Two nations divided by consumer etiquette

Two nations divided by a common language. This well-worn phrase was repeatedly cited to me before we moved from the UK to New York and a lot after we landed. With this phrase ringing in my ears, friends at home would reassure me the shared language would make it easier for us to settle in the US. It seems Brits feel familiar with US culture thanks to the plethora of exported TV shows and movies that influence our small green island. However what’s depicted on the big or small screen or through the behavior of American celebrities does not quite capture the nuances that differentiate British and American consumers. Often, differences between the two countries are trivialized and boiled down to accent, the odd word or communication styles; compare the stereotypical deference of the Brits with the boldness of Americans. Until I moved here, I hadn’t fully appreciated just how different the two countries are when it comes to cultural context and related consumer behavior. Like many Brits I’d visited the States a few times before we decamped here, but getting a cultural impression whilst on a brief business trip or holiday is very different to living somewhere new that requires one to adapt in order to communicate more effectively and form enduring relationships As a naïve new American consumer there seemed three main hurdles to overcome. Firstly, I had to learn a new consumer vocabulary – I remember asking a bemused looking shop assistant in Target where the Wellie Boots were. She stared back at me blankly until I described them as plastic boots you wear in the...

Bin the catalogue. Disposable brands.

In my experience the gap between expectation and reality can cause disappointment. This was made clear to me after the birth of my first child. As proud new parents we excitedly commissioned a photographer to take pictures of us with our wee bundle of joy. In my mind’s eye I foresaw the photos turning out similar to an Estee Lauder advertisement - us all dewy skin, with golden locks, white teeth and misty smiles as we tossed our progeny playfully in the air while a golden Labrador puppy played around our picnic basket. When the eagerly anticipated photographs came back they looked somewhat different…Six months of sleep deprivation and no gym visits had clearly taken their toll; we looked pasty and bloated. My hair resembled a raccoon as I’d clearly overlooked the mandatory two monthly visits to the hairdressers in favor of a few too many muffins and whole milk lattes whilst breast-feeding in Starbucks.  My husband’s first reaction on seeing the photographs was that we’d looked like we’d eaten ourselves. Gwyneth Paltrow clearly need not feel threatened! Home shopping using catalogues and online photographs as stimuli reminds me of the salutary lesson learned from that photographic experience. Now as a parent of three young boys I have little choice but to shop from home as visits to the mall, Main Street or the city shops with three young kids in tow is beyond stressful and going alone is a rare treat squeezed between swimming lessons and soccer practice. Lately I’ve become too fixated on Pottery Barn. Online shopping with them would be a breeze if you’re an altogether more...

Brand Baby 6: Building blocks of the future

According to a recent article I read, boys are driven by accomplishment and reward. As a mother of three boys under 6, I regularly pay 25 cents to motivate them to accomplish any number of menial tasks: putting on shoes, tidying up, etc. Now that my eldest two boys have reached four and six this need for motivations and incentive is becoming increasingly evident. I believe their brand du jour, LEGO, is perfectly placed to deliver on this. LEGO stands for fun, imagination, creativity, and learning. Speaking as a parent of boys, it seems they consistently deliver on what kids enjoy. Their traditional product of bricks and blocks taps boys’ seemingly inherent and basic need to build, either solo or as a team. My boys take great pride in their constructions whether following by the box instructions or embarking on a free-style version. Partnering with the most in-vogue kids’ brands of today, LEGO knows how to continually connect with its consumers. The brand has steadily moved beyond building blocks to position itself as an experiential brand, the most obvious incarnation being their amusement parks. However their co-branding opportunities also point to this shift as my boys construct, animate and develop accompanying stories focused around their creations, seemingly absorbing the brand in every sense. More recently, LEGO have done it again with their interactive games. They’ve tapped precisely into what makes boys tick: achievement and reward. A coyote could walk into our family room, devour their Starbursts and my boys would be oblivious until they had mastered their obsession – Lego Star Wars. As they reach the next level they...

Britons, embrace your inner American!

We were back in England this August.  Although we were lucky enough to miss the carnage caused by the hurricane and earthquake we landed in the UK in the aftermath of the riots.  Everyone I spoke with there expressed a sense of disbelief and palpable anger at the wanton vandalism and destruction that had spread like wildfire across Britain’s streets. The politicians were playing the blame game.  The right wing were blaming the parents of the youths and their apparent inability to instil moral values in their children while those left of centre were blaming the credit crunch, the slow economy, poor jobs market and lack of prospects many of the young face.  Others were blaming social networking and the safety net provided by social security benefits which, in their view, induce a lack of personal responsibility. Whatever the spur, teens and early twenty-something’s face long term economic insecurity not experienced for decades.  Their frustration and anxiety is not unique it’s just manifested in different ways through every demographic segment.  Concerned pensioners see their capital challenged by rising inflation and low interest rates, pre-retirees watch helplessly as share prices seem to collapse more frequently than in living memory, and experienced, skilled workers face the constant fear of job loss.  Although these are worldwide issues I got the distinct impression Britain’s spirit is more badly broken than in other countries.  It’s suffering from a negativity that needs to be halted before it becomes endemic and repeatedly passed through generations. This lack of confidence was reflected across the media in the UK while we were there.  The business pages reported Dyson,...

Brand Baby 5: Never fly with young kids or babies

The show biz saying goes never work with animals or kids. A similar adage could be applied to flying and kids. As part of our relocation package we’re fortunate to get annual business class flights back to the UK for all the family. This has turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. During every one of the flights we’ve taken so far our fellow passengers have made negative comments about our travelling in business with our three young boys. They range from the passive, said by a fellow passenger to their travelling companion in a slightly too loud whisper - “if they’re near me I’m asking to be moved” through to the personal and aggressive. One female passenger accused us of being inept parents when our then three year old laughed loudly at a film. Perhaps muzzling or sedating him would have been preferable for her? These experiences made us feel like social pariahs just because we’re travelling with kids. The knock on effect is the memory of them has transformed flying from a pleasurable experience into an anxious one.  We plan meticulously, booking flights that fit with the boys sleeping schedules, preferably at night, deciding who sits next to whom, the order we go and off in, and our hand luggage has swelled threefold as we pack every trick in the book designed to distract or occupy the kids  – iPods, ipads, pretzels, colouring books and Ring Pops spill out of our bags at security. For our annual transatlantic flight we’ve always plumped for Virgin’s Upper Class specifically because of its reputation for being family...
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