When expanding internationally, cultural differences play a significant role when considering localisation of marketing assets. This is necessary not only for assets to be well received by the target audience, but also to communicate and build positive relationships with clients and suppliers in the local country. Many companies hire cross cultural consultancies to help them cross both language and culture barriers and create meaningful campaigns that avoid any cultural faux pas. These serve as invaluable marketing tools, as research shows people react more favorably to brands that offer authentic advertisements in their mother tongue.
A multitude of aspects should be considered when localising to new markets. Sourcing local knowledge and researching the local market’s cultural nuances are crucial to simplifying the process and creating content that speaks to your audience. Aside from adapting translations, it is also important to make sure the dialect and colours are appropriate and that stereotypes are avoided. Key visuals should therefore be adapted to suit the local culture and ensure the new audience understands the brand’s message the way it was intended. This will also help you avoid offending your audience through unintentional miscommunications. Horror stories of failed localisation from even some of today’s biggest brands have had lasting unfavorable consequences in markets where insufficient research was conducted.
One example of this is the use of flags in marketing. In some cultures, flags represent pride and patriotism. For example, in the US and Italy, flags are widely used and proudly worn on clothing. In the Middle East, however, there are stricter “rules” regarding the usage of flags. When brands placed Middle Eastern flags on shoes and footballs, it was considered deeply offensive in the local culture and seen as a sign of disrespect to symbolically kick or step on their nation’s flag. Knowledge of local cultural appropriateness would have easily prevented this, as well as other potentially catastrophic marketing blunders.
To add to this line of thought, some companies have come under sweeping global criticism for removing women from advertising in some MIddle Eastern countries. The role of women is a highly controversial cultural difference that must be treated with extreme caution during localisation. Although the localised versions were intended for markets where it would be more culturally appropriate to conceal the view of unveiled women, these ads resulted in an uproar when seen in other markets and ended with a public apology by the brand. This is a lesson that in today’s globalised world, digital assets cannot be contained locally. Therefore, when localising assets, adjustments should not be in conflict with the brand’s core values.
Your colour choices should also be adjusted culturally. Some cultures may connect certain colours, such as red, with a specific political alignment. You may unknowingly be polarising your audience through your use of colour. You should be prepared to adapt assets to the finest detail so that they fit their local market. Topics that may be covered in cross-cultural training include gender norms, the local economy and political system, education, religious values, and cultural nuances such as beliefs, customs, etiquette, expressions, and taboos. By understanding these factors, you will more easily be able to enter the country’s cultural framework and gain trust, acceptance, and eventually loyalty.
In addition to localising assets, cross-cultural consultancy can also have a positive impact when it comes to the workplace. Although English is often a common shared language in international workplaces, cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings and reduced productivity. Cross-cultural training can go a long way in smoothing communication as well as bridging cultural gaps to promote integration, synergy, and efficiency, and avoid cultural conflicts. This is particularly important in today’s globalised climate, where most teams are made up of diverse members with distinct cultural backgrounds.
Though language plays a pivotal role in cross-cultural consultancy, research shows that language differences actually represent just one aspect of cross-cultural communication. Corporate players in the international arena do not necessarily speak their target markets’ languages, and while language acquisition is highly recommended, it is not always feasible. In these situations, linguistic interpreters and cross-cultural consultancy services can be called upon to bridge the gap. Our summary of cross-cultural consultancy will exclude the linguistic domain and focus on its less well-defined factors to showcase that cross-cultural competence is more multifaceted than just individual corporations’ linguistic competencies.
Cross-cultural consultancy is primarily concerned with guiding businesses in the global marketplace and resolving matters that arise from cultural differences, and is necessary when it comes to facilitating interactions between colleagues, companies, and customers from different cultural backgrounds. Cross-cultural consultants can give companies advice on cross-cultural HR, team building, synergy, expatriate relocation, negotiations, PR, and awareness training. All of these areas can help the business run smoothly when working within unknown territories. The field is interdisciplinary in nature, as it tackles how different cultures are expressed and then reflected in various aspects of business life such as PR, finance, and marketing.
In most marketplaces, there are specialised consultants in each sector that offer in-depth advice for specific corporate problems. However, these tend to be locally oriented and too narrowly defined for general businesses seeking global solutions (for example, for general knowledge or common situations such as overseeing a multicultural work team). In cases when local specialists are not needed, cross-cultural consultancy proves more valuable.
The purpose of cross-cultural consultancy is to help international business players who can’t independently manage multicultural asset production, which is typically due to lack of exposure, cultural understanding, linguistic knowledge, or experience in this area. It can take newcomers two to five years of international experience before they can effectively and autonomously manage multicultural situations. During this time, cross-cultural consultancy can be used as an intermediary.
A corporate cross-cultural consultant's expertise is derived from a combination of factors. The first is an academic background in intercultural or communication studies, or a related field, with supplementary training and practical work experience. General business acumen and professional work experience are also necessary to instill an objective view of how the industry works. In addition to a strong academic and professional background, consultants should be multilingual and have first-hand cross-cultural experiences. It is through intensive time both living and working within a different culture that one can truly begin to understand its underpinnings and put them into practice.
Cross-cultural consultancy offers a multitude of invaluable services. Consultants primarily act as cultural interpreters, advising on best business communication practises and etiquette in order to avoid unnecessary communication breakdowns. Consultants may be appointed to anything else related to cross-cultural business on a case-by-case basis, as per the specific needs of the organisation.
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