KNOWLEDGE BASE Cultural Localization For Germany
The information on this page was current at the time it was published. Regulations, trends, statistics, and other information are constantly changing. While we strive to update our Knowledge Base, we strongly suggest you use these pages as a general guide and be sure to verify any regulations, statistics, guidelines, or other information that are important to your efforts.
CULTURAL LOCALIZATION IN GERMANY
Localization is essentially making a product or service relevant and culturally appropriate for the local market, and it's a key component of expanding into new global markets. Cultural localization uses things such as local customs, colors, language, societal codes and values, and similar cues and sensibilities that are understood by the market. And the more you know about Germany's culture, the better you'll be able to localize your website and mobile apps for that country.
Global strategy, internationalization, localization...and globalization
Before we start into cultural localization for Germany, let’s first take a moment and put localization into context with internationalization and having a global strategy, since you will sometimes hear these terms used interchangeably. We'll also give you a quick definition of globalization to help you differentiate it from global strategy.
Global Strategy - At some point, going global has entered your strategy, which is probably what brought you to Globig. Developing a global strategy is the process of addressing all of the logistical and organizational aspects for content, assets, and message across markets and cultures for your global expansion. Think of it as the first step in your process, as the foundation for what comes next. In the process of developing your global strategy you’ll want to consider:
The research, identification, market validation, and selection for any new global market
The capturing and formalizing of global business requirements
Identification of technology standards, available solutions, and how your systems, products, and services integrate with these standards
Language differences leading to translation needs
Cultural considerations that could impact your product, service, messaging, and interactions
Any opportunities for marketing or technological reuse across global markets as you expand
Internal alignment and support for globalization, internationalization, and localization
Internationalization (i18n) - This is the process by which you prepare the technical aspects of your product or service to easily be localized, and requires both technical expertise and a knowledge of the markets you plan to enter. We cover this in our Product Structure Localization section in more detail, but it is essentially building flexibility into your coding, site layout, and documents so that you can easily switch from one language to another, from one cultural setting to another. If you have done your i18n correctly, you can much more quickly and cost-effectively localize as you expand.
Localization (l10n) - With localization, you are making a product or service in such a way that it culturally belongs in that market, so that it feels natural and local. For example and depending on the market, localization may include:
Changing the language out to the one used in the new market
Changing out images, colors, and other visuals to be appropriate for that market
New time zones, contact information, hours of operation
Globalization - We've already defined what having a global strategy means. Globalization is not another term for having a global strategy. In fact, they mean very different things. Compare the definition below to the description of Global Strategy above, and you'll see that what you are undertaking is a global strategy, not globalization.
If you understand local culture and etiquette in Germany, you have a better chance of successfully communicating and providing products that fit. We’ll pull some of the information highlighted in the Business Culture In Germany section to provide background to this discussion.
Cultural localization for Germany
Cultural localization refers to things such as:
Societal values, power, relationships, beliefs
Colors, shapes, sizes, styles
Images, icons, graphics
Societal codes; i.e. humor, etiquette, rituals, myths, symbols
Understanding Germany’s national culture
Each culture has a collective way of thinking, which in turn affects the workplace. For instance, in cultures where getting along is much more important than arguing, negotiations can be very confusing for someone who is used to saying what they think and demanding results. In order to better understand how values in the workplace are influenced by culture, Geert Hofstede conducted a comprehensive study around six different dimensions and uses this information to help explain business culture in a number of countries.
The six dimensions and Germany's scores are:
Power Distance in Germany
A measure for how much the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. Germany has among the lower scores on this dimension. Meetings tend to have high participation with direct communication. Direct control is disliked and leadership will be expected to show expertise in order to be accepted in that role.
Individualism vs. Collectivism in Germany
In societies that show more individualism, its members are expected to take care of just themselves and their immediate families. In societies that show more collectivism, individuals can expect that their family or members of their particular group will take care of them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. German society is individualistic. Self-actualization is very important. Small families and the parent-child relationship are more common than extending out to aunts and uncles. Loyalty is based not only on a sense of duty and responsibility, but also on personal preferences. German people are very direct, believing that it’s important to be honest, even if what one hears is painful or uncomfortable. By sharing direct feedback, one gives the recipient the chance to learn from their mistakes.
Masculinity vs. Femininity in Germany
Masculine societies show a preference for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards, and are more competitive. Feminine societies show a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, quality of life, and are generally more consensus-oriented. Germany is a masculine society, where performance matters. Managers should be assertive and decisive, and people build self-esteem through the tasks they complete. Status is shown through possessions such as watches, cars, and technological devices.
Uncertainty Avoidance in Germany
The level of discomfort members of a society feel with uncertainty and ambiguity. German’s show a tendency toward uncertainty avoidance. This manifests itself in always being very prepared. All details should be thought out and considered before presenting or proceeding with a plan, rather than starting out and determining details as they go along. Since people are individualistic, they are responsible themselves vs. the larger organization, so they rely on expertise to reduce their uncertainty.
Long Term vs. Short Term Orientation in Germany
The degree to which cultures prefer to maintain long-held traditions while viewing change with suspicion versus cultures that encourage thrift and modern education as a way to prepare for the future. Germany has a high score on this dimension, meaning that they take a pragmatic approach to things. The context, time, and situation will determine the right approach, not a time-honored tradition. Being pragmatic, they tend toward thriftiness, saving and investing, and persevering to achieve their goals.
Indulgence vs. Restraint in Germany
Indulgent societies allow for relatively free gratification related to enjoying life and having fun. Restrained societies suppress gratification of needs and regulate them by means of strict social norms. Germany scored low on this dimension, indicating that they are a restrained society leaning toward pessimism and cynicism. Indulging too much in one’s desires is considered somewhat wrong and there is not too much emphasis put on leisure time.
If you would like to learn more about this research and its findings, Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov have written several books that you can read.
And once you've got a sense for the dimensions and where Germany stands on each of them, watch this interesting video that shows how the different parts of the world compare.
If you’d like to hear Geert Hofstede himself describe these spectrums, the following short videos can be viewed:
Images, icons, and graphics
Images, icons, and graphics take on special meaning in a culture, and when combined with other cultural influences, can make or break a marketing campaign’s or service’s success. The way that people perceive and interpret symbols and cultural norms is called Semiotics, and those perceptions vary from country to country.
Semiotics is the study of signs and their associated interpretation or meaning, and it’s the primary way that we understand concepts familiar to us within a culture. Your company’s ability to tap into that interpretation in Germany will contribute to your success. To avoid conveying your own culture’s meaning of images, text, and sounds, we recommend that you find local specialists to help you in developing products, services,and campaigns that are relevant to and don’t inadvertently confuse or alienate your potential customers.
This video gives an overview and should give you a better understanding for what semiotics is all about.
Holidays and operating hours in Germany
Germany has quite a number of public holidays, some of which are observed in all states and others in select states. Public transportation and other services are generally open on holidays, as are many restaurants. On public holidays, banks and many shops are closed, including supermarkets. Most are also closed on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, though they are not official public holidays. Time your activities around the German holiday calendar, either to take advantage of certain holidays or to avoid them.
If you go searching online for ‘German humor’, you’ll quickly learn several things. First, that people who aren’t German think that Germans don’t have a sense of humor. And second, that once accepted that Germans do in fact have a sense of humor, it’s clear that it’s hard to figure out. One factor influencing German humor is their sentence structure and use of compound words. There’s less of an opportunity to leave that last punchline word dangling to the very end, a strategy commonly used in English. One person described the difference as:
“The geographical accident of Germany has denied Germans the fun we have with language, and it seemed to me that their sense of humour was built on blunt, seemingly serious statements, which became funny simply because of their context.”
Stewart Lee, The Guardian
German humor is further complicated for the non-Native through the use of various regional dialects. Combined with the regional cultural differences, one can be left completely in the dark.
How does this affect you, as a company entering Germany? First, you cannot directly translate humor from English to German. If you’ve used humor in your advertising, on your site, or in your communications, you can’t assume it will just migrate over and be appreciated. Your joke or humorous situation is very likely to fall flat.
Second, Germans are very interested in getting down to business. Lighten up or avoid the joking or light and familiar tone you may be using in the US to interact with your customers and prospects. Germans appreciate humor, but it needs to be their kind of humor, not yours. If your tone sounds flippant, insincere, or too casual, they may not take you seriously.
Third, as you’ll appreciate, humor requires a subtle touch. Seriously consider obtaining guidance from a local agency to help you with your marketing efforts, at least until you have a good grasp on how to reach Germans, and especially when employing their brand of humor. You’ll find a number of excellent marketing agencies in the Globig Marketplace who can guide your campaigns.
Localizing for regional differences in Germany - North and South
In some ways, Northern and Southern Germany are like two different countries. In fact, Bavaria (in the south) is sometimes compared to Quebec or Texas, with its independent nature and feeling that it should be a separate country. And Northern Germans have either a grudging respect or outright disdain for Southerners.
When you are localizing your website, mobile app, or communications for Germany, be aware of these cultural differences to make sure you are hitting the right target. Here’s an example. When people think of Germany, they often call up images of Oktoberfest, with dirndls and lederhosen. While that is a familiar scene from Bavaria, it’s not representative of Northern Germany. It’s a bit like using a cowboy to represent all of Americans.
And showing an idyllic bucolic pastoral scene will not necessarily speak to the 75% of Germans who are urban. It would be like showing the Iowa countryside to attempt to entice New Yorkers. And conversely, even today, Bavarians stick to their traditional foods (for instance, Weisswurst) and clothing (some Bavarians, particularly those in rural areas, can still be seen in traditional tracht attire). Bavarians are also much more likely than other parts of the country to speak their dialect, whereas dialects in other regions were largely replaced with High German (hoch Deutsch).
Bavarians are fiercely proud of their regional heritage, food, clothing, dialect, and independence. Northerners are more in line with the image of the orderly, punctual, data-driven German. While Northerners either grudgingly admire or resent Bavarians, Bavarians are proud and somewhat defensive due to their assumption that others are looking down on them.
And finally, you may have noticed that a number of public holidays are tied to Christianity. The south and west are largely Catholic, and the north and east are largely Protestant. The DDR has a much higher percentage of self-proclaimed atheists.
Localizing for regional differences in Germany - East and West
And now consider the East vs. West division. On October 3rd, 1990, East and West Germany were reunified after 45 years. During the years of separation, West Germany grew as a western nation under capitalism, while East Germany lived under communism. There were distinct differences in the level of affluence, materialism, religion, and sheer ability to obtain luxury items. With reunification, funds were sent from West to East to assist in building up business and young people moved to the West for more opportunity and visions of the lifestyle they felt they were missing.
The German states that were part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) are Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt, and Thüringen, and of course, East Berlin.
The reunification has highlighted some noteworthy differences. East Germany has an older population, due to so many young people moving west. There is also a higher percentage of the population who consider themselves atheists. There is also a level of disenchantment in the East as the prospects of a more affluent lifestyle have not materialised and some resentment in the West as funds have been sent to assist in the East, even as areas of the West were struggling.
While the differences are narrowing over time, these are still two different groups of people who were raised in very different economies with different outlooks on life.
The personal style of Germans
As we’ve noted elsewhere, Germans are smart dressers, whose idea of casual is still very put together with quality and well-matched clothing. Some Bavarians in rural areas still wear traditional clothing in their daily lives. East Germans did not have access to many of the luxury items available in the West, and may either resent those who have them or still hold to more austere conventions.
It’s important to remember that there are distinct groups within Germany that cannot be lumped into one. Showing symbols of affluence or marketing luxury items to areas that were part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany) will not be as effective as in other parts of Germany. Using dirndls and lederhosen to evoke images of old Germany to northerners could backfire. And treating Bavarians as though they have always been part of the great German empire will cause resentment.
Be sure to engage local experts to help you navigate this tricky ground. It can be done, of course, but it takes help from people who are intimately familiar with the regional differences to help your product or service feel local and comfortable to the people of Germany. Find local German experts in the Globig Marketplace who can assist you in this process.
KNOWLEDGE BASE Cultural Localization For Germany