Some Marketing Principles Are Universal, Even on the French Riviera

Andrew Stanten


Last August I took a month-long sabbatical from work to take a 500-mile bike tour of Italy and France. Throughout the trip I was reminded again and again that A) Italian food tastes better in Italy; B) French people don’t willingly speak English, even if they can; and C) certain marketing principles are universal.

1. Even small brands are global.

A “brand” comprises the visual, verbal and emotional attributes that define a company and differentiate it from the competition. Increasingly, whether we know it or not, we are all doing business globally. Satellite offices. Suppliers. Distributors. Competitors. Customers. How adaptable is your brand image and messaging to different languages and cultures?

I lost my iPod charger in the French Riviera city of Toulon. No one spoke English (at least voluntarily; see above) and I speak little French beyond “bonjour” and “baguette.” As I strolled the downtown area in search of an electronics store, from more than a block away, in a foreign language, I spotted a Mac store. Couldn’t miss it. That’s the power of branding.

2. Brands are social.

You can run but you can’t hide. “Social media” won’t go away, and it will continue to evolve dramatically. Customers have a louder voice than ever. And they’re talking to each other about your business.

Businesses must pay close attention to what real people are saying.

I spent five days exploring the city of Cannes–but not before I spent a good deal of time online, reading reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions and shops. I picked my hotel in part due to location–but mostly because of the many positive customer reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Then I connected with my hotel of choice through Facebook, then email, exchanging a number of messages. When I checked in, I felt as if Monique, the innkeeper, already knew me. She greeted me warmly, asked about my trip from Philadelphia and already had some cycling routes mapped out for me.

The lesson? Businesses must pay close attention to what real people are saying. Monitor message forums, Twitter, Facebook and other social media venues where customers–and prospects–are talking. And remember: As Monique knows very well, good customer service is good marketing.

3. Ask for praise.

Happy customers are your greatest marketing tool. Enlist them as brand ambassadors. It is perfectly acceptable to politely ask (or nudge) customers to socialize their positive experiences with your brand on Yelp, VirtualTourist, Trip Advisor, Facebook, Twitter, industry-specific review websites and more. So go ahead and ask–customer praise is far more authentic than any advertising copy that a slick marketing agency can put together.

I had an amazing experience at a cooking school in Tuscany. As the evening wrapped up, the chef/owner gave us all a handout with recipes, photographs of the vineyard, a small bottle of his vineyard’s olive oil (which included a website to order more) and a gentle but pointed request to share our experience with others. Conversely, I stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast in the tiny Italian town of Bedonia. After reading the glowing reviews in her guest book, I asked the innkeeper if she encouraged guests to share positive feedback online. She felt that would be too pushy. I convinced her otherwise and posted my own positive review.

4. Do something to stand out.

It’s a crowded marketplace no matter what business you are in. You need to stand out, to differentiate from the competition–whether it’s a bold approach to your website design, a break from conventional trade show displays, or boldly defining why your products or services are better than theirs.


Happy customers are your greatest marketing tool.

Enlist them as brand ambassadors.


Start by taking a hard look at your company messaging, positioning and image. Then study the competition. If it all looks, feels and sounds all the same to you, it will look, sound and feel the same to your prospects.

In Florence, with hundreds of options to drink within 10 square blocks, we stopped in our tracks when we read the sandwich board outside a pub that said, “Beer. Making sure ugly people have sex for more than 2,000 years.” Not only did my friend and I walk in and drop 40 Euros, we ended up talking with at least a dozen other tourists there, many of whom asked us to take their picture in front of the sign. Turned into one great happy hour!

5. America is not the world.

The advertising in France was a bit more, shall we say, risqué than in the U.S. The stuff I saw on billboards, buses and taxi stands would make many people’s jaws drop here. In addition, I encountered a host of country-specific social networking websites during my travels. Facebook, Google and YouTube may dominate the globe, but people are socializing online locally, too.

If you do business globally, take a hard look at the culture of the market. Pay a professional translator who understands marketing to convert your sales and marketing materials to the target language. Remove colloquialism that won’t translate well. Get counsel on cultural differences to know what is and isn’t acceptable. And realize that while even small brands may be global, not everything translates the same way in every country.

Andrew Stanten

Andrew Stanten co-founded Altitude Marketing in 2004. As CEO, he ensures the right people are on board, delivering world-class marketing services to Altitude’s global client base, and staying true to Altitude’s mission, vision and values.
Andrew possesses an innate ability to process, organize and summarize massive volumes of client and market information and turn it into actionable, strategic thinking. This enables Team Altitude to get smart about a company quickly—and develop winning, integrated approaches that vault clients into a position of prominence and strength.
Andrew graduated from Syracuse University and earned his MBA from Lehigh University.