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US vs UK Attitudes: 10 Differences Marketers Should Consider

by Anna Ngo
Are you selling goods or services on both sides of the pond? Make sure your messaging hits the mark by taking into account cultural differences.

It’s often said that the United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language. Of course, that’s not where the differences end. On the heels of our post about Brexit’s impact on online shopping, it seemed fitting to explore what makes Britons tick. 

A recent report highlighted 10 surprising ways that British and American people differ and what that suggests about their consumer behavior. In compiling the report, consumer research firm Attest asked 1,000 “nationally representative” working-age people in both the UK and US their views about four global trends:

1. Conscious consumerism: overt materialism and plastic are out; animal welfare is in

2. Total well-being: self-care, both physical and emotional, is in

3. Digital everything: doing more and more things online is in

4. Redefining social norms: age-based stereotypes are out

 Cohorts surveyed were as follows:

- Gen Z: 18 to 24

- Millennials: 25 to 39

- Gen X: 40 to 54

- Boomers: 55 to 64

Some of the findings aren’t that surprising, but they certainly are interesting. Are you more American or British in your outlook? And, more importantly, are your customers? Let’s take a look.

1. Americans aren’t as environmentally conscious 

In the UK, 81 percent say they are consciously trying to reduce their single-use plastic, compared to just 58 percent of Americans. UK millennials are the most concerned about plastic (86 percent) while in the US it’s Gen Z (63 percent). A further 76 percent of Brits say they care about the negative environmental impact of cheap, disposable products and clothing, with 62 percent of Americans saying the same. 

The takeaway: Brands should highlight any socially conscious aspects of their products to score with Brits. In the US, being “green” won’t necessarily motivate the spending of green. 

2. The UK has way more vegetarians and vegans

In the States, only 7 percent of the population doesn’t consume meat; in the UK, that figure is 17 percent. That’s more than twice as many! Similarly, 20 percent of Britons are considering adopting a meat-free diet, with only 8 percent of Americans being open to the idea.

The takeaway: Plant-based foods and health foods may find a wider audience in the UK than the US. 

3. Friday night bites: Americans prefer to eat out, Brits prefer takeaways

Both nationalities rated watching TV as their top Friday night activity, but next in line for Americans was going out to eat (16.5 percent) while Brits preferred to get takeout (14 percent). Going to the movies ranked third in the US (9 percent), whereas UK consumers would rather eat out, take a relaxing bath or go to the pub before they’d choose to go to the cinema.

The takeaway: Depending on who they’re talking to, food brands can spin their message toward dining out or ordering in.

4. Americans are warier of sharing personal information

When they know what it’s being used for, Brits and Americans were willing to share their data in equal numbers, 45 percent. Still, 34.5 percent of US consumers answered a hard no to data sharing while 26 percent of UK consumers felt the same. 

The takeaway: To increase comfort levels among American consumers, brands should provide more detailed data policy information.

5. Brits are more willing to do things online

US consumers were more likely to prefer in-person meetings for interactions such as doctor’s appointments, job interviews and first dates. Only 8 percent of Americans would be willing to do a virtual date versus 19 percent of Brits. By contrast, 44 percent of UK consumers were fine with a virtual medical appointment and 43 percent with an online job interview, whereas the figures for US cohorts were 31 and 36 percent, respectively.

The takeaway: US consumers may be more reluctant to engage with virtual services so brands will have to find creative ways to make them more personal.

6. Social media makes British people sad

Almost half of Brits say social media brings them down (48 percent), but in the US, only 30 percent feel that way. UK millennials in particular, 57 percent, say social media can bring on feelings of isolation and depression while in the US, Gen Z feels this most (40 percent).  

The takeaway: Brands should be mindful of consumer sentiment toward social media to capitalize on the right issues at the right times.

7. More UK millennials are concerned about their mental health

A statistically significant 72 percent of young Britons admit to worrying about their mental well-being regularly, compared to 57 percent of their American counterparts.

The takeaway: UK youth are the most receptive to mental health messaging; American youngsters may be more guarded about the topic.

8. More UK millennials also worry about looking older

The visible signs of aging concern 41 percent of UK millennials while just 23 percent of Americans in that age bracket, 25 to 39, fret about developing wrinkles and gray hair. Overall, though, consumers are redefining beauty norms and seeking personalization and inclusion.

The takeaway: Beauty brands who focus on the early signs of aging may be seen as overly negative by US millennials. Try making it just part of the message or giving it a softer spin.

9. Americans feel more pressure to have children

While attitudes toward marriage have relaxed in both countries, people still feel pressure to start a family. Only 22 percent of Americans think there is less pressure to have children than before while 35 percent of UK consumers say the same, indicating more liberal views.

The takeaway: Brands marketing in the US may want to appeal to traditional family values.  

10. More older Americans find admin tasks taxing 

Roughly 62 percent of American Boomers say that life admin stresses them out. In the UK, millennials are the most overwhelmed, at 70.5 percent, while anxious British Boomers tally just 41 percent. 

The takeaway: Brands offering services to older consumers stateside should keep it simple. In the UK, this age group may see themselves as more capable. 

Still, one of the major findings of the study was that consumers are becoming increasingly age-fluid and rejecting traditional age-based notions. Both young and old in the UK and US didn’t want to be defined by their age and felt that it had little bearing on their interests and hobbies. Boomers still felt engaged with life and cared about their appearance but weren’t particularly worried about looking older and felt they were still the same person inside, regardless of their biological age. 

Brands should think about being more age-agnostic as interests, wants and needs increasingly transcend demographics.