its strongest sales day of the year and thus triggers a whole movement. And with a clear message: do not go shopping – go outside on Black Friday. Enjoy your life, your loved ones and nature. Great great great!

Until next year!!

Because we are asked this question and similar ones so often, we launched our company presence on www.whatchado.com with 8 video stories on Thursday.

whatchado is an online recruitment fair, where colleagues talk about their job, career and business in short videos. Various industries are presented to school and university leavers, as well as career entrants, and they are given insights into different fields and disciplines.

Two simple reasons why Serviceplan Group is using whatchado:

  1. We want to demonstrate all the possibilities and perspectives in a big advertising agency through all of the various job profiles in order to inform and enlighten those starting their career. Which school leaver knows exactly what they should do upon finishing school, when they only have the vague idea ‘something to do with media and people’?
    whatchado also offers insight for parents and teachers into unknown chances for development and sectors which lie outside of their own personal experience.
  2. We want to support our recruitment team in finding motivated and communicative colleagues. In short, people who have realistic expectations of life in an agency and who are willing to contribute.

Sho Tatai, junior recruiter at Serviceplan in Munich, gets straight to the point: “Why whatchado? Because it represents a relevant solution for career entrants. In my opinion interest is one of the factors for success for entry into professional life. whatchado addresses this through authentic insights into various job profiles. The job description therefore takes on a face and a character.”

Winnie Bergmann, head of human resources Serviceplan Group, gives more reasons for our involvement: “As the first big advertising agency on whatchado, we are getting involved because we want to highlight that agencies are still offering the most exciting jobs in the field of communication. It isn’t internet services and service providers where these new jobs originate, but rather agencies working as an intergrated whole. Career entrants often don’t realise that and whatchado is a great platform to broadcast this information
Another reason we are involved with whatchado is because we know that in the future we will rely more and more on colleagues joining us straight after finishing school who will study alongside their work. We have an appropriate institute of higher education right next door to us, the ‘mind’ academy, run by Steinbeis University.”

“I am really happy about the support and cooperation with all my colleagues from different agencies. We had a great day and made some really nice videos. And that was partly in difficult conditions: Basma for example had to deal with a streaker behind her, and Sebastian appeared in the videos despite having had next to no sleep the night before and had a big customer presentation straight after filming. Another big thank you.” Nina Stechl from HR Marketing summarises the day of filming.

All videos can be found on whatchado and all job openings can be found on our careers portal.

Advertising has changed in recent years towards more responsible communication. Even in competitions like the one in Cannes there were many awards for works with a higher purpose aspect. Why are these predestined for a lion?

For a few years, there have been complaints about the fact that more and more Cannes winners have less to do with the advertisement of the good old product advantage, but put “social” issues to the foreground. I think the excitement about it is outdated and amiss. Cannes merely reflects the social prevailing mood, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, and that simply goes in the direction of social and sustainability issues. Even ten years ago, environmental protection was a marginal issue in the US, now VW is being pilloried. To stay with the example of cars: today it is not longer a question of how fast a car accelerates from 0 to 100, but how it helps to cope with the mobility and environmental challenges of tomorrow.
Generally, people today are rather discussing issues like the environment, refugees, terrorism, equality or integration than the question of how a particular product characteristic gives them a more comfortable life. Cannes takes up this mood pointedly. And therefore works with a higher purpose have high odds of winning. Undoubtedly some juries exaggerate by also distinguishing work, that in fact has a higher purpose, but does not really show an unusual idea, a really fascinating implementation. But that will settle in.

How useful do you think the festival is?
One can accuse Cannes of a lot. A parallel world of colourful extra ideas that have nothing to do with our hard daily business. A tremendous money-making machine that only makes the organizers rich. A party of vain self-congratulation rather than humble work in the service of the customer. All correct. And all wrong. Cannes is the most important platform for new ideas that truly advance our industry. After all, even the most conservative client asks at some point: Is that all you have to offer me? Then: Cannes is not only a huge money-making machine, but also a huge inspiration machine. Nowhere in the world will you be so bombarded within a week with so many ideas, so many lectures, so many conversations. You can feed of it for a whole year. And the topic of parties and prizes? Both are, beside all the tam-tam, the best motivation for employees that one can imagine.

In 2016, the category Digital Craft is new, amongst others. To what extent do the Cannes Lions of digital development in advertising accommodate the new category?
I am excited about the new category. Because what we are talking about when we talk about digitization? Which terms do we use? Clicks, shares, likes. Websites, moving image, banner. Targeting, conversion rate, ROI. Primarily technical terms that describe certain categories, functions and modes of action. We talk too little about beauty. Too little about how technically well something is made. And yet it is precisely this quality, especially with regard to the impact, that is an enormous factor. Especially against the background of limited spaces with a lot of information, with which one is often confronted digitally. The introduction of the Digital Craft category is setting a positive sign here.

Which creative factor can win a prize in Cannes (for example, humour, higher purpose)?
The most important is still the idea. How surprising, how new will something be sold to me? How surprising, how new is the Insight? Is it simple and understandable enough for the often-quoted Indian on the jury, who has no idea of the German market conditions? Very important: Does it move me? Especially us Germans indeed still have our fears in dealing with emotions. Higher Purpose? Helps. And humour? Can not hurt.

We asked three of our speakers from the “International Roadshow: France Insights” the same four questions. The challenge to avoid stereotypical responses to bold questions, was accepted by Bertrand Beaudichon, CEO and Co-Founder of Mediaplus in France, Alexander Wurz, expert in intercultural management and owner of Open-i-Consulting, and Florence Delobel, Consultant for successful brands like Andros, Bonne Maman and many more.
Here are their answers:


IRSFrance_BeaudichonBertrand Beaudichon
(Session 2 “Today’s French consumer”)

How would you describe „The French way of doing business“?

Let’s start with French people:
Looking at a map, France is at the exact middle between Northern and Southern countries. This simple observation dictates quite well the French way of doing business. Indeed, French businessmen are the perfect mix between northern rationality and southern emotionality. Which means that French are highly analytics and do love concepts and abstractions, which makes French people creative and quite good in innovation and technology. But which means also that human relationship is of a major importance. French are proud, love (long) business lunches, and often think that foreigners consider them as part of declining country. Thus, a love declaration to French products and technology (and not, as always, its wine, cheese, food and cultural or tourism patrimony) is a great idea to start a positive business relationship. Also, as most of southern countries, the average level of foreign languages skill is quite low. And because French are proud, they won’t tell you they don’t understand your English. So, do not hesitate to speak slowly and make sure you’ve been well understood! In terms of business, French consumers are very attractive, do love brands, and consuming is more or more seen as a way to escape from a gloomy economic context.

Now that the partner is described, let’s talk about the playground.

In terms of business, 80% of France is Paris. Which makes it easier than in Germany to start a business in France: A headquarter in Paris will be enough to cover your French business. But this also creates a good opportunity, when a German company talks to a non-parisian company (what we call here quite negatively a “regional company”), to acknowledge what being a regional company means. Regional companies do fight all days to be considered as national actors, even if not Parisian. The German federal model, in this field, helps creating a better community of spirit with such regional companies.

Then, the regulatory environment. France is, and considers itself, as the most complicated system of regulation and tax. And guess what, it is very true. So, do not even think setting up a business in France with a non-national and very skilled set of lawyers and accountants, which will help you decode what is and is not to be done. Finally, they will help you finding your way, and maintain your competitiveness… because, finally, there is always a way!

Is “Made in Germany” a sales point in France or a no-go?

Well, don’t take it wrong, but it highly depends on the industry! For industrial, chemicals, automotive, technology, the German label is definitely a great, great selling point. A label of quality, long-term lasting and reliable technology for manufactured things. For example, a great number of German automotive brands (Audi, Volkswagen, Opel) do claim their german-ity in their advertising…

But if the industry is a more creative one, like fashion, design, or food… let’s be more discrete on your origin, and let’s pretend you’re French or Italian 🙂

How would you describe the French consumer in three words?

Sense seeker, individualist and all-screens addict.

How can brands benefit from the Franco-German friendship?

Franco-German friendship is real, and not only a story of politicians. Thus, a German player claiming doing business in the name of this friendship, especially when competing against other non-french countries will take a good advantage.


IRSFrance_WurzAlexander Wurz
(Session 4 „Do you speak my culture? – The French way of doing business” and guest author)

How would you describe „The French way of doing business“?

French have tendency to put more emphasis on personal relationships and emotions when doing business. It is not enough, to “convince” the other side but also to “seduce”. The French word “séduction” is used very often and is key for successful business in this country!

Which market is more competitive, the French or the German market?

When you look at the official rankings of “World Competitiveness Ranking”, Germany is more competitive. But I don’t think that we should only look at numbers to answer this question. There are many examples where French products are better than German ones. And a French would say: competitiveness is not everything in life. What about nice, good looking, seducing and sexy products…?

Is “Made in Germany” a sales point in France or a no-go?

Yes and no. French recognize and respect definitely the high-quality products coming from Germany, mainly from the technical industry. But on the other hand, I hear them often say that German products are sometimes too perfect, therefore too expensive and often not “sexy” (regarding the design or the presentation).

How would you describe the French consumer in three words?

Higher distrust (than Germans), playful, more intuitive and spontaneous (than Germans)

How would you describe the German consumer in three words?

Facts-oriented and well informed, less flexible, easier to manipulate (than for example the French)

How can brands benefit from the Franco-German friendship?

A lot! Germans and French cultures are a bit like the left side and the right side of our brain. The one with more focus on facts, logical thinking and rational approach and the other one one emotions, abstract thinking, creativity and intuition. Imagine if we put these two sides together! There is no better synergy than these two cultures.


IRSFrance_DelobelFlorence Delobel
(Session 5 “Best Practice from Andros, the leader on a highly competitive FMCG market”)

How would you describe „The French way of doing business“?

I would like to talk about distribution and particularly the relationship between suppliers and buyers. In France the relationship is very harmonious, but often the demands are not clearly expressed. Everyone keeps to his/her role, not disclosing very much. Negotiations can be long, over several meetings before clear needs are expressed. Often tensions can run high and there can often be unpleasant moments before coming to an agreement.

Which market is more competitive, the French or the German market?

Both markets have strengths and weaknesses. If one takes the example of agribusiness, the French are creative gourmets and enjoy inventing different, well-presented, premium products. They are capable of producing things in small quantities for a tailored audience. Prices are often high to reflect this. Whereas the Germans are more competitive with larger production adjusted to their own market. They produce good-quality, well-presented products at lower prices. They don’t, however, offer a wide variety of flavours or different styles/assortments, they keep to standard products.

Is “Made in Germany” a sales point in France or a no-go?

All depends on which sector of activity we are talking about. I would say that in agribusiness it isn’t the most attractive aspect. The image of German products is linked to hard discount such as Lidl and Aldi, which are not always synonymous with quality products. The two nation’s tastes are different too on a wide range of products; it isn’t easy to impose new taste on a country that prides itself for its Gastronomy!

How would you describe the French consumer in three words?

Demanding (they want everything quality/price/service), fickle (they like innovation), well-informed (connected)

How would you describe the German consumer in three words?

I don’t know the market that well, but the words that come to mind are rational, efficient and direct…

How can brands benefit from the Franco-German friendship?

If one combines French and German strengths we would come up with perfect products: good production, competitive pricing, great quality, but also beautiful design, delicious and creative. The best of all worlds!


Serviceplan International Roadshow France InsightsBertrand Beaudichon, Alexander Wurz and Florence Delobel will lecture at the Serviceplan International Roadshow France // 8 June 2016 – 2 pm // House of Communication in Munich.
If you like to join our event and meet our interview partners in person please contact our organisation team at international@serviceplan.com.




How to cultivate partnerships with your French colleagues at a distance.

Germany and France – so close and yet so far. Many German businessmen see the French market as a challenge. The reason is often, that cultural differences are underestimated due to the close geographic location, although the fact is that both cultures possess very different mindsets and work ethics. Once this is understood you can not only find outstanding synergies, but can also have a lot of fun while working together (and you don’t have to hide in the cellar to have a good laugh, as often found in Germany… ).

The following is a small contribution to a topic that we are often asked about in our seminars: managing at a distance.

If you have established a good working relationship with one or more French colleagues, you have “capital” that you should under no circumstances neglect. Not only do you have a pleasant working relationship, but you also have a local confidant that can keep you up to date about news, strategic decisions and “Scoops”. You can also confidently test your own ideas according to his feedback. Here are a few hints for cultivating such relationships:

  1. Invest in relationship efficiency

According to German criterion, everything needs to offer a clear use. It is for this reason that you should view contact cultivation as a very important indirect advantage:

The time you invest in it always pays out in full in the end. Your colleague will warn you about the backgrounds for the behaviour of other co workers, get something done for you, warn you when something is going to be risky for you or your company, and so on! He will not do it for the cause, but for you!

  1. Always keep in contact

One of the most important tools for this is the telephone. It is widely used in France to exchange information or cultivate contacts. It is for this reason that telephone bills in French branch offices are often significantly higher than in German ones.

You should “keep a finger on the pulse” (“prendre la température”) at least once a week if possible by picking up the phone and speaking the magic words “Alors quoi de neuf?“ (“Hey, what’s new?“).

Most French conversation partners will reply to this by telling you what keeps them busy at the moment, how they are doing or what recent event has made a big impression on them. In this way, a game of ping-pong begins: Both expect the other side to pick up on the ball and return it. Because the other side is busy or under stress, you may receive a short answer, in which case you call back later.

  1. Just send a personal E-mail now and then

Surprise your French co workers by sending an email that contains nothing “official”. For example a personal joke or a hard riddle. The more often you laugh together and exchange social topics, the more you will profit from the positive sides of French culture. As a positive side effect you will have lots of fun working together!

  1. Stay authentic

This type of contact cultivation may not, particularly in business, be for everyone. Especially since you are more used to staying “businesslike” in Germany. It is therefore very important not to play-act but to stay authentic, otherwise this is not likely to work.

  1. Arrive a night early

Never miss the opportunity to offer a dinner the night before a meeting or after an official appointment to exchange pleasantries… There is no need to have a guilty conscience as a positive usage is often the result and it’s also a lot of fun!

  1. “Send the Elevator back”

“Renvoyer l’ascenseur” (“Quid pro quo”, or “you scratch my back I scratch yours”): This very popular turn of phrase in France means nothing else but to repay a favour that was done for you. If one of your French colleagues has problems, maybe you can offer him advice or show sympathy. If he gives you information, you should repay the gesture later if not immediately. This works especially well in France as it shows prestige and power to be the first informed (“Scoops).


About our guest author: Alexander Wurz is expert in intercultural management and the owner of Open-i-Consulting. He has devised and managed a large number of intercultural consulting and training projects worldwide for multinational companies. Alexander worked on several M&A consulting projects on the ‘human side of integration’. Besides being a teacher of intercultural management at several European universities, he is a well-known keynote speaker and consults at international conferences. This article is an excerpt from the book „Deutsch-französische Geschäftsbeziehungen erfolgreich managen“ (GABLER)


Serviceplan International Roadshow France Insights

Serviceplan International invites you to take a joint look at the French market, broaching the issues of current developments and business opportunities as well as diving deeper into the consumer landscape and the French way of doing marketing. Serviceplan International Roadshow France // 8 June 2016 – 2 pm // House of Communication in Munich – If you like to join our event please contact our organisation team at international@serviceplan.com.


Download Invitation


Honestly, would you believe any entrepreneur who boasted: “We know our customers better than ever, because of digitization! We have a huge database full of customer data which reveals their wishes. We fulfill these wishes immediately and make our customers happy – and they reward us for it with their purchasing power and strong loyalty”. Sounds good, right? But let’s be honest: Few brands could actually claim that so far. Most are experiencing the opposite: the decreasing loyalty of their customers as they turn away, are suspicious and “ad-phobic”. In Germany, for example, 44 percent of all manufacturers’ brands are losing more than 30 percent of their regular customers per year – and the number is increasing, as we found out in a study with GfK.

What’s going wrong? To get an answer a change of perspective helps. Consider the situation from the viewpoint of consumers. They are, according to global studies, disappointed; in the United States, according to Accenture, more than four out of five consumers (84 percent!) are frustrated, because companies do not deliver what they promise. And we are not doing much better in Germany; where only 30 percent trust brands and their messages. Instead of the hoped for closeness to consumers, the advertising industry is experiencing estrangement. It is as if digitization has not helped them to get to know consumers better,  as hoped, but rather to lose sight of them. With regard to entrepreneurial success, this is a catastrophic development. What can be done? One thing is clear; familiar methods will not help here, neither trusty advertising power nor wily technical finesse.

We need a fresh start. The product is no longer the starting point for all marketing activities, but the consumers and their life phases. They are the starting point of all activity; customer orientated production, brand management and marketing.

To inspire consumers, the marketing of the future has to create worlds of experience in which engrossing customer experiences ensure long lasting customer relationships. Airlines then sell travel events, not tickets. And car makers offer mobility experiences, not just cars. The product? It’s only part of a larger picture.

For marketing this change means, among other things:

1. Away from the “14-to-49-years-mentality” – towards micro-segmentation and personalisation

Because consumers move in the new consumer media world individually, media planning with rough-edged categories like “14 to 49” can no longer achieve a lot. In future the focus won’t be on target groups, socio-geographic data and ranges, but the stages of life, needs, experiences of each individual consumer. For the media planning for this personalization, we need more than ever to focus on methods such as micro-segmentation.

2. Away from the channel perspective – towards customer journey accompaniment

Nowadays, consumers use more channels, contact points and marketing resources for their purchases than ever before. The customer journey is now many times more complex than even ten years ago. Online or offline? It doesn’t matter, any mixture is okay. Studies show that few companies have concerned themselves with the customer journeys of their customers.

3. The way from the advertising message to relevant content offers

Exaggerated advertising promises no longer match present purchasing behaviour, because consumers believe nothing without checking. Up to 90 percent of product research is made before visiting a store. Therefore, companies need to develop ideas on how they can support potential customers at an early stage with information and persuasive arguments.

4. Away from self-serving data analysis – towards the use of media for customer satisfaction

In future it won’t be about hoarding data for advertising purposes. Instead, companies should consider how they can use the information to shape their business model, improve their products – and ultimately to make their customers happy. That is the real power of Big Data. Its intelligent use can be absolutely decisive.

Marketing can only achieve this fresh, stronger position if it drops outdated mechanisms and tactics; instead it needs the courage to make a fresh start. The consumers will be grateful. Our task, the task of the agencies, is to accompany this change, sometimes even to carefully push it.

This means we agencies need to reconsider our services and processes, to monitor and constantly optimize them to be perfect consultants for our customers in these difficult, but also exciting times. At Serviceplan, we are working on it; on a daily basis, at more than 30 locations worldwide. And, as of March this year, also in Spain.

First released in World’s Leading Independent Agencies 2016.

“Communication without content marketing has no future”

Buzzword or not – the need for content is greater than ever. In these times of the Internet as a platform, the power is shifting to the consumer. It used to be the other way around. Today, I can simply click everything away or use Adblocker. The consequence: the consumer has the power.

But someome do it right and do not get clicked away. What do Vodafone and South Tyrol have in common? Both know how good content marketing works. They are among the winners of the German Content Marketing Awards, which were awarded in 2015 for the first time. The South Tyroleans impressed us with their visually stunning stories (www.wasunsbewegt.com), and mobile operator Vodafone with the witty product testing of the “Gadget Inspectors”. They also convinced us through their networking with other content offerings as well as consistent marketing. In short: Vodafone and South Tyrol practice content marketing as it should be: Paid, Owned, Earned, and balanced out.

Such exemplary practice is still rare in German-speaking countries. We are, in fact, currently experiencing an accumulation of “pseudo-content marketing”. Content marketing, which only pretends to be such. Sometimes even a single blog can already be touted as content innovation, or native advertising articles, just because they rate well in the rankings. Sorry, they may well be successful measures, but they are only details of a larger whole which would deserve to be called content marketing.

Properly understood, content marketing provides an opportunity to revitalize the entire realm of corporate communication with fresh impulses. Everyone could benefit from it – from PR, marketing, customer services, and sales right through to HR. Content marketing concerns us all because it could be the solution to an acute problem: the rapid loss of customer confidence and the resulting threat of revenue loss. Meanwhile, 44 percent of all manufacturers brands are losing more than 30 percent of their regular customers per year (Marken Roadshow).

To counter this, companies need to put customers increasingly and more consistently in the centre of their actions. They need to develop experience worlds in which customers’ needs are met at the right time and in the right place. The product does not play the main role in the marketing of the future. The time of Customer Centricity is dawning – and in it, content marketing plays a central role. That, because it creates values without which such an adventure world can not function. Strategically, cleverly placed content which is free from paralyzing “advertising speak” should spur the conversation with customers. To put it boldly: without content marketing, corporate communications has no future.

For this reason, communicators should first ask themselves some holistic questions:

  • How can we create a “customer experience” and we what content do we need at which touchpoints?
  • How can each piece of content contribute to increasing brand appeal?
  • Do current content offerings have the necessary quality – from brochures to native advertising?
  • Is all content compatible? Do they complement each other? Or is it more of a muddle?
  • Which “Paid, Owned, Earned” content, do we need to be convincing?

Even if communication professionals plan only single content-marketing activities, they should have the higher-level communication aims in mind. Then there is no dramaturgical problem later if the content marketing is expanded. The final goal should always be to have all the content elements interacting perfectly.

In order to enable content marketing to develop its full potential, companies should be aware of these ten rules:


  1. Focus on top quality

In content marketing, bad quality and mediocrity have no chance. Average, interchangeable content gets lost in the flood of information. There are nearly one billion websites, and around 2.5 million emails are sent per second, while over 10,000 tweets are sent and more than 100,000 videos uploaded to YouTube. Bitter, but true: no one out there is waiting for your content.

Nevertheless, 70 percent of American B-to-B companies are now producing more content than a year ago. This abundance is not inspired, but rather annoying. Four out of five US decision-makers complain they get too much information, and on top of that it is useless and therefore, after a brief scan, lands right in the trash.

To clarify: of course content marketing is also about creating new content, but it is the quality and networking with all other content offerings which is decisive, not the quantity. The content must be first class and unique, to earn the recognition of consumers and search engines. The bottom line is: if you do not strive for excellence, then you can just as well do without content marketing. And save money.


  1. Use your brand as a storytelling turbo-booster

Of course you need to know what content stakeholders expect from you, but this does not mean that you should only tell them what they want to hear. It is better to show personality and strength of character which is visible in every single piece of content. Use your brand as a source of good topics and storytelling. This clear focus creates trust – and is the basis for good business.

In content marketing, it is not just about building trust; it is also about giving a brand meaning. How that can succeed is shown, for example, by the TexMex chain Chipotle. From the top quality information on the website through to top class animated films and a lavishly produced series “Farmed and Dangerous”, each of these different content measures makes a single brand message clear: we are committed to healthy, responsible food. We sell “Food with Integrity”.

Or did you know, for example, that the engines which power the famous London Tower Bridge are from Bosch? In the “Bosch World Experience”, Bosch sent six young people to places where Bosch is active, and had them recount their experiences. Through this, stories, such as that of Tower Bridge, did the rounds, and Bosch succeeded through its content marketing campaign in positioning itself as a versatile and inspiring brand.

The Marriott hotel chain’s success came through its magazine “Marriott Traveler”. It is full of inspiration for avid travelling millennials. None of the articles is about Marriott – but the selection of stories makes clear: with its 19 hotel brands and 4,200 hotels, Marriott knows the furthest reaches of the globe. Content marketing allowed Marriott to promote itself, more or less indirectly – no matter where the journey goes.

Chipotle, Bosch and Marriott – three brands, three strong characters. They show that whoever adopts an attitude, has the best starting point for strong themes and storytelling.


  1. The customer journey is also your “content journey”!

Did you know that consumers already have up to 90 percent of the customer journey behind them before they enter a store? And that they have used up to eleven content offerings?

Consumers now possess, thanks to the “Internetization” of the media and trade channels, an enormous research potential and freedom of choice. Businesses need to make every effort to provide timely, excellent content at every single touchpoint. For us marketers this means that we have to make the customer journey to our “content journey”.

There is much to learn and explore. For example, we need to find out when or where an interested party could become a lead or buyer. Websites seem rather unsuitable for this: 96 percent of visitors, almost all of them, are not in a buying mood. When and where can we can present sales arguments without being pushy? We need to find an answer. So far, at any rate, consumers do not seem satisfied with the information supply; only 14 percent are currently of the opinion that brand companies provide a good multichannel experience.

One thing is certain; patience pays off. Three out of four consumers give purchase preference to the brand which best supplied the most useful content during the customer journey.
For this reason, all stakeholders need – also in sales – to appreciate the need for a particularly cautious approach to content marketing.


  1. Determine what content your local markets need

Localization has always been a particularly tricky task – in content marketing, it is no different. Again, it is about the right feeling for different cultures and tastes. Even US companies do not have this theme under control, as shown in a survey among the visitors to the Content World Congress 2015 in Cleveland; about 60 percent confessed that they do not have a strategy for global content marketing.

In any case it makes sense to build up their own expertise in every major market. The content marketers can then decide on the spot what content suits them. In American content circles, it is estimated that around 20 percent of content is suitable for localization.


  1. Promote your content as a product

It doesn’t matter how good your content is – if it isn’t marketed, it won’t have an effect. You have to beat the drums for content as if it were a stand-alone product – in the social web, with paid media or with other PR activities.

How this works is shown by the German lawyer information service, which, in 2015, was awarded the German Prize for Online Communication. The mediation platform for lawyers appears as a magazine which informs readers, through top quality journalism, on different legal topics, and only as a second step, matches potential clients to appropriate lawyers.

In the Social Web, the site is strongly supported by a Facebook page (with more than 65,000 Likes). There memes are posted with legal sayings, infographics and Newsjacking on current topics. This quality pays off; 41 per cent of blog or website visitors (300,000 per month) go there via the social web.

Paid content presents situations in a humorous way in full-page ads.

PR activities – on Ebay future ex-husband Martin G. auctioned the couples joint possessions – but halved: half a car, a chair or a teddy bear. The auctions became a worldwide hype – on YouTube, in the press, on TV, and on the social web.

When the public was informed that the action was initiated by the lawyer information service to draw attention to the lack of legal protection before marriage, no one was annoyed – on the contrary: it was seen as valuable.

Good content alone is therefore not enough; you need to draw on your media potential and determine a media budget.


  1. Bring all your communicators to one table

One of the trickiest tasks is to bring the different skills of each department together as a meaningful whole, but it is indispensable. Establish units for content marketing.

There must be people in the company who are primarily concerned with the theme of content. For example, PR usually has the most experience in storytelling and agenda setting. Marketing and sales, in turn, is better in the management of touchpoints, where storytelling could take place.

So there is no way around it; these two skill areas need to be brought together. How this can work, for example, is demonstrated by Metro with its Genuss-Blog (pleasure-blog). It is full of good stories which, in other points of contact, such as in the typical metro mailings, are developed further. And a PR expert is responsible for storytelling on the marketing touchpoints.


  1. Search for your efficiency killer

Cooperation is essential, if only for cost and efficiency reasons. It is not uncommon for different departments to produce the same content – such as an app – for the lack of joint content management. A US study illustrates the scale of this problem. There, B-to-B companies annually produce deficient content to the tune of 958 billion US dollars, simply because their content management is inefficient. And in the UK, this lack of cooperation skills leads to 15 percent of companies never publishing a massive 50 percent of the content they have produced .

Motorola Solutions has learned from this. The telecommunications company now has a pool for all its content materials which communicators add to, research in and use. Thus, ridiculously expensive duplications are avoided and the expert abilities of other departments utilized.

The potential savings in content management seem considerable. If you weigh this off against the cost of content marketing, you will probably quickly come to the conclusion that content marketing can pay off.


  1. Get content-strategic expertise

If your company does not have any employees with content-strategic competence, you should change that quickly. Even if you plan to outsource content marketing tasks, you need at least one expert in the company who can assess the quality of the work done externally and manage it objectively.
It needs to be someone with editorial know-how, who knows the brand messages, and who can handle the service providers involved, because there could be many of them: from the online agency to PR, events and media agencies. Ideally, they should be experienced in dynamic newsroom management, because content tasks are always a “work in progress”. We are dealing with evolving processes that need highly flexible management.

Content-strategic preparations are the pre-conditions for successful content marketing. Nevertheless, this step is often skipped in the mistaken belief that it is an unnecessary burden. But the absence of a content strategy is virtually a guarantee of failure, as shown by the Content Marketing Institute. Of the companies that are disappointed in their content marketing, only 7 percent have one. And of the completely satisfied? 60 percent are in possession of a content strategy.


  1. Stay alert – the content landscape changes rapidly

One feature of good content marketing is that it works in the long run. It is not a campaign that can simply be stopped and replaced. Content marketing is a long-term companion, which must constantly be monitored and refreshed.

So remain vigilant, because customer needs and favoured touchpoints change rapidly. Who knows what will come after Snapchat, Instagram or Periscope? We currently should, for example, monitor content publishing platforms, Medium, LinkedIn and Facebook attentively and, if useful, integrate them in content marketing strategies.

We should indeed use the power of Google and Facebook, but not accept them as God-given at the same time. Through their filtering mechanisms, it has become difficult to approach people outside their “interests bubble”. For this reason, companies should consider additional tactics to attract the people’s interest.

So as you can see, content marketing is much more than an add-on. It enriches all communications because it changes the perspective in favour of high-quality content, which is essential for the design of a fascinating world of adventure.


  1. Do not forget technology!

In the content marketing process, technologies play a significant role. What does that mean? In all stages of the process, the market offers different tools – from individual solutions to the emerging full-service approach for the mass market of the Top 500 advertisers: content / social marketing cloud systems. These provide integrated solutions for the entire process, but are leaner and more agile than the big marketing cloud systems.

The top players here are called Sprinklr and Percolate. We at the Serviceplan Group use all the technologies for our customers . We need to as well, as increasingly customers themselves bring along their own proprietary technologies and solutions or we need to modify them at the customers’. This means we must be flexible.
In the content distribution process, we are currently strongly focused on the global rock star, Sprinklr. However, we are also investing heavily in our own developments to have the technological development capabilities to meet individual customer needs in our own hands.
For that we have developed two of our own technologies: one for asset and workflow management, the second for analysis and reporting.

Is content marketing just a passing trend? No way.


First published in German: Leserautor Gastbeitrag in W&V.