Cultural Awareness in Global Marketing

Marketers in a global company are tasked with the strategy, creation and execution of campaigns to make a positive impact in the markets where they are launched. Depending on the company, the conceptualization may have a global scope from the outset. Or, it might be designed mainly with the country of origin in mind.

Either way, localizations of campaigns are fundamental before implementation. The question is how much of it is required. Sometimes, all that needed is a copy adaptation. The other extreme is when the concept is so specific to one market that consumers in other places can’t relate to the message. In those cases, it might be necessary to make major changes or forego it altogether.

The more culturally intelligent a team is, the smoother the conversations and decisions are from inception to the end of a global campaign.

But, what does localization mean in marketing? The simplest definition is: the process of adapting content to a market.

The most basic form is translation. I prefer to call it copy adaptation instead of translation since what we would want is to preserve the intention of the message, not necessarily make a literal translation of the words, which in some cases makes no sense in another language. This is especially true with slangs and idioms.

It should be noted that there are distinctions even within a common language. Let’s say we are adapting to Spanish. People speak differently in Spain, Mexico, Chile, etc. These differences can be grammatical or choice of words. For example, the football boots (cleats) are known as botines in Argentina, guayos in Colombia, chimpunes in Peru, tacos in Panama, and the list goes on.

There are instances in which legal requirements have to be met. In France, it is a legal obligation to translate everything, including slogans. In the UAE, companies have to send in creative work for government approval before going live.

At times, graphic content has to be photoshopped or a new photoshoot is needed to feature what the consumer can relate to. For example, a 100% Caucasian set of imagery for an Asian market is a difficult sell. In that case, the ideal scenario is to add familiar faces to the mix.

The ability to adjust marketing to the local culture is important to the success of a business. What is perfectly normal in one country can be offensive in another. When the company I was working for was planning a store opening in Saudi Arabia, we had to review the design of the store. The store concept of the brand features impactful images of athletes wearing apparel such as shorts and tank tops. Because absolutely no skin is allowed to be shown in public facing imagery, practically none of the visuals available were suitable to create the store environment. So, the team had to look for other solutions to showcase the product and maintain the essence of the brand given the restrictions.

The choice of media can also be surprising. While the tendencies of consumer behavior in terms of media consumption is similar around the world, there are exceptions. My first trip to India was a major learning experience. It is the one market that I found so completely unlike any other place.

I was working on market entry at the time. The agency was presenting the strategy, campaign concept, and media plan. Within the media buy suggestion, they included a whole list of newspapers. I immediately flagged that and said it would not be such a great idea, thinking that it would not help reach our target consumer nor give us the right positioning. After some back and forth, with me not understanding their argument, someone left the room and brought back several samples. With one glance, I realized I had made a wrong assumption. Newspapers are huge in that market to the extent that the front page is not about the day’s most important headline, but an advertising space. And brands pay good money to be there.

How do you bring a marketing strategy to life in a market? How do you win consumers’ hearts? Make sure to understand the cultural nuances, consumer behavior, their core values and market dynamics. This is not to say you should depart from the company’s DNA, but rather speak about that identity in a way that connects.