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Fuschia Hutton

What do British customers love about Italy and Italian products? (and what are we less impressed about?)

This post is for Italian businesses that want an insight into British consumers and what we really love about Italy and Italian products to help you understand how to best market to us.

The British love affair with Italy goes back centuries. Back in the 17th century, the young and beautiful rich would embark on the Grand Tour of Europe. The usual final destination was Rome. On their return, they brought back new ideas, classical building styles, and a taste for the good life.

And I am one of them. Strictly speaking, my love for Italy began as a fascination for the Mediterranean in general. I fantasised about leaving chilly Britain and starting a new life in Spain or Italy, feeling free and relaxed. So already, you can see a glimpse of what attracts us to Italy.

When putting this post together, I tried to come up with some ideas that weren’t too stereotypical. Nevertheless, Brit after Brit told me the same thing: they just can’t get enough of your food, beautiful landscapes, fashion, quality goods, and… YOU Italians!

My (anecdotal) analysis of what the British love about Italy and Italian products is unlikely to unearth any great surprises. However, I would argue that our motivations and the way we interact with Italian products has changed over the years.

The food: no longer a nation of tinned-fruit eaters

It will come as no surprise to you to learn that food is one of the biggest draws. This isn’t just true for Brits, but for any non-Italian. Without getting into any discussions about British food, it’s safe to say that food is less sacrosanct to us.

But to assume that Brits don’t appreciate good food is a mistake. There has been a huge shift in attitudes to food in recent years. Today, there is a much bigger focus on the origin of our food, health, and environmental issues. The quality of the ingredients is a huge boon for Italian companies in the international market.

Food is also an emotional issue. British food took a nosedive after the second world war. As our diet became filled with tinned fruit and monosyllabic microwave meals in front of the TV, we developed a healthy dose of envy towards big, Mediterranean families gathered together for joyous meals. Why not tap into this emotional side in your brand story? Do you have a family or local story attached to your product?

The UK has had a huge upsurge in interest in coffee in recent years. BUT the influence comes from the USA rather than Italy. Hipster cafes serving carefully-crafted flat whites or huge conglomerates serving tankards of weak americanos (dishwater) are ubiquitous. I wouldn’t wonder if coffee is overtaking tea as the national drink. While Italian coffee is prestigious, many Brits prefer a long, weak americano over a shot of espresso.

The timeless beauty of il Bel Paese

Along with the warmer climate, the beauty of Italian architecture and landscapes is a huge draw for Brits. Combined with Renaissance art galleries, Medieval hill-top towns, and ancient Roman history, Italy could be considered the ‘thinking man’s’ holiday destination. It appeals to a different type of person to those who prefer Spain’s Costa del Sol, or the Greek islands.

It’s no secret that Brits have a particular fascination for Tuscany. It’s even nicknamed ‘Chiantishire’ for the sheer number of bohemian Brits that moved there.

Florence, Venice, and Rome are the obvious, tried-and-tested destinations, but we are venturing further afield. About 10 years ago, Puglia and its trulli became popular. Calabria and its stunning coastline, but neglected infrastructure, isn’t really on the average Brit’s radar. Perhaps an opportunity for tourism companies based in this region?

One Brit mentioned that Italy’s traditions are a pull, largely because many of our own cultural traditions died out in our industrial revolution. The average Brit doesn’t have a strong understanding of Carnevale or il Palio. And we certainly don’t know what Ferragosto is. But you can still use these traditions in your brand story – you just may need to give a clearer explanation.

Fashion and Made in Italy: the meticulous craftsmanship overturns lazy stereotypes

These days, most British high-street retailers make their products in China or Bangladesh. We have a special respect for Italy and the way you have hung onto your craftsmanship.

The quality of Italian craftmanship is so well regarded in the UK, that the word ‘Italian’ communicates a benefit in itself. However, don’t get complacent about this. Because so many Italian brands use it, it runs the risk of becoming an empty benefit. Always ask ‘so what?’ – if you can articulate the answer, then this will make your offering stronger and distinguish you from other Italian competitors.

Before becoming a translator and copywriter, I managed international marketing projects. Over and over, we were impressed by our Italian teams. We have a lazy stereotype of Italians being less efficient and work-focused, but they threw this idea out the window. Instead, they were almost without exception precise, detail-oriented, almost to the point of fastidiousness. I continue to see this today when working with Italian clients and colleagues. I believe that it is this meticulousness that led to Italians producing such high-quality goods. And I don’t think many Brits are aware of this character trait. Something to build on in your marketing, perhaps?

2018 saw a huge shift in mainstream British awareness of environmental issues such as plastic pollution and fast fashion. More people are ditching brands with a shady track-record, and avoiding brands with excessive packaging. Small ateliers with transparent supply chains, and traditional methods and materials, will be at an advantage with the British public.

We tend to understand the Italian culture as a collective instead of regional

Italian don’t particularly love us Brits, but we love you! While Italians distinguish between southerners and northerners, the average Brit views Italians as friendly, happy, laid back types. (Just like the average Italian doesn’t make a big distinction between the English and the Welsh). This could be because the Italian immigrants who settled in the UK in the sixties were mostly southerners.

Wearing your heart on your sleeve, being free with your emotions, and warm-hearted. Even if you don’t recognise these traits in yourself or your province, we consider them very positive. Perhaps something to build on if consistent with your brand.

What are we less than impressed about?

What about those things Brits aren’t that bothered about. After all, there’s no point wasting your communications by talking about things that don’t impress us.

Firstly, and I’m sure most Italians who’ve lived with Brits will agree, we’re not quite as bothered about cleaning and order as the average Italian. Of course, we do clean, and we would expect a hotel to be clean, but it’s just not as big a thing in the UK as it in in Italy. It’s not uncommon to leave the dirty dishes in the sink until the next day. So, going into detail about cleanliness may not impress British consumers as much as you think.

We’re not that impressed with long, important words or flowery sentences either. I see this all the time when tourist companies translate their website themselves. Keeping to short sentences and words of Anglo Saxon origin is much more effective than translating literally from the Italian.

We are also pretty hot on punctuality. If you are a tourism company that has arranged to pick up British tourists at a specific time and you’re late, they won’t be impressed – even if they smile and say it’s not a problem (we are masters of the passive aggressive).

Why is this information useful?

It is really important to have a clear idea of who your customer is. It makes it much easier to sell to them if you understand them. Of course, if you regularly do business with Brits, then you will have some idea of what they like about your service or business. Try making a note of the feedback you get from British clients.

Of course, if you are putting together a campaign, you’ll probably want to conduct some market research and really narrow down the focus on your target audience.

But it’s difficult to know exactly how to reach a customer from another culture. I know – I still call on Italians to help me understand the Italian market better.

Need help reaching a British audience? Working with a professional who grew up immersed in the culture of your target customers, and who continues to be based there, can make all the difference. Drop me a line, I’d love to help.