Decoding “Britishness”: 5 Tips for Tech Brands expanding to the UK

The UK’s post-industrial identity has found its footing in the past decade or so in new media, tech, and digital services. London’s creative ecosystem has sprouted up accelerators, incubators and start-up hubs while also luring over the big players from across the pond to tap into its nutrient-rich media landscape, diverse talent pool, and staunch governmental support. David Cameron has harnessed the support of the public and private sector with the ambitious and hugely successful Tech City initiative, which has been a blueprint for innovation and growth, creating a staggering 16% increase in tech sector employment.

The imminent 3rd anniversary of Tech City has prompted further digital ambition and advantage for digital innovators and investors from “Exceptional Talent” visas to access to millions in funding from the Technology Strategy Board for digital projects. The goal of course is to transform SMEs into global tech leaders, and ensure the global leaders keep their edge.

2014 will be a pivotal year as smart brands with big ambitions continue to target London, from Pinterest to Kaspersky, Netflix to Kogan, and most recently, Kiip, Combtas and SurveyMonkey, just to name a few. London is further cementing its reputation as a global technology hub with its first Technology Week planned in June, a global congregation of tech giants and digital start-ups alike.

Serious stuff. But as tech brands of all shapes and cultures prepare their Great Tech Invasion of our fair Isles, how many of them have considered the cultural implications that come with the territory? And will UK marketers and public be receptive?

Based on our experience of helping brands succeed here for 15 plus years, we’ve put together 5 geo-specific insights for brands making the move to the UK:

1. High appetite for media
The English Joe Public reads the newspaper, whereas the typical US media market leads with TV. The Brits tend to prefer pithy, punchy prose, and have a general appreciation for play on words and cleverness with language.

2. ‘Value for money’ is your brand booster
“Cheap” is not a derogatory term in the UK. It’s synonymous with practical sensibilities and shopping smart. People like to price compare. Everything from Primark’s “Uptown Clothes Downright Prices” to Morrisons’ “Every penny matters.” The Brits aren’t shy about their money-management capabilities.

3. Be understatedly charming
The British tend to avoid effusive language and prefer to qualify their statements with “perhaps” and “it could be” even if in reality, they’re steel-bolted to their point of view. What is generally considered in many markets as standard practice of laying out the facts could easily be interpreted as shameless chest beating in the UK. The key to their hearts? A charm offensive, wrapped in polite self-deprecation… then you can open the conversation to your merits!

4. Look beyond London

Undoubtedly London is a vibrant business community, and contains a wealth of talent. But the rest of the country may very well be underserved. Companies with high-growth potential are spread broadly across England rather than concentrated in any particular region. Our recent nation-wide campaign for BT brought technology solutions to time-starved C-suite executives to their doorsteps, boosting high-value business orders in just a few months.

5. There’s no such thing as Plain English
For non-Brits whose first language is English, one might assume communicating in the UK would be a piece of cake. I can speak from experience as an expat, I was far from “fluent” in UK communications when I arrived from New York 10 years ago. It turns out, in fact, Americans speak American, and Britons speak British. As a 20-person strong team here at JPC, comprised of 2 Canadians, 1 American, 1 Australian, and a core of British nationals, we’re amused and bemused every day by what can be lost in translation.

The good news? British branding is gearing up for the challenge to help foreign tech businesses succeed in their UK rollout in an age of unprecedented uncertainty and digital convergence. Here at JPC for example, we’ve invested heavily over the past year in our team, specifically bringing international and home-grown experience in from strategic communications, events and journalism backgrounds. We call this message and insights-led approach Project Voice, combining our team’s skills across brand strategy, PR, influencer management, networking and content creation to help brands cut through to the audiences that will drive their business performance.

Culture is a tricky science, and ironically will prove a hurdle for some of the most forward-thinking innovative tech brands. What will the year bring? Which businesses will invest in cultural initiatives to find the best talent, embed their brands in the local ecosystem and stay true to their identity all the while? Exciting times ahead for a year of unprecedented tech growth in the UK.