So much more than Eurovision: communicating in a diverse European landscape

Segolene Roche

06 May 2021

Europe Day is upon us and, as a proud European (and a big fan of the Eurovision song contest), I felt compelled to reflect on the ways communicating across Europe has changed over the past year.

Just shy of 750 million inhabitants and with an average GDP of 25,000 euro per head within the EU alone, Europe is the world’s third largest market. Where the first two – namely the US and China – rely on one core culture and language to communicate, Europe is a melting pot of cultures, languages, and currencies. In a tech world dominated by English and the dollar, communicating in Europe can often feel overwhelming. And the past 12 months have added even more complexity to this picture.

So how can brands cut through the noise and be heard?

The new European

Europe is a varied collection of people and cultures that date back centuries, from the Viking tradition shared from Iceland to Denmark; to the Mediterranean way of life that spans from Portugal to Turkey; and the former Soviet Union from east Berlin (Germany) to Tbilisi (Georgia) and Vladivostok (Russia). These cultures have evolved over time as the local population grew and became more diverse through migration and conquest.

While these cultures have been around for centuries, the past twelve months have had a radical impact on the fabric of Europe:

  • the Black Lives Matter movement has put the onus on the lack of representation and the systemic racism targeting ethnic minorities;
  • the five-year long divorce between the UK and the EU has led to questions around migration of goods, people, and data – including supranational intelligence;
  • and the COVID crisis has shown the many approaches to a global pandemic – including one of the world’s most daring health experiments: Sweden’s refusal to lockdown.

These systemic changes show that the concept of Europe as one homogenous continent is not only outdated – it is simply inaccurate. This much more nuanced audience needs to be factored into any communications and marketing plan destined for the ‘European market’.

As a first step, communicators and marketers should assess the core markets they want to reach and, within these markets, who their target audience is. Luckily, we’re now in a digital-first world, so it’s much easier to reach these audiences online – which leads us to the next big challenge any marcomms professional faces: selecting the right channels to engage.

A shifting media landscape

This shift in European cultures is also reflected in the new media landscape. Like all parts of the world, social media has taken Europe by storm. In 2020, Europeans in all major economies were more likely to get their news on social media than anywhere else. Yet, while social media reigns supreme in Spain and the UK, traditional media sources such as TV and print papers still hold a stronghold in France, Germany and Italy. And the rise of triple or quadruple play services, which bundle subscriptions for the Internet, TV and a landline or even mobile, has led to an increase in consumption of multi-lingual broadcast content.

Today, the average European has access to BBC World Services, Euronews, Al Jazeera or Sky News. These channels are consumed alongside print and online news from local and pan-European sources, brand-owned channels like podcasts, and influencer-led content on social media. The competition for eyeballs has never been fiercer, resulting in a rush towards breaking news. This need for faster, on-the-ground reporting is proving challenging for media outlets that are relying on smaller editorial teams than ever before due to budget constrictions – and investing more and more in freelance experts commissioned on an ad-hoc basis, and citizen journalists wiling to share their content for free.

Another challenge that stems from the upsurge in social media is the rise of misinformation. While tech giants have started to take action, this has often been limited to English language posts. In fact, recent research from Avaaz shows that over half of fact-checked COVID-related misinformation content in non-English European languages on Facebook is not acted upon. This proportion rises to 69% in Italy, leaving millions of Europeans at risk of receiving wrong information about the world’s worst public health crisis in over a century.

This surge in misinformation is also proving challenging for traditional media outlets, who have set up fact-checking teams or a data journalism desk, such as the BBC Reality Check, to ensure that all the information they publish is accurate.

Brands that want to succeed in Europe should therefore be mindful of the channels their audiences engage with and in which language – and plan their earned and paid media strategy accordingly. This should include a step to verify the legitimacy of the outlets they choose to engage with.

What does all this mean for communicators?

With such broad audiences and a plethora of channels of communication to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. Often, this starts with selecting the communications hub where brands want to operate from.

International brands entering Europe have traditionally used the UK as a hub for their European activity. This is due to the UK’s proximity with the single market and the US, and the fact English is a lingua franca. This makes the UK a perfect springboard to engage with broad audiences across the entire continent.

One of the key advantages of the UK is its understanding of the complexity of the European continent. This enables British communications and marketing experts to balance the need for consistent brand messaging across all geographies and how to adjust it to the local cultures the brand wants to reach.

A European communications hub model takes it one step further. It enables companies to ensure that their activity is consistent across the whole region, while benefitting from the insights of the local teams on the ground – from the local and regional media landscape to the ways in which messaging needs to adapt to deliver high impact, all while being inclusive.

This need for a ‘think global, act local’ approach to communications is even more crucial when devising high impact campaigns – particularly if you want to use humour. Short, tongue-in-cheek slogans work well in the UK or the Netherlands but would fall flat in Mittel Europa, and lascivious ads from Latin countries would be frowned upon in the Nordics. Finding the right balance requires a diverse panel of experts to review concepts, messaging, and delivery methods.

The tech industry has done a fantastic job of breaking down barriers – from enabling millions of Europeans to watch cat videos on Instagram to keeping global supply chains running amid the pandemic, and accelerating the time to market for the COVID vaccines. Now it’s time to create meaningful communications for the services that support millions of Europeans – using the right language and the right channels.

Speaking of, it’s time to watch the entries for this year’s Eurovision song contest…