The power of recognizing culture in marketing

The importance of recognizing culture in marketing

Burbank, California; November 2001; Joan Marques, MBA



Too many people don't realize the tremendous importance of making yourself familiar with a society's culture before trying to penetrate it. It's always easy to see things from your own perspective, assuming that everyone should understand what's so wonderful about your product or service.

Just reading about all the blunders made in history by large multinationals, proves that even the most sizable and experienced marketers make that error time and again. One of the most famous examples is Coca Cola translating the name into Chinese without back-translating it ("bite the wax tadpole"), ultimately resulting in a horrible response from an insulted society. Marketing books are full of examples like these.


It may be extremely important to follow a few steps when entering a market, no matter whether the reason of entering is for business, personal, or other purposes. Here are the basics:

         Don?t assume that everyone sees or accepts things the way you do. Historical and cultural baggage can ?color? the way people look at things. Even the simplest things like choice of colors, gestures, conversation distance; time scheduling, etc. could become painful issues.

         Make sure you know someone in that society that can bring you ?at level? with local habits. Convince yourself that this person is aware of the latest slang and habit-changes in the target area.

         Try to find out what really intrigues this society. Different cultural groups have different ways of catching each other?s attention. In Caribbean communities, for instance, the joke-sketch style is what catches the attention. Serious ads don?t even work when you try to convince them to pay taxes!

         Always ask several people within that culture what they think of your product/service. The more opinions you can gather, the better your insight will be in possible hurdles you may encounter.

         Keep an eye on developments. What?s generally accepted today may be abandoned tomorrow. Nothing is more awkward than trying to look ?cool? by using stuffy, outdated terms.


Before anything else, though, try to figure out the level and criteria of acceptance. In Europe it?s generally accepted to use stronger language and show more nudity or cruelty on mass media than in the U.S. On the other hand, Americans have a more ?open? attitude toward each other in a conversation than Europeans. Yes, the world is developing into a global village, but we?re not there yet. Not by far. So while we?re working on it, respect local cultures?and the world will be at your feet!