We all know about globalization. We’ve heard it time and time again that today’s companies need to adapt to a global economy in order to stay competitive. But it’s not always easy to know what to do (or what to say) when your target audience is on the other side of the planet. Overlooking fundamental differences in culture can also hurt your brand more than help it, so it’s important to know your audience well and understand the nuances that distinguish them from their neighbors.
Besides just a question of language, business culture varies greatly from one country to the next. Nothing exemplifies this more than the viral post about the British:
If there are inherent cultural nuances embedded into your style of communication, getting a clear-cut message across may be harder to do than it sounds. Many Americans believe that because they have dominated the global marketplace for the better part of a century, an inherent, widespread acceptance of American ideals has taken place. This is simply not the case. Many cultures actually despise the American “hype” when it comes to product marketing. My French husband is first on the list. He constantly says, “How can that brand claim to be the best? Have they tested out every other product out there on the market in order to come to that conclusion?” He snubs his nose at companies that make great claims without being able to back them up with some kind of concrete or scientific proof. The French take nearly every claim literally so you can’t overlook their scrutiny in this regard.
Other cultures also don’t like such direct “claims to fame” either. Asian cultures have an inherently subtle communication style and can be taken aback by such assertions. And in my opinion, this goes for B2B marketing just as much as it does for the B2C world.
As Erin Meyer writes in her book entitled The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures:
“Many cultural differences — varying attitudes concerning when best to speak or stay quiet, the role of the leader in the room, and what kind of negative feedback is the most constructive — may seem small. But if you are unaware of the differences and unarmed with strategies for managing them effectively, they can derail your team meetings, demotivate your employees, frustrate your foreign suppliers, and in dozens of other ways make it much more difficult to achieve your goals.”
She reiterates this idea by stating, “Whether we are aware of it or not, subtle differences in communication patterns and the complex variations in what is considered good business or common sense from one country to another have a tremendous impact on how we understand one another, and ultimately on how we get the job done.”
I believe that in order to develop a successful global marketing strategy, these concepts must be applied. Having an appreciation for cultural differences can help shape the messages that resonate best with your audiences locally, so “Think Global, Act Local” should be applied. You need to have a global vision of where you want your marketing strategy to take you, but you must be able to implement it with communications that work locally (with native-language content of course).
So what can be done in order to take culture into account when marketing a new product or service, or entering into unchartered territory for your brand ? Here’s our list of top tips:
Understand communication style
The best way to understand how your audience will receive a marketing message is first to see what other people are doing and how: By doing an audit of your competitors (where they are present, what content they have, what their key messages are, who they are engaging with and on what channels) you will start to get an idea on what’s working in that local market. (You’ll also have a good idea on the competitive landscape you are entering into!)
Once you have a good understanding of that ecosystem, then you can develop and test the key messages of your own. Of course you don’t want to do a “copy-paste” of what already exists, so you need to see what you can bring to the table that’s different. It’s all the rage to be “disruptive” with your marketing messages, but there is a fine line between being innovative and being annoying. Don’t cross the line! And again, the most important aspect is to test to see what messages resonate best with your audience. Don’t be afraid to try and try again until you get it just right.
The art of persuasion
Of course, the goal of any marketing content is to bring your users the answer to the age-old question: “What’s in it for me?” People across cultures are not always persuaded in the same manner, however; what may seem like a key benefit to some may be an inconvenience to another. Or worse yet, for some cultures your message may be very funny and in others completely fall flat (or be offensive). Your content should be targeted to the exact user group within the local culture using the persuasion techniques that are most likely to sway them to engage with you. For this, you will need culture experts to guide you on the methods that will help encourage the type of engagement you’re looking for, and what channels will work best for your efforts.
Engaging with your key target audience both on and offline is important in order to establish trust over time. It’s not enough to use Donald Trump’s favorite “Trust Me” line in order to inspire your buyer personas to purchase from you.
Just commanding trust doesn’t make it happen (if only it were that easy!). It’s a process that takes time and moreover comes from a good product. If your product delivers the value it promises and you have good customer service to back it up, trust will happen. Resecting your prospects throughout the sales cycle from first contact to last, properly on-boarding your clients and providing them with top-notch service, are the foundations for having long-lasting business relationships. In some cultures trust comes from one-on-one, close-knit relationships; you may need to meet those clients face-to-face if you want them to do business with you. Each culture is different in this regard. Get to know the cultural norms when it comes to trust to make sure your business is on the right track to earning it over time.
Culture plays a huge part in marketing in today’s global marketplace. Overlooking the importance that culture has can be disastrous for your brand, and hinder your business from being able to grow. Tailoring marketing messages to suit the requirements of each culture and creating native-language assets to educate your audience about your product or service is a fundamental part of the process. It’s also important to keep in mind that culture is changing and there are also things that can be done in order to position your brand alongside important trends. The elimination of gender stereotypes in advertising in the UK and the backlash against them in many Western cultures is a good example. Having a corporate culture that exemplifies a certain ideology (like protecting the environment, giving back to the community or providing equal opportunity to people of all origins, for example) can add yet another layer to the cultural marketing initiative you undertake.
Just remember, a “one size fits all” mentality to marketing across cultures doesn’t work. Trying to be everything to everybody will just end up making you nothing to nobody.
This blog post was originally published on 08 February 2020 and updated for new information.