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What to Consider Before Launching a Marketing Campaign in Another Country

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Recently, a limited edition Iron Man-themed Samsung Galaxy S6 was bought for $91,000 (almost 100 times its retail price) by a Chinese bidder. Surprisingly, the geek branding wasn't what raked in this abnormally high bid. The reason for the bid was its serial number of 66. The number 6 is a lucky number in China, and so 66 was considered "double lucky," according to Android Authority.

Why is that story important for you to know? Because it's just one of the many instances where cultural traditions and have affected the outcome of a marketing strategy. Even though the serial number choice was accidental, this single sale yielded more profits than the sale of four of the Iron Man S6 cellphones combined. 

In today's extremely globalized world, it is imperative to consider any marketing and sales strategy from a cultural perspective.

Thomas Friedman, in his book The World Is Flat, outlines three stages of globalization: "In Globalization 1.0, which began around 1492, the world went from size large to size medium. In Globalization 2.0, the era that introduced us to multinational companies, it went from size medium to size small. And then around 2000 came Globalization 3.0, in which the world went from being small to tiny."

The world is indeed tiny. With access to different countries' consumers with the click of a button, it is now more important than ever to consider cultural influences that could affect businesses. Marketing strategies that aim to target large groups of people should be tailored to be culturally relevant. Businesses that operate in more than one place—be it through global Internet platforms, outsourcing, or a global clientele—would be wise to consider cultural implications of their campaigns, so as to succeed in terms of profits as well as user satisfaction.


Your Specific Audience

What works for one set of people may not necessarily be the best tactic to follow with another set.

That fact seems obvious at first glance, but a surprising amount of companies will try to replicate a past successful campaign in another country without considering cultural implications in a different country.

For example, when Proctor & Gamble started selling Pampers diapers in Japan, the company used the image of a stork delivering a baby on its packaging. That image worked wonders in the US but not so much in Japan. After some research, the company realized that the Japanese were confused by this image; stories of storks bringing babies is not a part of Japanese folklore.

The Details

Cultural considerations should be implemented in all aspects of business, not just ad campaigns. Labeling, branding, and slogans also need to be tailored accordingly. For example, in 2004, China banned a Nike television commercial showing LeBron James in a battle with cartoon kung-fu masters and dragons. The country argued that this commercial insulted Chinese dignity and values.

Customer service is another aspect that needs to be localized or at least in sync with local traditions. Bad customer service that isn't personalized can cost up to $338.5 billion a year. One way to bridge boundaries in terms of customer service is to design a website that can communicate cross-culturally.

Four Broad Cultural Factors

There are four broad cultural factors to consider in any marketing strategy, according to Houston Chronicle author Janet Hunt. These are values, symbols, rituals, and thought processes.

Values define what sort of behavior is acceptable and unacceptable. So, it makes sense that values play an important aspect in user preference and in purchasing decisions.

Symbols are vital in terms of campaigns and branding, and they can be spoken and unspoken.

Language can fall under the category of symbols, as it is intertwined with how cultural heritage is showcased. The symbol of 6 as a lucky number in China in the Iron Man cell phone anecdote above shows how symbols influence user decisions.

Rituals are "patterns of behaviors that are learned and repeated." They play into the promotion of a product, as rituals give insight into the daily interactions of the user.

Thought processes vary from person to person and can also vary from culture to culture. All aspects of a business should consider cultural influences to be successful, especially if they are growing and crossing international boundaries.

Current Issues

Current issues change daily, and they are not always in people's control, so marketers need to be flexible and prompt in responding to local changes.

The Hongkiat cites the classic example of a 2003 Hong Kong Tourism Board slogan "Hong Kong will take your breath away." Unfortunately, this occurred right before the SARS outbreak, where shortness of breath is one of the major symptoms of SARS. That example highlights how a badly timed ad and lack of consideration of current cultural issues can be detrimental. Having some sort of backup plan is always a good idea.

* * *

Do extensive research before the launch of a campaign in another country, especially and most importantly in previously uncharted territory. Furthermore, don't play into cultural stereotypes and generalizations. Over-generalizing research can lead to stereotyping, which is mostly blinding and misleading. Maya Angelou once said, "In diversity, there is beauty and there is strength."

Accepting and embracing cultural diversity and using these differences to one's advantage is the way forward for businesses in this interconnected world.


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Akshata Mehta is a freelance blogger who is interested in business and finance, travel, and food.

Twitter: @akshtamehta

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