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Culture in Marketing: Importance, Blunders And Tools

Will you be the next brand to be ridiculed by a standup comedian because you mistranslated a word in your ad? Well, ignoring cultural contexts while marketing your business can certainly earn you a place in their comedy routine. Having a blind spot for culture is one of the brand-busting digital marketing mistakes to avoid. […]


Will you be the next brand to be ridiculed by a standup comedian because you mistranslated a word in your ad?

Well, ignoring cultural contexts while marketing your business can certainly earn you a place in their comedy routine.

Having a blind spot for culture is one of the brand-busting digital marketing mistakes to avoid.

In this blog post, we will show you the importance of understanding cultures in marketing.

Why Should I Understand Culture in Global Marketing?

Understanding culture can help you avoid many digital marketing mistakes and develop strong ties with your customers.

Heard of the phrase, “wear your heart on your sleeve”?

Be culturally relevant when marketing your product and people will start to wear your brand on their sleeve.

Digital marketing, particularly advertising, has given us the power of detailed targeting and segmentation, which are the two defining elements of successful marketing.

With such advancements, the research you do to understand culture helps you craft sharply relevant messages and content.

Ultimately as a marketer, your job is to make visitors take action so that they become leads and eventually customers. To prompt them to take action, you have to understand what makes them tick on an emotional and psychographic level.

Cultural differences that occurs,  reveals to us insights on attitudes, beliefs, social stigmas and more importantly conscious and unconscious biases.

Clearly, this is a huge win for advertisers to exploit.

Major Blunders by Big Brands

Brands, both the marketing savvy and the quiet ones, have undermined cultural differences that adorn the market they try to penetrate.

In contrast, the ones that do good research, exploit cultural phenomena and ride the waves of regional sentiments by hijacking local rituals and norms in their marketing plans.

Some of the worst marketing cultural mistakes to avoid are:

  • Not using the appropriate words while translating.
  • Ignoring slang.
  • Not recognising social stigma and anti-sentiments.

Pepsi, Coca Cola and China

Once upon a time in China, embarrassing blunders occurred, when the cola giants tried to dominate the market.

In the case of Pepsi, the brand erred on translating their slogan. While intending to promote “Pepsi brings you back to life”, Pepsi used the phrase “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”

Coca Cola, despite having the best marketing teams of the world, baptised their product that pronounced something like Coca Cola.

Later, they learned that the characters they used to spell Coca Cola in Chinese meant “Bite the wax tadpole”.

How to understand cultural values?

The late Professor Geert Hofstade defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others”.

Cultural values are qualitative. They cannot be measured in numbers but rather by understanding minds.

Even in this world of big data, interviews and focus groups still hold relevance.

In 2018 alone, 58% of marketers have used focus groups for market research and 42% have used interviews to gain an understanding of their market.

You can conduct focus groups, in-person interviews and phone interviews to do primary research on cultures.

You can also make use of local forums, blogs etc. However, nothing beats good old focus groups and interviews.

Be aware of these when trying to understanding global culture

1. Be sensitive to beliefs– the world is becoming increasingly polarised for some reason (cough.. social media.. cough cough) or another.

2. You have biases yourself, that can mislead your research– To avoid unconscious bias, collaborate with a few people in your team.

3. Confirmation and cognitive biases- Cultures largely affect the way people think. Though biases are inherent, where do they come from? How are they acquired? Are they indoctrinated by ancient customs?

4. Test and repeat– Getting feedback through your analytics is largely relevant than ever.

5. Leverage your foreign mindset– When you enter a new market, you are a foreigner yourself. You won’t know what’s inside the box. Thus, you can think from different perspectives.

Hofstede’s 6 Cultural Dimensions

A great tool to understand global culture is Hofstede’s 6 dimensions.

According to Hofstade, cultures of nations can be explained through these 6 dimensions.

  • Power Distance Index– This dimension evaluates the extent to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The metric reveals how much people accept hierarchy as a cultural component.
  • Individualism vs collectivism– Like the words imply, this dimension expresses the importance each country lays on individual values (resulting in a loosely knit and networked society) and a group values (resulting in a tightly knit framework, increasing importance on ingroup loyalty).
  • Masculinity vs Femininity– This dimension represents the amount of preference the society lays on values such as achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success against a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.
  • Uncertainty Avoidance Index– This metric reveals how much society as a whole expresses the desire to know and control the future. Is your market anxious about ambiguity and uncertainty? This dimension shall let you know that.
  • Long term orientation vs Short term orientation– Every society prioritises between continuing to practice ancient traditions and modernity. This dimension is a measure of how strongly a society keeps up with modernity and is loosely tied to its past.
  • Indulgence vs restraint– A indulgent society is one where it has humans who go after satisfying basic and natural human drives as well as desires. Societies that are practice restraint are ones that have an atmosphere of social norms which suppress these urges.

Does culture influence sales conversions?

KFC wasn’t able to set camp in China for 10 years after a major screw up.

Their motto’s Chinese counterpart “Finger lickin good” came out as “Eat your fingers off” after translation.

Additionally, the chicken they used in China were nowhere as tasty as their American ones.

If that’s not one up vote for understanding local slang and cultural differences to increase sales, then what is?

A conversion, in marketing terms, means that the consumer has taken a favourable action that has moved them to the next stage of the buyer funnel.

So to move the visitor to prospect and then to buyer, they have to be influenced to take action.

Here is where understanding cultural differences help.

One of the worst marketing mistakes you may do is just exploring biases, rituals and norms alone.

You can fully understand a market’s cultural alliances only when you consider:

  • Attitudes towards e-commerce
  • Trust on the internet
  • Seasonal trends and business opportunities
  • Colour perception
  • Mediums of marketing and advertising

Despite globalising the economy, legality and labour and aspiring for uniformity in all of them, cultural differences across the world are inevitable.

Individualism and Collectivism

One of the most easily visible pair of cultural traits is individualism and collectivism.

It is a popular perception that the USA emphasises individualism while countries such as Mexico, China and Japan prioritise collectivism.

Without a doubt, ads and messaging in these countries feature a lot of individualistic and collectivist elements.

A study in 1994, revealed that advertisements in the U.S.A that persuaded individualistic values were more impactful.

Advertisers who used family or in-group benefits in their ads for the Korean market were able to successfully persuade the audience.

However, since then, many markets have had shifts in perception over which they want to prioritise.

Nevertheless, this only underlines the importance of recognising cultural differences in marketing.

Inclusivity & ORH Marketing: A love tale as old as the agency itself

At ORH marketing, we as an agency believe in building an inclusive company.

We believe that by fostering an organisational culture where diversity runs deep, we benefit and grow strategically and as people.

Sometimes its, not the product that sets aside your brand, but how to relay the message “what you do” across your market.

It is always interesting as a marketer to learn from different cultures but at the same time be sensitive to them.

Though operating out of the emerald isle, we have always worked with businesses across seas and oceans.

Contact us if you need your marketing to be culturally relevant.

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