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How To Ensure Cultural Sensitivity During Global Marketing Campaigns

It’s common for businesses to promote themselves in their local area, or even on a national level. But what if it’s time to scale your operations to an international market?

Plenty of businesses boost sales by targeting a multinational audience. That’s why you can see the same Coca-Cola ad in the United States and the Middle East. Still, global marketing campaigns are the World Series for marketing and PR — there is a lot of opportunity, but you risk your reputation if you fail to score a home run.

Your life experience isn’t the same as someone who lives in another country — just consider: we may share a language, but there are huge differences between living in the U.S. and living in the UK. When marketing globally, you have to be sensitive to cultural differences to not only protect your reputation but to make a great impression in a new market. Follow these five tips to nail your next global marketing campaign.

1. Conduct Thorough Market Testing

How will people in your target country respond to a new PR campaign? In addition to researching the country itself, it’s important to speak directly with the people who live there.

First and foremost, research to discover whether or not your product solves a burning need for people in your target country. For example, do people in Morocco want to buy protein bars as meal replacements? As a brand, you need to identify a need and fill it with your products — not push products onto a market that doesn’t want them.

This is why market testing is so important. Through market tests, you’ll be able to:

  • ask locals if your translations are correct
  • check for product-market fit
  • learn about cultural nuances you may not have known about before

For example, maybe you create an ad that describes your product in terms of feet and inches. As an American, you wouldn’t think twice about that. But if you’re marketing to shoppers in Europe, which uses the metric system, it’s going to be confusing.

2. Test Your Translations And Word Choice

A word could be totally innocuous in your language, but incredibly offensive in another. For example, Clairol sold a “mist stick” in Germany. Unfortunately for the brand, it didn’t realize that “mist” is German slang for “manure.” Needless to say, the ad didn’t go over well.

Though it has its purposes, leave Google Translate at the door when multinational campaigns are involved. Translation fails happen all the time, so you need to work with professional translators who live in the area to which you’re marketing.

And even if you share a language with your target country, know that word choice still matters. There are plenty of words in the UK, Australia, Canada and the US that have vastly different meanings.

3. Consider Political And Religious Affiliations

Promoting women’s ribbed athletic shorts in the Middle East might be difficult because of the common beliefs surrounding women’s bodies. Depending on where you’re marketing your products, you may need to change messaging and imagery to be appropriate for audiences in that area. When in doubt, conduct local market tests to see if your campaigns are a fit for the region.

4. Watch The Local News

Whether it’s politics or a national tragedy, there are going to be inappropriate times to advertise your products. For example, if a tsunami just ravaged a country, you should pause your Facebook Ads promoting pool floaties. This is why it’s so important to watch local news and stay aware of what’s going on in your target countries.

5. Check The Calendar For Major Holidays

What major holidays are happening during your campaign? For example, if you try to promote products during Holi in India, you’re less likely to get engagement because everyone is out celebrating. And if you’re promoting alcoholic beverages in Thailand on royal birthdays (which are national No Alcohol Days), it’s going to come across as tone-deaf. Look up major holidays, understand how people celebrate them and fine-tune your global marketing campaigns in response.

Play It Safe With Global Marketing

International campaigns can bring in more sales for your brand, but global marketing is something that requires a lot of research and thought. Even if you share a language or a culture with your target audience, you aren’t identical, so tread carefully.

At the end of the day, the best global marketing campaigns are flexible enough to customize for each target region. Collaborate with people from the area and adjust as needed to stand out in front of a new audience. It isn’t easy, but over time, you can learn what sells well in different locales and carve out an even larger footprint for your business.

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