Taking the affiliate cruise across the ocean: how to access the European market

I am located in Central Europe, so this blog has always had a slight European focus. I have always been interested in international marketing, how cultural issues affect the business environment, and the like. This topic was the subject of the first article I wrote for Affiliate Classroom magazine, and I have to tell you, this article was the easiest one I ever had to write. I had so much to say about the topic, I way overshot the initial 1250 words suggested length. :) The first part covers how to access the European market (where to find European affiliate programs, communities with fellow affiliates, etc.), the second part deals with the nuances of marketing successfully in Europe that you need to keep in mind when building an affiliate business in this market.

I covered some issues and tips that are generally missing from “how to enter a foreign market”-type articles. In fact much of that I learned from my own affiliate business experience, as some of the same issues come up no matter what direction you are taking: being an American affiliate marketer trying to conquer Europe, or (as is my case), a European affiliate marketer targeting the American market.

I hope this helps affiliates who want to target the European market. I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic, experiences in the European market. (Post a comment below or send me email.)

Taking the affiliate cruise across the ocean: how to access the European market

by Katalin Török

You have read the facts, seen the data, familiarized yourself with the euro and decided you’re ready to jump the pond and conquer Europe. Even Google makes 38% of their revenues from outside the United States now, so why shouldn’t you be next?

Before you make the leap, I would like you to consider a couple of thoughts from the European perspective. Yes, ours is a globalized world, markets are wide open and consumers are happily shopping across oceans. It’s getting easier by the day to operate an across-the-border e-business, be it an affiliate site or an online store shipping goods worldwide. However, there are still issues and aspects of marketing globally that have the potential to make or break your international venture’s success.

Accessing the European market

One of the founding principles of the European Union is the single market: the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour. The free movement of goods is facilitated by an open market with common policies and consumers are made aware of their continental freedoms at every single opportunity that presents itself, presenting a great opportunity for marketers. However, despite a common European identity, differences in languages, currencies and culture, however insignificant they may be, still exist between countries. Consumer behavior and preferences vary from country to country or region to region. Computer and internet adoption varies significantly between northern and southern, western and eastern parts of the continent. To successfully reach the right audiences with the right message within this colorful and diverse, yet united continent you need to be conscious of these differences, and find the right – localized – combination of markets, products, locations, audiences and marketing methods.

One solution is to take a segmented approach to conquering Europe. You can concentrate on certain lucrative regions of Europe, like early-adapter Scandinavia, where consumers are experienced online shoppers. You can choose to build niche sites for specific audiences across the continent, for example target European moms, or European Star Trek fans.

You can segment by language and build the same site in the main European languages. Build a Francophone, an English, and a German version and you’ve covered most of Western Europe. One word of caution, though: don’t rely on automatic software translations when building a multilingual site. Find a freelance translator and have your text translated at least semi-professionally. Even a very amateur human translation will result in a more customer-friendly site than an automatically translated one. Grammar and spelling mistakes are easier to forgive than the impression that the owner of the site didn’t respect foreign users enough to work on their content more than simply running the site through a translator tool. Using English as the only language will work to some extent, as most European internet users speak English as a second language, however there are significant regional and demographic differences in this regard as well.

You have chosen your niche, your target region and language, now you’re ready to sign up for European merchants’ affiliate programs. But where to find them? The safest and easiest access to European merchants is at one of the local subsidiaries of the bigger US networks. Log in to your Commission Junction account and browse the directory by country. You will find merchants from Europe across many product categories, and the same tools and linking methods you’re used to on home ground. If you are accepted to foreign programs, the commission you generate will go into your current, normal CJ account, making this a safe trial environment for venturing out internationally.

When you’re ready to move to a European network, or European merchants’ in-house programs you will sooner or later encounter being automatically rejected based on your geographic location. I’ve had more than my fair share of automatic rejections from merchants in countries from Australia, across Europe to North Ameica, just because I am located in Central Europe. The key is to learn not to leave it at that: I’ve persuaded networks who never thought of accepting affiliates from my country to add my details by hand to their database. Usually an email to the affiliate manager explaining the situation solves the problem. If you believe there is a potential for a lucrative partnership, explain your concept to the affiliate manager, treat it as you would treat an elevator pitch. Keep in mind, sometimes there are legal issues or company-wide policies preventing them from signing you up, in which case there is not much more you can do than to move on.

You will often find the same merchant running several affiliate programs at different networks, with the same offers. This is actually quite common in the European market. The upside is you can choose the network with the more preferable affiliate environment, tools and services. I’ve encountered merchants who run 3 different programs at 3 different pan-european networks, but only advertise one on their site, so it never hurts to run a search for the merchant name + “affiliate program”. Also keep in mind that in the UK, an affiliate program is often referred to as “affiliate scheme”.

We’ve covered some of the issues affecting an international affiliate business, however, as usual, still barely scratched the surface. If you’re interested in taking a conscious approach at targeting Europe, here are a few tips for doing market research:

Join European affiliate communities. There is a good chance your favorite affiliate forum has a sub-forum for European affiliates and merchants, so look around on your next visit. Affiliates4u is a popular European focused community focused mostly at the UK market, but covering other European countries as well. http://www.a4uforum.co.uk/

To get a taste for brands, product selection and prices, as well as find merchants, take a look at the European versions of price comparison sites like shopping.com and the like. Try these European sites, all of them present in several countries:

Now that we have covered how to access the market, let’s look at the specifics of marketing to European consumers.

Marketing in Europe

You’ve registered your .co.uk or .de domain, put the EU flag in the logo and ready to pick and choose the products to fill your site with shopper-magnet goodies. Here are a few hands-on tips to help you pick a truly winning selection and market them in a eurofriendly way.

Product compatibility:
Not all products are created equal when it comes to their international marketing potential. While our world is becoming more and more standardized, our standards are still surprisingly different on the two sides of the ocean. Electricity, TV and DVD standards, clothing and bedding sizes, all kinds of measurements, even paper sizes differ in Europe from the North American standard. While this cuts down on the selection of US-based products you can promote in Europe, it also presents an opportunity to market American products to European buyers, be them American expatriates looking for familiar home goods, or European cooks who prefer measuring by the cup instead of grams and deciliters. If your chosen niche falls into one of these product categories, it is a good idea to offer conversion tools on your site, and explain differences from European standards.

Language and wording:
Nurture the relationship with your visitor by making them feel at home: use wording common in Europe. Ecommerce sites tend to use the term “delivery rates” instead of “shipping rates” and “shopping basket” instead of a “shopping cart”. You can include flags or wording indicating a European focus, the EU flag will ring a bell with consumers across the continent, so it’s the safest bet.
If you feel like targeting at the country level, using the Irish flag in addition to the UK one, or the Austrian flag next to the German, and making a locally targeted page will bring rewards from patriotic shoppers from those often neglected (flag-wise) countries.

Be sure to indicate the currency next to all prices. The most consumer-friendly sites provide on-site currency conversion. This is not only important because you want to present your offer to the European consumer in their familiar currency, but because several currencies on a single site makes price comparison tricky. If your offer is competing on price, rather than for example quality or scarcity, it is essential that your customers can convert currencies in order to make your offer easily comparable to local prices. Remember, in this case it is your price, plus the applicable shipping charges to get the goods to the shopper in Europe, converted to their local currency, that is your actual offer competing with their neighborhood shopping mall’s prices.

Currency conversion site xe.com offers a popular, fully customizable converter widget you can integrate into your site. You can choose from an ad-supported free version or a paid, ad-free version.

Payment issues:
While credit cards are the number one payment method in the US, the European payment landscape is more fragmented. Bank transfers, cheques and postal money transfers are common payment methods, along with debit and credit cards. It is not uncommon to accept payment upon receipt of goods. The store delivers the order along with the invoice, and the consumer makes payment after receipt of goods via bank transfer, or any of the above methods.

Preferred payment methods vary from country to country. In general European consumers are less trustful when it comes to using their bank card online than their North American counterparts, and they might not be in possession of a suitable card in the first place. In France, everyone has a checkbook, in Germany bank transfers are more preferred, while in Hungary payment on delivery is the most popular method of payment when it comes to online purchases. However, Paypal is now available in most European countries and offers a welcome alternative to these slower and clumsier offline payment methods.

When targeting European shoppers with overseas products, make sure your merchant can handle international payment transactions. Imagine the frustration your visitor would feel, trying to place an order at an online store that advertises shipping to Europe, only to find that their payment processor isn’t equipped to accept international credit cards.

International shipping charges and methods can at first seem outrageous if you are used to flat rate or even free shipping, buying and selling domestically. International buyers are well aware of the importance of costs and shipping times, and will look for this information very early on in the shopping process. Explain shipping policies, specify costs and projected arrival times if available, make the customer understand when they will actually receive their order. Do not try to hide the shipping details fearing that the costs will scare off buyers. The opposite will happen, not finding the information will alienate the shopper.

Marketing tools:
Some of the most popular consumer marketing techniques used in the US are rare or even completely unknown in Europe. Take coupons, for example. In some European countries paper-based store coupons are entirely unknown, and while digital coupons are used in online stores, they are significantly less popular in Europe than in the US. So think twice before putting all your eggs in the coupon site basket on the European market.

Rebates are also practically unknown. If you are promoting US-based offers to European buyers, be careful not to promote prices that contain rebates only available for US and Canada-based buyers (like most rebates are), as you might be misleading shoppers.

Last but not least, with more controversial niches, it is essential to first check whether it is legal to market your chosen product category or services in the EU, or in the countries you are targeting. Gambling and betting sites are the the first to come to mind – for example in my country it is illegal to promote foreign-based gambling or sports betting opportunities.

To sum up all the practical details, be sure to keep in mind these three points:

  1. Show that you’ve made an effort to learn about the European market.
  2. Build trust by using local languages and currencies.
  3. Localize your offer and marketing tactics to suit the different market conditions and consumer preferences.

Bon Voyage!

Originally appeared in Affiliate Classroom magazine

Leave a Comment