8 Blunders to Avoid in Your Cross-Cultural Marketing Plan

Business, Language

Did you know that Apple has offices in 25 different countries?

You might think that it is easy for a huge company like Apple to market its goods to an international audience. However when you consider the large range of cultures involved this is quite an achievement. 

Dealing with governmental, legal and cultural arrangments can be difficult. Making business arrangements in Mexico is likely to be very different from Sweden or Turkey. 

If you are interested in pursuing cross-cultural marketing for your business, you are likely aware of the challenges involved. What are some of the key traps to avoid? Check out our in-depth guide below.

1. Language Errors

We have all seen examples of bad translation on menus and other items. However, as much as we think they are funny, they can genuinely affect business relationships and even cause serious offense to the public.

One Iranian razor manufacturer used a Persian word to illustrate the quality of its products. However, he did not realize that the same word was offensive to an Arabic speaking audience. It heavily affected sales of the product and eventually led to a failed campaign.

Whilst technology improves the quality of its translation tools, it is still far far away from the level of translation that human translation can provide. 

2. Cultural Respect

The respect that is shown between staff and management is famously different between countries. In western countries, it is seen to be more acceptable for a manager to be accessible and friendly with the staff. In eastern countries, this is often not the case. There is a distance that indicates respect and a healthy fear of the responsibility that a manager holds. 

In other cases, the relaxed atmosphere is misunderstood. It is seen as acceptable to display a lack of responsibility. 

Learn how to build a good relationship with your staff without compromising the rules of cultural respect that already exist. 

3. Rules vs Relationships

Western cultured businesses love to bring contracts and rules to the business table. It engenders organization and a desire for a long term relationship between the parties. 

This, however, is not always well received. In the Middle-eastern or Asian countries, the emphasis is on the message bearer initially, not on their message. Trust must be built first and then the paperwork can be handled afterward. 

Rather than trusting in rules and guidelines to guide relationships with businesses from another culture, first, learn how much they need to get to know you first.  

4. Religious References

Religion is often part of the cultural identity of the country you are looking to expand into. It is often also a very personal part of the identity of the person you are making the business deal with. 

An insensitive approach to the religion of a country or ignorance as to the beliefs of the country’s main religion is a recipe for disaster. References to religion when using imagery related to alcohol, medical references or even fashion should be carefully considered. 

One example of this is the combination of national flags and Heineken beer in an advertisement in 1994. The Saudi Arabian flag includes a verse from the Quran, the Muslim holy book. The Quran forbids the use of alcohol so placing the verse and the alcohol on the same table brought thousands of complaints. 

This is just one example of how sensitive religious subjects can be. Doing thorough research and listening respectfully to residents of the country can save you from disaster. 

5. Select Your Brand Ambassadors Wisely

Celebrities such as Justin Beiber, LeBron James or other famous personalities cross borders and create fan bases all over the world. Even in the larger Chinese or Spanish speaking countries foreign actors have a large fanbase. 

However, before selecting a famous name as a brand ambassador or endorsement you may want to think twice. Celebrities may have a political opinion that is not popular in that country. Perhaps they have spoken out about human rights or trade freedoms in the past. Comments like this that are aimed at particular countries are not easily forgotten. 

As an example, FIAT once used the actor Richard Gere in an advertisement. He was pictured driving from Hollywood to Nepal. However, the connection with Nepal was of concern to the Chinese public. Since Mr. Gere has also gone on record as a supporter of the Dalai Lama, this was seen as unacceptable and public opinion of FIAT dropped considerably in China. 

6. Moral and Ethical Standards

Opinions differ between countries as to what is considered appropriate behavior between partners and married couples. This is especially true when it is featured in advertising. 

The amount of contact between the parties, how much skin they are showing, embraces and other matters like this should be carefully tested and analyzed so as not to offend. 

7. Personal Space

In meetings, personal behavior and the space you leave between you and your business counterpart is especially important. Be aware that this varies from country to country. 

In western countries, such as the USA and UK, most people are comfortable with 1-2 meters of space between themselves and others. However, in some places in the middle and far east, this is too far. Closeness is a sign of trust. Standing 1-2 meters indicates that the person is not truly interested in the other person. 

Learn how much space the other person expects you to leave. After this train yourself to be comfortable getting closer or further away than you are used to. 

8. Stereotyping

“If you have met one you have met them all” viewpoint will not get you very far when making cross-cultural business deals.

If the other person feels that you are judging them as “a typical person” from that country, or that you are judging the culture without taking the time to understand they will likely be offended. 

Creating Cross-Cultural Marketing Plans and Much More

Thanks to technology, building a global network is easier than ever before. However, care must be taken to respect the basics of other cultures and languages.

If you are looking to bridge the gap between two cultures we are here to help. We understand the importance of cross-cultural marketing and provide translation and transcription services that enable businesses to do business without borders. 

We leverage our years of experience to give authoritative guidance to our clients.  Why not get in touch or read our blog to see how we can help you today.