The American dream: tapping into the US market

Cat Leaver, head of marketing at Alienation Digital, explains how to establish and expand your brand in the US

For those of you who operate organisations that reach beyond geographical boundaries and aim to touch audiences across the globe, developing a truly international marketing strategy is pivotal. And with the US being one of the most ‘switched on’ countries in the world (around 87 per cent of North America’s population are internet users) there are vast opportunities present in this marketplace.

Digital channels allow you to break down physical and virtual barriers, placing your organisation on the global stage. However, at the heart of all effective marketing is an understanding of your audience and the context in which it operates. This means an understanding of audience culture, language, platform proliferation, key consumer behaviours, technology availability and so on.

The US internet advertising spend increased nine per cent in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the previous year, reaching a huge USD11.6bn (€9.31bn). It was probably budget well spent, considering that 78 per cent of US consumers research products, services and performances online before purchasing.

As is the case with the UK, Google has become the staple of search activity in the US, with almost 70 per cent of all online searches carried out on this platform. But that doesn’t mean other search engines should be ignored; in fact, with over 3.5bn Bing searches and 1.5bn Yahoo searches conducted in the US in 2014 so far, we’d suggest that a more inclusive approach can only benefit your search strategy.

The social marketplace is a good indicator of buyer behaviour, indicating how users prefer to communicate online and where your audiences are most susceptible to your brand messages. A massive 67 per of North Americans are signed up to at least one social network, spending on average 3.2 hours a day on social media. This level of engagement is far higher than many other countries and shows a propensity towards online communication.

Additionally, 53 per cent of US internet users now follow a brand (or several) on social media, a massive increase from just 33 per cent back in 2012. But what social media are they using?

While Facebook (which holds a 59 per cent market share) and YouTube (just 19 per cent of the market share) continue to dominate the social scene in America, other channels differ in popularity to their counterparts in the UK market. In the US, Instagram is more popular in terms of users than Twitter, boasting around 40m US users to Twitter’s 38m, and sharing the same core demographic (primarily 18-29 year olds).

Twitter is widely perceived to be a ‘bite-size’ consumable platform, used for brief interactions on the go, whereas the average consumer spends four times longer on Tumblr and Pinterest in the States. This indicates that in North America, visual content is far more engaging and effective. Arts organisations often have the most attractive and diverse visual and video contents – is yours making the best possible use of imagery and infographics to really reflect the organisation’s character in the online space?

Understand exactly who you want to engage, and then use the correct platforms. For example, if you’re looking to attract US females in their late 20s who are interested in the performing arts, then Pinterest’s 39.2m-plus female userbase in America may be of interest to you. Try to think from the user’s perspective: are you providing useful content for them? Why will they want to hear from you in this space, ie what’s on offer?

Mobile interactivity measures up notably well in the US – subscription rates outnumber the total population, highlighting the vast proliferation of mobile technology in the country. What’s more, with a mobile internet population of 168m users so far in 2014, and m-commerce sales having reached USD42bn in 2013, a mobile-friendly web presence in the US is crucial to delivering an enjoyable and accessible user experience.

While we can certainly draw parallels between the UK and US marketplaces, ensure that you don’t base your digital marketing activity on any assumptions. In one of the most technologically saturated and active nations in the world, the US digital marketing scene can only unlock realms of potential if and when engaged with efficiently.

You can read Cat’s other columns for IAM here