Your online marketing campaign is ‘global’. Even if you are working in a single region or market, the simple fact that your brand is online means that you are working globally. Even some of the biggest brands make the mistake of neglecting to make their website or digital marketing accessible regionally, and appropriate for the audience they are reaching.
Cultural sensitivity is as simple as reaching out to people on the ground in the regions your brand is reaching and understanding what is appropriate at different times of the year, such as Santa and Christmas in the US, and Krampus prior to Christmas in Germany. These are two characters that mean something in the regions they are celebrated, but they represent different things. Christmas means something different in many parts of the world. In the US, the focus is on material possessions and eating, in western Europe it is focused on family gatherings and community involvement, while in Australia the season is associated with summer relaxation and travel. As a brand, you need to be aware of how to promote yourself during this season and which message will resonate in which market.
As a brand, cultural sensitivity is vital. If your brand is marketing to an unfamiliar audience, you need to first understand what might not be appropriate, such as expressions or promotional types. You must also be respectful of language barriers and overcome these with professional help, such as translation services. No matter how fluent your team is in another language, if they are not a native speaker who has studied their language at a professional level, they don’t know the nuances of expression. Of course, much of what makes people different is belief systems, be they societal, political, or religious. This is a high conflict zone that must be approached with caution.
According to Hofstede Insights, there are six dimensions of culture. Using a metric developed by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, culture is defined as the collective mental programming of the human mind which distinguishes one group of people from another. Each country score allows you to compare countries to understand key differences between the collective cultures.
The six dimensions of culture
|High power distance is the expectation and acceptance of unequal power distribution in businesses and public bodies, by people less powerful within them.
|High individualism is seen in countries where people see themselves as being independent (“I”) rather than low individualism where they see themselves as interdependent (“We”).
|High-masculinity cultures are motivated by wanting to be the best, versus low-masculinity (feminine) cultures, which are motivated by enjoying what you do.
|High uncertainty avoidance cultures feel threatened by and try to manage the uncertainty of the future whilst low uncertainty avoidance countries are more comfortable letting the future play out.
|High long-term orientation is typified by societies that embrace and ready society for change (pragmatic) rather than holding onto traditions and approach change warily (normative).
|In high indulgence societies, individuals are less likely to keep their desires and impulses in check whereas in low indulgence societies they are more restrained.
Comparing some English-speaking countries makes it easy to see how different they are culturally whilst still speaking a common language. While Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US were all invaded by the British empire, under some similar circumstances and within a similar timeframe, the values and expectations of the people in those nations are vastly different. The commonality, being language and invading force, does not mean that the values are also the same.
Differences between countries like Taiwan, Sweden, and Pakistan might be far more obvious, such as language and climate, but some similarities might be surprising – such as an understanding of threatening neighbors or a monoculture due to isolation. How these factors have shaped and influenced the culture of each nation is also unique.
When you use the six dimensions model, it helps you as a brand better understand how to approach a new foreign market, or how to be more sensitive to the response of consumers in a particular market.
For example, uncertainty avoidance is low in the United Kingdom (35) versus Germany (65). So your brand message in the UK might need to be adjusted for a German market to help mitigate potential brand distance simply due to people in one market needing more certainty than consumers in another. This is where direct translation can be an issue, and having professional marketing translators work on your campaign can help.
In the UK you can focus on the ‘benefits’ of a product or service, how it will overcome a problem or enhance your life. In Germany, you need to elevate the ‘reasons to believe’ in the messaging, sharing facts about the product or service that prove the benefits.
In the UK, marketers can rely on emotion to sell. Addressing pain points and communicating benefits can be done in a manner that appeals to emotion first, and conveys the facts and logistical information second.
However, in a German market, facts and logic take priority with the emotional benefits of a product secondary to the message. Understanding these subtleties of difference in messaging can help marketers understand what is needed at different stages of the customer journey to move them through the funnel towards finalizing a sale.
Images convey information. Cultural sensitivity needs to be observed in many regions, but so too does an understanding of the cultural norms, discussions, and expectations of people in that society. For example, high power distance countries, like China, respond better to the imagery that respects a hierarchy of power shown in imagery, while low power distance countries respond more positively to aspirational imagery that is inclusive.
As a brand, you might run the same image in China as you would in the US with simple changes, such as colors used (white represents death in some Asian cultures, while black can represent death in some western cultures), distance between people in images (China is more conservative than the US in relation to physical distance in intimate settings on public display) and choice of models (use models that are representative of the market you are advertising in).
Glocalization – meaning to adjust your marketing content to the region in which you are advertising – can be expensive, but there is no way that any advertising campaign can be truly universally accepted. Even if you are advertising in similar cultures, such as Ireland and Australia, you are still pitching to markets experiencing different seasons. Showing images at Christmas of a log fire and roast dinner might be appealing in the northern hemisphere, but for most people in the southern hemisphere, Christmas is hot and the least appealing idea when it’s 40 degrees outside is an open fire and hot food. Your branding needs to be sensitive and smart – you need to adapt content to suit the market.
This doesn’t mean changing your brand identity across borders, it means understanding how your message needs to be adjusted to reach people. Your core values should be at the center of your brand, and it is how you communicate those values that need to be adapted. For example, your brand might value individuality. In a UK market, where the value is 89, this value will resonate and campaigning can push this brand value. However, Armenia values individuality at only 22. The focus in society here is on a collective culture that supports the community and fosters loyalty. Your brand would need to adjust its content to reach the market that shows individuality as a quality that can foster loyalty or somehow engender community values.
Adjusting content to suit a singular marketing campaign is difficult. When launching a global campaign, it is important to understand how to reach the largest number of ideal customers in that region by researching, listening, and adapting your content to best suit the environment in which you wish to enter. The more sensitive you are to the culture and attitudes of the people in the market you are entering the more successful you are likely to be.
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