How startups marketing and communications strategies are shifting in the US and Europe

If I had to describe European tech growth over the last few years with one word, it would be ‘disruptive'. While it may seem cliché, I've chosen this word for many reasons.

Through a positive lens, European tech ‘disrupted' many key sectors in the early 2020s, most notably Life Sciences, Energy Transition, and DeepTech — which are pretty ‘disruptive' industries in themselves, with goals to drive positive impact in the world. It's worth noting that while DeepTech is an area of significant opportunity for Europe, it has also faced challenges largely due to a lack of government funding in certain countries.

Younger venture-backed companies are also starting to ‘disrupt' the funding landscape by narrowing the gap between US and European tech. Europe's digital startup ecosystem grew twice as fast as the US in the past seven years, and the annual volume of new tech founders entering the market has surpassed North America for the past five years. After rapid growth in 2020-2021 and a fall in funding from 2022-2024, we're now entering a ‘normalisation' phase which will be categorised by more stable growth, and bigger rounds.

European tech itself has also been ‘disrupted' by a series of significant challenges, including a global economic downturn. This caused rising inflation and interest rates, amidst a decline in venture funding, which meant that startups and scaleups had to do more with less. While many firms stripped back to the bare operational bones during this period, those that prioritised strategic, lean marketing and communications activities, and were laser-focused on results and ROI, are now better equipped to recalibrate for growth.

In this article, I'll first reveal some insights and lessons learned from conversations I've had recently with some of Europe's fastest-growing businesses, and some exciting US-based brands leading their markets. I'll then share how marketing and communications can give European tech businesses an edge against their competition in a fierce market when budgets may be limited.

Insights from the European market

Over the last few months, I've seen a significant change in what brands are asking for when they approach us for marketing and communications support. Increasingly, they're reaching out for messaging, audience insight, and strategic consultancy as they prepare to take advantage of a recovering market.

Brands are recognising that the world has changed significantly, and continues to shift heavily year on year, so they need to reassess who their audiences are, what they want, and how to reach them meaningfully.

In line with industry data, we're also seeing an uptick in exciting activity coming from Eastern Europe, particularly Estonia and Lithuania. We've worked on numerous large integrated campaigns for Estonian organisations over the last year, and we've watched how these brands balance the opportunity of being the world's first digital nation with funding and recruitment challenges. Lithuania is also growing its international presence, and it was interesting to see their stand at London Tech Week where they promoted the benefits of working for Lithuanian tech companies.

Lessons from the US

The US continues to take the lion's share of global funding compared to Europe, and we've witnessed how that is being invested to boost growth while the market remains challenging.

Implementing tech to reduce silos and improve productivity and ROI across the business is a red thread across the board. In the marketing and communications space, this translates into tools and platforms that support better campaign management, reporting, and analytics. AI is also becoming a key part of many brands' investment strategies.

While lead generation and sales are top objectives for US firms, communications supporting reputation and crisis management are also seeing significant investment. With the US having a litigation-focused culture, there is more proactivity around issues management to stop crises before they happen. Big tech brands also seem to be managing new crises on a daily basis, so mid-sized and smaller organisations are taking note to ensure they're prepared for anything that comes their way. This also means that US Chief Communication Officers are often the right-hand person of their CEO, and even sit on Boards.

As European tech companies mature, we may see these trends replicated across the continent.

How European tech should use marketing and communications today

MarComms encompasses various strategies and services aimed at effectively communicating a company's marketing messages to its target audience, and guiding that audience towards a desired action — whether that's buying a product or investing in a company.

However, according to a survey conducted with a sample of our FINITE community of B2B marketers, although 85% of B2B brands have higher lead generation targets in 2024 than in 2023, the majority are working with the same or lower marketing budgets. This reflects the attitude of some companies that, when faced with challenges, wonder if their money would be better spent on R&D, staffing, or simply keeping the lights on. The reality is, MarComms should be seen as the power source behind those lights.

Rapid digitalisation has seen MarComms become a precise, data-driven tool to help organisations achieve their business objectives, from revenue growth to boosting ROI. Modern MarComms has broken down silos with a united team and enabling tech stack, and works as one unit to drive outcomes like:

  • Using communications, SEO, thought leadership, and brand marketing to drive initial awareness of and trust in solutions.
  • Nurturing existing prospects with paid advertising, social media, and email marketing.
  • Leveraging engaging sales, website content, and reviews, to generate conversions.

Every part of this approach is insight-led, so businesses know what they're saying will resonate with target audiences. And it's highly measurable, to enhance performance.

Parallel to the sales funnel, MarComms also supports preparation for and management of crisis situations. When leaders are overwhelmingly busy, they need to know their business is fully prepared if something goes wrong, like a cyberattack or an internal issue.

Dive deeper at TNW Conference with Bloom & Wild and Breggz

Are you interested in learning more about the themes discussed in this article? I'll be running two sessions at The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam, and I'd love to see you there.

On Day 1 (June 20) I'll be interviewing Xander de Buisonjé co-founder of “the world's first truly wireless, custom-made in-ear computer” Breggz at 4 pm. In our Q&A From Pitch Perfect to Sustainable Growth we'll discuss how startups can move from stellar first impressions to sustainable audience growth. Xander is a famous musician himself, and even Stevie Wonder has been impressed by Breggz's quality, so I can't wait to hear the thinking behind the company's bold strategy.

On Day 2 (June 21) at 11:50 am I'm excited to speak with Aron Gelbard, co-founder and CEO of Bloom & Wild, Europe's leading D2C flower platform, about the brand's growth journey. Bloom & Wild is ahead of the curve when it comes to using data to boost the customer experience and has grown recently through M&A activity, so Aron will no doubt have great lessons to share in our conversation.

See you at TNW Conference 2024!

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