Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center
With the ever increasing influence of the universal language of social media, technology and electronics in our day-to-day world it’s easy to forget about individual cultural attitudes reflected in values, language, religion, aesthetics, behavior, even food.
Even after living in the US for some 20 years, as a British ex-pat I still believe that tea is best when drunk out of china cup (and quite possibly the answer to all ills), that manners maketh man, and that gas is something that comes out of my stove and should not go into my car.
Why do languages have words that are practically untranslatable in other languages? Greek “filotimo”, Portuguese “saudade”, French “dépaysement”, Spanish “duende”, German “extrawunsch”.
My point is – certain cultural behaviors and beliefs are ingrained: we may adapt but do we really change?
Today’s technology is making international business faster and easier. We’ve all heard the “think global act local” refrain but what does this really mean? Certainly from an operational standpoint you can leverage economies of scale by standardizing wherever possible, but if you truly want to succeed in the global arena, you need to be ready to adjust to those individual cultural attitudes that are ingrained within the country you are trying to enter. Indeed, this is the approach Electrolux took as they tracked market trends and realized that they could maximize value by standardizing basic chassis and components to leverage efficiencies then localize brands to meet the needs of individual customer groups (check out this great HBR read by Christopher Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal)
So How DO You Act Local?
As you look to adapt your products and marketing to individual markets, research ahead of time to see what does and doesn’t work in the market(s) you are seeking to enter. Do not assume that a market strategy that worked for your products at home will automatically work in other countries.
Differing approaches to sales by distributors or representatives from region to region could impact how you market and promote your product; consumer perceptions in different regions will affect how you position your product; in some cases, you may even wish to consider localized branding (let’s face it – we’re not all Coke or Nike).
Here are some items to take into consideration as you go global with your small business:
Language – Simply translating your marketing materials from one language to another can open a Pandora’s box of problems – even more so when the nuances of local jargon, idiom
or puns are used as part of the slogan. For example, Qantas’ great slogan “Don’t be a Wallaby, Fly Qantas”, would lose much of its national flavor in any translation and, there is a slew of examples where poor translations resulted in a less than effective marketing campaign – even for some of the best multi-national corporations. Avoid using online translation tools and make sure the cultural “flavor” of your marketing is relevant to your target customer!
Education – a high vs low literacy rate within a culture may impact how you package, deliver and market your final product. For example, countries with a low literacy rate have a tendency to feature a picture of what’s inside a particular package, while usage information is presented in easy-to-understand icon format rather than step-by-step written instructions.
Religion – while religion is often considered a taboo subject, it is smart business to be aware of religious beliefs that may cause offense in your promotional efforts or even your package design; one should also be aware that some religions prohibit the use of certain
goods and services while at the same time creating potential opportunities for markets in alternative products. For example, if you are entering a market where certain foods are taboo or avoided during specific religious periods, is there a potential for offering alternatives?
Aesthetics – designs, forms, colors, shapes, sounds, fragrances, music. Colors have different connotations in different countries, music tastes vary across countries, and different fragrances appeal to different regions as any fragrance manufacturer can tell you. Did you know that…
- Campbell alters its recipe of tomato soup to suit palates in England, France and Italy;
- the color red is considered good luck by ethnic Chinese while in the west the color is more often associated with danger or love. What message are you trying to get across and where?
- in some cultures, black is considered the color of mourning, while others consider white or purple to be the color of mourning;
- in Japan, products are rarely – if ever – sold in fours since the pronunciation of the Japanese word for four sounds like the word for death.
Do your research and make sure you are aware of the consumer preferences in your target market ahead of time – it’s a lot cheaper than a failed marketing campaign!
Social Organization, Social Behaviors and Material Culture – how people relate to each other (while it’s acceptable to refuse refreshments in most Western European cultures, to do so in the Middle East or Asia is usually considered offensive), the roles of men and women, social classes, family and extended family, marriage, attitudes. Any of these things can contribute to the psychology of a purchasing decision – from the most basic consumer buy to a B2B purchasing process.
Regulatory Requirements – make sure you are aware of the regulatory requirements of the markets you are entering. Protectionist markets such as Brazil have specific requirements regarding the import of certain goods into their country; certain countries prohibit the use of components that are commonly used in others. Find the right experts to help you navigate these areas.
As your company grows in your chosen global market(s), make sure your ongoing marketing decisions are made with the benefit of local input and ensure that you leverage local strengths. One of the fatal flaws of a global strategy is to assume that “we know it all” based on a single experience or pure economic analysis, but your local representatives – if well chosen – should act as a resource for local opportunities as well as potential threats. In today’s highly connected world – an opportunity or threat can easily extend to other markets so these should be assessed and acted upon quickly and effectively.
As always, the final word goes to the expert:
“Any communication or marketing professional needs cross-cultural research and communications skills to be able to succeed in the future”