With over 60 million inhabitants, Italy can be an alluring market to target, but a complex one, too. From cultural nuances to education levels, here is a quick update about the Italian market.
Back in Goethe’s time, a trip to Italy was a fundamental formative experience for the youth of the aristocracy who wanted to learn about history and art. Since then, understanding the Italian market has become somewhat less relevant and knowledge has been often substituted by stereotypes.
This might be a problem for brands wanting to expand here: if you are planning to, there are some things you should understand about your audience.
Prepping for the Italian market: know your regions and cities
Compared to other European countries, Italy has been united for a relatively short time. Until 1861 we used to be a jigsaw of kingdoms, republics, and principalities, the borders between them changing constantly.
This – and the vertical shape of a country that goes from alpine climates to North African heat, set the stage for a country with very diverse local cultures. And when we say diverse, we mean they might sometimes look like different countries, with some ongoing rivalries.
This is why understanding Italians is easier said than done. If your product is going to be distributed only in some cities or regions, make sure you understand the local culture. In Milan, you might be appreciated for using a slick, cosmopolitan tone of voice, while Romans might better appreciate some easy-going sense of humor. In doubt, ask a local!
Prepping for the Italian market: be careful about the category you are trying to enter
Italians are pretty defensive about some things, some product categories you might want to approach with caution.
You know the first one: food, of course. Angry reactions of Italians to “food sins” have become an Internet favorite. This mostly concerns the proper way to prepare Italian recipes or use Italian ingredients. It doesn’t mean we don’t try or appreciate foreign cuisines but it’s good to know your audience perceives itself as a “food purist”.
Introducing new flavors is absolutely possible, just make sure to take your time educating the audience and underline the purity of your ingredients. Also, target risk-takers first, like young people and foodies, who might drive others.
Another risky category in the Italian market is fashion: we wear clothes from all over the world, but go back to Italy for the classics. The common pattern is: we are open to foreign products if they are innovative and groundbreaking, but we stick to Italian brands when it comes to tradition.
Prepping for the Italian market: if you are going mainstream, keep it simple
We don’t like to say it, but education levels in Italy are pretty low compared to the European average. Roughly 20% of Italians have a degree (the European average is 33%) and 62% finished high school (79% in Europe).
If you are going really mainstream, then, be mindful of your audience and stay basic with your English or just use Italian in your copy. Remember, though, that this also depends on your target demographics. Education levels are increasing and young people are learning English better and sooner than their parents. A campaign targeted at a young audience might give you more freedom.
Also remember that education levels are not equal across the country, as they are significantly higher in big cities like Rome or Milan.
Prepping for the Italian market: forget stereotypes, but not all of them
This, of course, is true for all countries. Stereotypes can be pretty offensive and could send your brand the wrong way. Whatever you do, don’t reference the mafia: while many seem to find it a humorous cliché, organized crime is tied to some of the most tragic moments in Italy’s history.
Are we mum’s boys? Pretty much so, but the thing has become pretty trite. Lots of young people live with their parents because of the economic crisis and they are pissed enough already. A country of passionate lovers? We sure like to see us that way but this is also a pretty trite cliché.
Our tip? Before addressing the Italian market, spend some time watching Italian movies and update your mental image of its people. Italians will thank you.
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