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Top Takeaways

Confidence is soaring

In the past two years, Germans’ confidence in their country’s financial future has risen 15 percentage points – a level of optimism beaten only by China. People feel globalization has helped them and their fellow citizens, and that is leading to a higher willingness to spend, particularly on big-ticket items.

Take a stand

Companies and brands are expected to take a position on important issues, and consumers increasingly seek out those that have a point of view on the things that matter to them. Over half of Germans now say they like brands that take a stand – a significant jump in just the past year. Social improvement, the environment, and responsible sourcing and supply chains are hot areas of focus.

Everybody loves a bargain

A stable economy and strong jobs market mean that consumers have more money in their pockets, are able to spend in more categories, and on more premium products. But a tradition of seeking out the best value for money persists. Many shoppers – even the most affluent – seek out sales, and many prioritize price over brand names. They will pay a premium, but only if they perceive it’s clearly justified.

Have it your way

While German brands such as adidas are leading the world in offering people the chance to customize products to their precise preferences, German consumers are less likely than most to expect this to be an option when they buy. The ability to personalize – perhaps a unique color combination or an entirely customized design – is therefore likely to be a source of delight rather than the satisfaction of an expectation.

Meat’s getting the chop

Germany’s cuisine is known for delighting carnivores, but consumers here are increasingly going meat-free to benefit their health. While they’re generally sceptical about the value of so-called “superfoods”, there is a belief that vegetarianism, and veganism in particular, has lasting health benefits. So, while around 2 percent of UK residents and just over 3 percent of Americans are vegetarian, in Germany, over 4 percent say they don’t eat meat. Women, young people and those who live in cities are most likely to be vegetarian.

We’ll drink to that

There are cuts being made to the consumption of beer – especially among millennials, who are reducing alcohol consumption in the pursuit of better health. Consumers aren’t going thirsty, however, as spending on soft drinks, bottled water and smoothies is increasing. And Germany remains the third-largest consumer of alcoholic drinks per capita, though tastes are shifting towards craft beers, gin and cocktails.

Big brother is watching

Concerns about data are a big deal in Germany, with three-quarters of people worried that individuals or companies might misuse their data. In fact, it’s one of the top three worries about any issues – even ahead of job security. Be utterly transparent about how data will be used and protected, and demonstrate clear value in return for it being shared. Already, the use of ad blockers here is double the global average.

Diversity is changing tastes

Net immigration to Germany is now over 400,000 people a year, and there are now around 8.5 million foreign citizens residing here. The most recent arrivals – over a million from Syria and Iraq under the government’s “open door” policy on refugees – along with EU citizens seeking study and work opportunities, are fueling rising demand for new products and services. The influx of Muslim consumers in particular, who now number about 5 million, creates a growing market for halal meat, clothing and personal care items.

Fit to full screen

While mobile phone use is close to ubiquitous, for shopping it remains largely a PC-driven market. For instance, among the people who shop for groceries online, three quarters are doing so from a computer, even if they also have a mobile. A significant number also use a tablet, which leaves only around 14 percent who are shopping from their phone. This is quite a different dynamic to other markets, so communications and online stores need to be tailored accordingly.

Have a good time

If great brands are built by talented people, then the way to attract and retain the best is not just about offering a competitive salary. Germans are more likely than employees in other countries to say it’s important to them that they work somewhere that gives them a good time as well as payment at the end of the month. Seek out opportunities to bring more fun into the working environment.

 

Old media is still today’s media

There’s strong adoption of new technology, and just over half of all German consumers use a social media platform at least once a day. But don’t invest in the new at the expense of the old, which is still a highly effective way of reaching huge numbers of people. Even now, 47 percent of consumers’ media time is spent with traditional TV, print or other “old” media. This is in contrast to the global split, of around one-third of people’s time with old media, and two-thirds with new.

 

It’s all in the mind

Everyone wants to look good and feel great, but for many Germans, health and mental wellbeing are stronger motivators than wanting to appear attractive. Products that help people look good could consider emphasizing self-confidence and the effect on mood, rather than how other people react. There is considerable demand for services that help people slow down, de-stress and get enough sleep. 

Curate and create trustworthy content

Consumers are sceptical about the content they encounter, particularly online. Brands therefore need to ensure that across all touchpoints, they are consistent in presenting an image of their brand that rings true to those who know it, that is relevant to consumers in the moment they are exposed to it, and that enables people to engage, rather than simply receive a message.

Cash is losing its luster

There is a long tradition of making payments with cash to protect personal privacy, and this is still most consumers’ favored way to pay, but card payments are on the up for the obvious reason of convenience. Banks have been reducing fees, which is encouraging more people to apply for cards, though debit cards are still much preferred over credit cards. Cryptocurrency payments are rare, though the German National Tourism Board has started accepting payment for its services in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and the food delivery company Lieferando has been taking Bitcoin payments for over a year. 

Germans like to buy local

But it’s not for reasons of national pride. Rather, there’s a sense that locally produced goods are more sustainable, and provide jobs for people who live near them. There’s also an artisan feel about many goods that are made locally, and this is an appealing contrast to mass-produced items that to many people implies quality.

Social marketing isn’t just one thing

Brands can use social media to inspire, inform and lead consumers to interact (and transact). The key to success is knowing which consumers are using which platform for what. Social video is a great source of inspiration – fashion and home decorating ideas, for instance – and that’s best done on YouTube, while Facebook is better suited to imparting information – upcoming discounts, free delivery and opening hours. The extent of a platform’s reach matters less than matching the right branded content to the platform’s users.

 

Techies don’t always want more tech

Don’t assume that the early adopters of new technology necessarily want to adopt all things new and digital. In fact, the most digitally active customers are often the most discerning about the products and services they’re willing to try, and their attention is hardest to grab. So, don’t rely solely on broad demographic stereotypes. Within these target groups, there can be a huge diversity of behavior and attitudes, and even those with the most open minds need convincing.

Speak when you’re spoken to

While voice-activated digital assistants have been sweeping the English-speaking world, they’ve been a little slower to gain traction in other markets. In Germany, only around 5 percent of households currently have a smart speaker such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa, so this is a niche market for now, but it is on the way. Among people identified as early tech adopters, penetration is 12 percent. These devices promise to change the way consumers and brands relate; brands need to think about the voice that they will have – both the literal voice they speak with, but also the personality they project.

Remember to be human

This is a high-tech market, but there’s reluctance to leap into the future with mobile payment and bot-led customer service. Levels of enthusiasm for mobile-only payment and for online-only service models are actually lower than global averages. Technology is both exciting and a little frightening. More than half of Germans worry about getting left behind by the pace of change.

Aaaaand relax

Everyone’s now looking for brands to provide them with an experience – not just a great product or service at the right price. But while some consumers want high-energy experiences, or something that provides a feeling of escaping from their daily routine, German consumers prioritize experiences that help them connect with other people, are memorable, and help them relax.