March 12, 2020
If you’re trying to reach an international audience, or even just across state lines, you’re going to have to adjust your marketing to fit the social and cultural atmosphere of wherever you’re going. And don’t even try to copy and paste what you already have into Google Translate- this isn’t your 11th grade spanish class no one cares about. People’s lives and the worlds around them are variable anywhere you look. So when tapping into a culture you’re not familiar with, it’s crucial that you learn about it before you engage.
Before we go deeper, let’s define culture (although we’re 90% sure if you’re reading this you already know). On a super basic level, culture is any shared beliefs, norms, values, and symbols that guide the everyday life of a group of people. Your family has its own culture, your company definitely has it’s own culture, and sometimes individual friend groups have them. Living in a city that you can walk to everywhere you need to go is a part of your culture. What you post, who you follow, what platforms you use also counts. So if you really think about it, when coming up with your target audience and what appeals to them, what you’re really doing is figuring out how what you offer fits in with someone else’s everyday life.
Now let’s get to the question: what makes marketing to other cultures so difficult? You just need to market to what they like, right? Not that easy. Marketing to a culture that is one you aren’t familiar with is SUPER difficult because you’re not used to it. When it comes to setting up your marketing strategy for another culture, research is absolutely crucial. You wouldn’t set up a Walmart in Canada and then stock it with only goods Americans like, right? You definitely need to consider who you’re trying to reach and what the local needs are first. Another example would be a small cliffside town, they wouldn’t want a massive store to pop up, right? What we mean is, please don’t try to set up your marketing strategy without knowing your audience, and how your product or service is going to help them.
Unless you have spent long periods of time in the country you’re trying to reach, or if you’ve done a ton of research, you won’t be able to fully understand how its cultural logic works. And we’ve taught you better!
You may now be asking yourself, “but how do I enter the social media market of a different culture?” Obviously, knowing the culture you’re aiming for inside and out is the biggest task if you want to do this right, and we don’t want you struggling. Here’s some question to ask yourself to get started.
Okay, now what’s the next step? Learn the language! (We aren’t kidding. Get DuoLingo, asap) Yes, we mean beyond the 5 words you still remember from that 11th grade Spanish class in high school. We also don’t expect you to be fluent either. If you can hire someone to help you with translating, then that works too. Otherwise, Google Translate is a great tool when you’re really unsure- but proceed with caution. When using this things can get all garbled because it’s not technically right all the time and the message can become skewed. You don’t want to look foolish like KFC’s known slogan “Finger-lickin good” being translated in Chinese to “Eat your fingers off”. Best bet? Translate your message to the other language then back to English and see if it is still recognizable, and tweak it from there. You’ll want to adapt your messaging to fit the market’s views.
If you already speak the language, but there’s some slang you don’t already know, learn it! This even includes generational gaps, slang terms used in different states in the U.S., and even terms used on different platforms. Slang is great depending on the age you’re trying to reach, but it also makes you sound culturally relevant. The best thing to do is to listen to your audience first, and slowly integrate. Better yet, if you can speak directly with someone from the culture you’re trying to reach, it can be really helpful. Ask questions, build a bond with them, get your name out there, and really start connecting with your audience. Think of it as joining a new conversation.
Another key topic we need to touch on is to avoid using buzz words, acronyms, and jokes dependent on pop culture. Unless you’re confident that they would benefit you, it’s best to start off without them, and potentially using them later on to fit your audience if you find the need. Just in case if you’re wondering “what the h*ck is a buzz word?” they are terms and phrases that are meant to sound cool or even exciting. It includes things like millennial, deep-dive, clickbait, or “thinking outside of the box.” When coming up with captions or any sort of message for a different audience in a different culture, these terms may come across as confusing, especially if you’re translating to a different language. As for pop culture jokes, it’s best to steer clear when posting about it for your branding. Imagine a culture that doesn’t have to see a headline every single day about the Kardashians. Feels unreal, doesn’t it?
Cultures also can be receptive to marketing messages that are on an entirely different spectrum than others. Whether it is direct vs indirect, explicit vs implicit, or rational vs emotional. For example, some groups respond to messages with supporting information and are persuasive (such as Americans and Germans). Whereas some respond better to imaginative and fantasy ideals (such as Italians and the French). It’s all a matter of what you find in your research. In one area, you might find yourself using crazy, engaging ad captivating video. But in another area, it might be more beneficial to keep it simple with a group picture and some information about what’s going on.
To play it safe before you experiment, always keep it mind it’s best to be friendly and not invasive when approaching a new market. Oh, and just because you’re adapting your messaging to fit the culture, doesn’t mean you should be changing as a company too. It’s important that you maintain authenticity and don’t try so hard just to be relatable.
You also need to keep in mind that there also should be a great level of respect for the culture’s beliefs and norms. What may be normal and harmless to you can be greatly offensive to someone else. McDonald’s made this mistake years ago (2005 to be exact) when they were promoting a TV ad to the Chinese consumers. It displayed a Chinese man kneeling in front of a McDonald’s vendor and begging him to accept his expired discount coupon. The ad was pulled since it caused an uproar over the fact that begging is considered a shameful act in Chinese culture. Big oof. Thanks corporate America for making these mistakes so we don’t have to!
This is where it gets complicated. Despite cultural norms, people’s preferences can still be highly individual. Somebody could have grown up in a household that exclusively listened to country music and watched football, but as an individual they might enjoy heavy metal and baseball more. But typically marketers aren’t trying to reach a whole family, including those selling family packages or items for a family. Usually, they’re trying to reach a specific set or individual- like just parents. So you don’t worry about accommodating everyone within a culture, just those you want to reach.
As for long-term marketing in other countries/cultures, it goes beyond just fixing the language in the content you’re presenting. If you find that your product or service is beneficial and doing great internationally, it may be time to expand. The best thing you can do for your company is to hire a native or specialist to help. We may be great at advertising to a vast number of people in the U.S., but we can’t claim to know how to advertise to every single person in the world. However, we can help you with what to look for and how to get there.
If we haven’t emphasized it enough, the key takeaways here are to listen to your audience, and research research research. Research until you can’t physically research anymore. We don’t wanna see you make a fool out of yourself like KFC or McDonald’s. So listen before you engage, and if you’re not sure, ask a trusted source from the culture you’re trying to reach. If you still have questions or are not sure where to start, we’re here to help!
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