Decoding the American culture

Our Denver-based team member Jenny Vandehey is a communications and brand wiz with an eye for data and multicultural Swedish roots. Here’s a discussion to get to know her better.

Hi, Jenny. It took a while to find time to talk with you since you’ve been so busy. What do you do in the Nordic West team?

I help our clients with category and audience insights, and messaging strategy. Using primary and secondary research, I explore the category ecosystem – who the key players are and

where the unique opportunities lie. I also dig into cultural and societal trends that are shaping the business environment.

What do Nordic companies need help with the most in the U.S.?

For Nordic companies, local understanding is critical. And not just from a business opportunity standpoint but understanding the cultural nuances that can make or break everything from the right messaging to the success of a business meeting. Like any culture, there are both explicit and implicit “U.S.-isms”, and these can’t be overlooked.

Compared to the more direct and literal Nordic communication style, communication in the U.S. leans more towards hyperbole and metaphor.

Sometimes this means that your message has to work harder to cut through all the noise. Because it can be a noisy market! Often, it feels like you have to sell a bit harder than back at home.

Where does your cultural fluency stem from?

I grew up in Brussels as a “third-culture kid”. Swedish language and culture happened at home, but at school we had students from over 35 countries, so multiculturalism was the norm. This made me a bridge builder and synergizer. When I meet people, I naturally focus on how to connect and overcome differences.

I’m very fascinated and attuned to cultural nuances, so one way I bring value to projects is by picking up on subtleties in the work I do for clients. Even in the U.S. where we speak one language, it’s important to recognize how markets and people are different. Having that lens has helped clients navigate them.

Certainly, there can be truths to cultural stereotypes but I help clients go beyond the typical American assumptions – burgers, football, “bigger is better” – and really drill into the richness and truths of the specific audience they need to understand.

What is your quick take on how sustainability is developing in the COVID-19 environment?

For example, in the food industry COVID-19 has put sustainability on pause for now – a significant increase of takeout and delivery - up 25% and 19% respectively - has increased use of single use packaging during a time when cleanliness and sterility outweighs the importance of eco-friendly. This has led to things like California suspending its plastic bag ban.

This is of course where we also see opportunity for Nordic brands that can help people and food brands not have to make that trade off – by providing single use packaging products that are also plastic free.

Thank you, Jenny. It has been great to get a reminder and a snapshot. Back to work, I guess, although the summer is also a unique time to rest and recharge.

Thank you so much. Yes, balance is good.