European business is rapidly becoming the road to growth and prosperity for many companies. According to Forrester Research, “European eCommerce will grow by more than 100 percent per year until 2003, reaching euro 1.6 trillion or 6.3 percent of total trade by 2004.”
The saturation of the U.S. marketplace, the recent turmoil of the stock market, and rapidly growing online and email access in Europe (Europe has an estimated 153 million email boxes) represent an incentive for businesses to operate and launch email marketing campaigns in promising markets such as France. Although many U.S. companies are beginning to realize the potential benefits of tapping into the French market, many are still reluctant to start email marketing campaigns there due to the operational complexity and various misconceptions.
Minitel: Threat or Opportunity?
To understand the characteristics of the French market, one needs to understand the success and demise of Minitel, the original online system that in the ’80s made France the envy of its European neighbors. First launched in 1982, the Minitel terminal consisted of a small monitor with a keyboard connected to a phone jack. France Telecom distributed this computer-like device free with normal telephone service. First used as online yellow pages, it seemed like the world’s greatest achievement in communications technology.
Minitel grew at the expense of new alternatives such as the Internet, and at the start of 1999 the number of French Net users was half that of Britain’s. In 2000 France had an estimated 18 million Minitel users, compared with fewer than 10 million on the Internet. Today, as the costs associated with Internet access are decreasing and Minitel applications remain limited, the Internet is becoming a much more attractive alternative.
After a Slow Start, France Is Now Catching Up
France’s 54 million people represent a population of loyal consumers, naturally inclined to Web surfing thanks to the Minitel experience. Although an estimated 30 percent of French households owned a computer by the end of 2000, online penetration in France is estimated at only 18 percent, which is lower than the European average of 27 percent, according to Forrester.
In Europe, culture, education, and climate explain divisions more than demographics. Swedes, followed by the Swiss, are more than twice as likely to be online and shop as other Europeans and more than 20 percent as likely to own PCs and mobile phones. Spain and France both score below average.
There are an estimated 11 million of my compatriots online (when they’re not enjoying two-hour lunches or blocking the roads with their tractors, that is). The number of Internet users (or internautes) has increased 44 percent year to year thanks to Internet service providers (ISPs) such as France Telecom, Cegetel, Club-Internet, INFONIE, and LibertySurf, and France is finally catching up with its European counterparts.
Understanding Cultural Differences
Although Europe has made great progress at organizing itself as a powerful economical player, there is no single European culture, and successful e-marketers need to respect cultural and linguistic differences. A continuing exasperation for U.S. companies is that the French willfully persist in speaking French (though many will speak English if shouted at).
There are many other points for e-marketers to consider, such as data privacy, the burdens of complying with a wide variety of laws, unique consumer preferences, and bandwidth acceptance (required for rich media) before launching email campaigns. Europeans are very sensitive about the practice of email marketing and condemn spam as vigorously as Americans. The European Community recently concluded a study showing that spam is costing consumers over $10 billion in connection time (the French have to pay for the time they are connected over the phone line) and access fees.
In other words, entering the French market cannot be an afterthought and requires true expertise.
Selecting the Right Email Marketing Partner
Marketers are much better off using the services of professional email marketing companies with excellent understanding of local markets. Among the top European email marketing players are E-MailVision, MessageMedia Europe, and 24/7 Europe. EmailVision is one of Europe’s leading providers of email marketing solutions and has built an impressive portfolio of European clients such as MTV Europe and Volvo. Privately owned and headquartered in Paris with offices in the U.K. and Germany, it has built strong expertise in the European markets.
Most recently, U.S.-based email marketing companies, such as MessageMedia and 24/7 Media, have ventured into Europe. In late 1999, Message Media established a joint venture with SOFTBANK, @viso, and Vivendi to create MessageMedia Europe, headquartered in Paris with offices in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K. In early spring of 2000, 24/7 also started offering email marketing solutions from the U.K.
Marketing information companies such as Consodata can also provide access to quality email prospect lists for the European market. With offices in France, the U.K., Italy, Spain, and Belgium, it offers access to over 25 million European consumers to its 3,500 partners and clients, such as AOL, DANONE, and E*TRADE.
Among France’s contributions to Western civilization are champagne, Camembert, and the guillotine. Pick the right email marketing partner before entering the French market, and you will be able to enjoy the first two without having your boss send you to the last.
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As an email marketer, I would rather have 100 customers who open and engage with my messages than 10,000 who don't.