PR Agency Helsinki

3 differences between Finland and the U.S. – and why they matter for business and PR

With the reinvigoration of business between Europe and the U.S. after the pandemic, many Finnish and Nordic companies are gazing over the Atlantic, re-opening their plans of U.S. market entry. There are plenty of Finnish companies who’ve made it in America, like Vincit and Supercell, to look up to and study. With examples like Marimekko and the Moomins, the brands, products and services of Finnish companies certainly have everything it takes to conquer the highly sought-after North American market and beyond.

Well, at least on paper.

The thing is, most companies with a decidedly Finnish DNA go to the U.S. – perhaps to attend a trade show or a big, flashy tech event – with the same kind of mentality they would employ in Finland: As long as I present the facts of my technology, with full honesty and sincerity, surely I will get leads!

While Finnish CEOs and founders may not think that consciously, it’s often evident in the way they present themselves in America. It’s important to remember that what is the norm in Finland doesn’t necessarily translate very well to successful connections in the U.S.

However, this does not mean a Finnish founder should change who they are, not at all. It simply means that there are cultural factors that they should be aware of.

1. We are the best” vs. “Well, this still needs some work”

Slightly comedic, but it’s true. Not only do American companies often tout that what they offer is the best of the best, but they also sincerely believe it! It’s not just a show. The U.S. is a highly competitive country, not only on the business side of life, but on the individual level, as well. People are brought up to believe that America is the greatest country on Earth, and, whatever comes out of the U.S., is the best there is.
Meanwhile in Finland, this is not how it goes. No matter how much a company polishes their product or service, it never seems to deserve the label “best”, “great”, or even a moderate  “excellent”. Finns hold themselves to extremely high standards. If it’s not tested by multiple clients and third-party organizations, or if it’s not peer-reviewed according to the strictest criteria, it’s nothing special.
But Americans want to buy the best. They don’t mind being sold to! So if you’re trying to get an American company to buy from you, don’t talk down what you’re offering. After all, isn’t it the best?

2. It’s all about the facts vs. inspiring with a story


When a Finnish engineer or sales manager starts to talk about the technology that their company brings to the table, chances are, they will present some kind of a fact sheet with numbers. They will go immediately into the technical details of the product – and completely forget to mention what problem it’s solving in the first place, and why anyone should get excited about it.

It’s not quite what gets American buyers interested. What Finns often forget is to first establish an emotional connection with their audience. Successful American companies and brands do this very well: by telling a story from the audience’s point of view about the problem they are solving and how that will impact the world. Who doesn’t want to be part of a mission that inspires them?

Oh, and before they even get to that point, they’ve likely already started building a good rapport with the person they would like to win over. How? Through the dreaded small talk.


3. Small talk doesn’t mean anything vs Small talk opens doors 


Finns don’t have a reputation for being quiet and shy for nothing. You’d be hard-pressed to find a quieter spot than a bus stop on a busy weekday morning in the middle of Helsinki, the Finnish capital. It’s very rare for strangers to get into a conversation with each other.

In a culture that prioritizes efficiency and directness over pleasantries, small talk is often seen as a waste of time and even a sign of not having enough meaningful things to say. This is quite the pitfall when Finnish companies try to connect with potential customers and partners in the States where small talk plays a vital role in building business relationships, no matter what the industry.

In many of her keynotes, Carla Harris talks about the 15-minute meeting before the meeting. You know, that rather informal moment where you fill the air before going into a very formal pitch meeting with a coveted customer? That’s not just empty space to wait out before you cut to the chase. That’s an opportunity to connect on a personal level and build trust with the people you are about to pitch to.

And that’s the magic of small talk. It’s a good idea to just go with it!


Want to learn More?


To chat more about all things U.S., cultural differences and how to navigate them, don’t hesitate to get in touch. 

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