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You Need Cultural Context to Take Advantage of Global Markets

David Bosley

The words “global” and “international” in terms of marketing may seem like they’re saying the same thing, but did you know that the approach is radically different? When you’re talking about global marketing, you’re creating a unified brand and marketing strategy that will work in multiple countries. With international marketing, each country will receive a local context — not a direct translation of the brand to the local language. Adding this layer of cultural context to your marketing strategy can boost your revenue, increase your customer base and ultimately create more engaged customers. Here are some of the biggest fails (and wins!) that you can learn from to take advantage of markets beyond the Americas. 

That’s Offensive!

If the world’s biggest brands can’t get globalization right, do you have any chance? Sure — because you can learn from their painful (and expensive!) mistakes. Your brand’s image and reputation is crucial and can mean the difference between successfully entering a new market or being ridiculed in the global press for a serious faux pas such as these. 

-KFC’s “finger licking good” motto translates to “eat your fingers off” in Chinese, something they discovered after launching their marketing campaign there.

-Gerber, famous for their baby food, translates to “vomit” in French — clearly, there’s a need for a slightly different branding strategy!

-The Coors marketing team discovered that their “Turn it Loose” campaign roughly translates to “suffer from diarrhea” when translated for Spanish shoppers.

Perhaps one of the most famous brand blunders was when the American Dairy Association decided to expand their marketing into South America. Unfortunately for them, the iconic “Got Milk?” translates to “Are You Lactating?” in Spanish-speaking countries. (Oops!). 

Strategically Marketing Your Brand Globally

Creating Cultural Context

It’s easier than ever before to target international audiences with your marketing strategies, especially when you consider social media and other digital marketing options that are available. Understanding how a product or service will be used in a particular culture is the first step in aligning your brand with the needs of your new market. Developing cultural insight allows you to tap into the deep-seated fears and the invisible forces that drive culture so you can create messaging that truly resonates with your audience. 

Understanding how products and services are used often requires working with someone who is local to the area where you will be marketing, or at least with a native speaker. This can be challenging for brands without a current global reach, especially as you’re seeking to build out new markets. Your first step is in research to determine the scale of the market for your product or service in your target area. If the market is a big enough opportunity, you can often work with digital marketing teams to help bring that additional context to your messaging. 

Identifying Nuances 

Perhaps you’ve checked your brand translations and everything works well. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t enough! Customer motivations can be dramatically different depending on the geographic location as well as the needs of local buyers. In America, an item could be considered a necessity (uber-protective cell phone cases) while shoppers in other countries may be more interested in a particular element (waterproof cases, for instance). It pays to take the time to identify any nuances that you need to add to (or remove from!) your marketing strategy when translating your messages. 

Whether you decide to opt for global or international marketing strategies as you expand outside the U.S., staying relevant is all about keeping the cultural context in mind. There are myriad opportunities for organizations that are willing to take the leap and export their products and services to the world.