Zurich Switzerland is an attractive export market


Top marketing tips for doing business in Switzerland

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Don’t expect everyone to speak standard German or English

Localisation is an important element when moving into any international market, but when doing business in Switzerland it becomes much more significant. The Swiss have four official languages – German, French, Italian and Romansh.

While the vast majority of citizens in Switzerland speak outstanding English, they are also extremely proud of their own languages and naturally expect any marketing messages to be properly targeted.

German is spoken by 63% of the population, it is the official language in 17 of the 26 Swiss cantons and the majority of cities with the largest populations are all German-speaking, including Zurich, Bern and Basel.

On the other hand, French is spoken by 22.7% of the populace and is the sole official language of four cantons in the rest of the country, including Geneva. Italian is spoken by just 8.4% of Swiss people, with Ticino the only canton with it as the sole official language.

Finally, Romansh is spoken by just 0.6% of inhabitants and doesn’t have any cantons to call its own, although several areas share a combination of official languages.

In 2010, the Swiss government passed a law that requires the Confederation to treat each of the country’s three main official languages – German, Italian and French – with equal importance. It also recognises that Romansh should be used when communicating with anyone who uses it as their first language.

The point here is that it would be a mistake to assume that you can simply translate into standard German and expect to achieve success from your marketing. Apart from alienating a rather significant portion of the country, there are also differences in both Swiss German and Swiss French compared to standard German and French that will impact the effectiveness of your messaging.

Target your message by each canton’s official language and use local experts for your localisation, as they will be able to offer the right language, idioms and cultural references you need. And if you have an online presence, then make sure that each language is easily discoverable and only use one language per page.

Make sure you’ve got the terminology right

One of the consequences of having a multilingual public is that all of Switzerland’s official texts must be translated into German, French and Italian, with some also published in English and Romansh. It also means that the Swiss have an enormous range of terminology that must correspond across at least three languages.

The Federal Chancellery, the department responsible for maintaining this multilingualism, has a free-to-access database called the TERMDAT, which allows anyone to look up the corresponding terms in any of these languages. This includes Swiss law and public administration, but also covers subjects ranging from industry, culture and economics to trade, transport and the environment.

If you are entering into any sort of contract or agreement in Switzerland, this database will become extremely important, as it will help you ensure your wording is legally correct across each language.

Pay close attention to cultural references

As with all cultures, the Swiss have their own quirks when it comes to customs and etiquette. In some areas this includes extreme sensitivity to noise in apartments after 10pm (even flushing the toilet can earn you a strongly worded note in your post-box). Then there’s the tradition of Knabenschiessen, an annual shooting competition for 13-17-year-olds that has been running in Zurich since the 17th Century.

While neither example is likely to influence your marketing plans to a huge extent, they highlight the need to use marketing messages that chime with your local population. Just as we’ve pointed out that paying lip service doesn’t work in Asia, neither will it work here. The Swiss are extremely protective of their culture – both nationally and of their respective cantons – and especially in the face of perceived creeping Anglicisation. Do your research and test your messages. In a similar vein, if you already have marketing campaigns that are being run successfully in France or Germany, don’t just assume that your Swiss audience is going to react the same way.

Communicate quality

The Swiss are renowned for exceptional workmanship. They appreciate high quality and good value, and quite often this makes them suspicious of the ‘hard sell’. Their rationale is that if you are trying too hard to push something, there must be a catch. As such, it is better to avoid high pressure selling tactics in your marketing messages. Quiet self-confidence in the quality of your product speaks greater volumes than the offer of a bargain. One way to demonstrate compliance and quality online is by obtaining a trustmark in your relevant territory. They do have varying qualification criteria, so make sure you find the one that’s right for you.

On the other hand, if you are manufacturing products in Switzerland, then you can only claim that it has been ‘Swiss made’ if at least 60% of production cost and the most important part of the manufacturing process both belong to Switzerland.

Switzerland is a brilliantly idiosyncratic and diverse country which poses unique challenges to companies wishing to do business there. For advice on how to get your messages right, contact one of our project managers today.