What French and U.S. Ad-Tech Companies Can Learn from Each Other

French Companies Excel at Technology, While U.S. Companies Are Better at Marketing

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French and U.S. ad-tech companies can learn a lot from each other. While the U.S. continues to dominate ad tech, a number of French companies have done very well, too. Admonk, Alenty (which was acquired by Appnexus last year), Criteo, Teads, Synthesio and our own firm have all had good success.

The standing perception -- and occasional joke -- is that we French can be a bit stubborn in the way we approach the world. France is proud of its engineers. The school system is renowned for focusing students on analytical skills and math at a very early age and emphasizing those skills throughout students' academic careers. Engineers work hard in France, too. After all, they don't have just pizza and beer to look forward to at the end of a long day -- they have excellent wine and cheese.

Math and analysis are particularly important in ad tech's programmatic environment. But the industry competes for the top engineers with the financial-services industry, which lavishes attention and compensation on those who design good trading algorithms.

Although many U.S. companies perceive themselves to be hemmed in by taxes and regulations, the French market constrains its businesses even further. Because of those French constraints, each company must optimize its investments. For example, work rules encourage companies to be absolutely certain of each new hiring decision -- because once a person is hired, he or she is very difficult to dismiss. Similarly, French constraints make it essential that each new product and feature be spot on, because they are expensive both to create and to change.

In the U.S., by contrast, though the cost of going to market can be significant, companies are freer to focus on speed, in order to prevent a competitor from launching first. And focusing on speed leads naturally to focusing on scale. As seen from France, the ability of U.S. companies to scale up a business quickly and efficiently is impressive.

But both French and U.S. companies need to balance time to market and scalability with optimized investment in resources. Employee training, taxes, etc., are significant considerations in both markets, but so is the opportunity cost of a competitor launching or scaling more quickly.

The French don't like to pay for extra service, as American waiters learn early. We're not used to tipping in a bar or restaurant, so we include added-value services in our initial ad-tech agreements. Don't look to add charges for additional services down the road. French businesses will expect everything to be included upfront.

Though the French ad market is small compared to that of the U.S, it is the third-largest market in Europe, and can be very profitable for ad-tech companies that understand it.

The French look to save on marketing -- which may not be the smartest move in the long run if the cost of that decision exceeds potential revenue, but the French culture is skeptical of everything, so we prefer to be 100% ready before we move on any kind of communication. There is also the pretentious belief that the product is good enough to sell itself -- no advertising is needed. So if there is an advertisement, what is wrong with the product?

This perception is starting to shift, but the change is very slow. Old habits die hard. In that regard, we have plenty to learn from the U.S. culture of salesmanship and advertising, while the U.S. could take a few tips from us on the tech side. Some big U.S. internet companies already understand this, and have recruited a bunch of high-level French engineers for their tech teams.

The bottom line is that we have a lot to offer in terms of ad tech, but we are not very good at telling people what we can do for them. French ad-tech companies need more American marketing if they want greater international success. And U.S. companies could become even more successful by working to improve the U.S. school system to focus more on math and analytics.

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