Cultural Considerations in Business

The degree to which cultural awareness plays into a company’s international marketing strategy can determine its success or failure – and yet it’s often overlooked. Ignoring culture can alienate potential business, which is why it should impact the decisions you make, interactions with customers, advertising strategies and website localization.

Culture and international markets

It’s multifaceted and uneasy to define. But it’s certainly a combination of belief systems, experiences, values, attitudes, religion, art, ideas, laws, morals and customs. And likely more. Culture affects how people perceive, process and interpret information.

When companies attempt to enter new markets, culture is key as it can impact and define business relationships. Knowledge of holidays around the world is crucial — it’s important to research the areas you do business or are considering doing business to understand what people celebrate or deem important. For instance, Christmas is widely celebrated in North America. But not everyone celebrates Christmas on the same day, in the same way or at all. Festive images such as Santa Claus might alienate potential customers.

Knowledge for and appreciation of other cultures is also important in landing business deals. For example: Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Asian and South American cultures prefer to do business with people they know and trust. Establishing relationships or connections in these cultures is very valuable for future business. You could start by learning common words or phrases of your target market as a token of respect.

Understanding culture is crucial when considering online marketing tactics. Your website is an easy way (and may be the only way) to attract international customers. Consider your website design – what colours are you using and who is your target audience? In Western countries, white often indicates purity and innocence yet in Asian cultures it’s associated with death and mourning. Not only do your website’s colours speak to audiences, but how the information is presented can make or break a business deal. Some cultures believe that the value of an individual takes precedence over that of a group, and vice versa in other cultures – this attitude can be displayed in the content’s style. Other factors to take into consideration for your website are: language choice, pictures, symbols, spatial orientation, navigation and numbers. You must be open to varying your marketing approaches when doing business internationally.

So what happens when you ignore culture? A company attempted to sell eye glasses in Thailand using images of cute animals wearing glasses. The product was rejected by the target market because in Thailand, animals are deemed a low form of life. Another company tried using an owl as part of its marketing strategy for its target market in India. In some cultures the owl symbolizes wisdom, however; in India, it represents bad luck. Needless to say, the product was rejected.

Cultural awareness can thus save you time, money and embarrassment, and instil confidencein your customers. Understanding, appreciating and respecting your target culture is so important for the success of your business. For a white paper on this topic, download wintranslation’s white paper Culture And Why It Matters To Your Business for free.

Huiping Zhang

Huiping Zhang is the founder and president of wintranslation. She founded the company in June 1998 as a home-based, one-woman operation and built it into a thriving, award-winning business that works with multi-national companies, governments, and not-for-profit organizations worldwide. She is a Certified Localization Professional and Terminology Manager. Huiping is a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and serves as a board member for the Ottawa chapter.