In late November, I was fortunate enough to be included in the third of three groups of American entrepreneurs invited to London by British Airways as a part of their Face of Opportunity conferences.
I’ve often said that it should be a requirement for all high school or college students to travel abroad. I was lucky enough to travel internationally at that point in my life and it helped to make sure I didn’t have a myopic worldview.
Today, I would think anyone in business could easily see the implications of the global economy. And I would hope that anyone who spends anytime online can see the global associations caused by the Internet.
But they really don’t.
Yes. Online connections can be made with anyone in the world. Some of my first heavy commenters when I began this blog back in 2005 were a woman in Canada and a guy in Russia. Even today, when I look at my Google Analytics traffic map or my Twitter followers, it blows me away that people from all over the world are reading my thoughts.
But just as barcamps, tweetups, conferences, and other real world meetups help cement relationships that we build online with fellow countrymen (and women), I think these real world meetings are even more important with the global community.
There’s the old saying that you really don’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. People in your same country share your same cultural shoes. You really don’t understand a foreign culture until you’ve lived it for a few days.
And this is especially important in marketing. While participants in the groups that I spoke to at the British Airways event had many questions about doing business internationally — especially about logistics, one other common question was about international marketing. No matter the group you’re marketing to, it’s all about understanding the target group’s values, traditions, and worldviews. You cannot market to a culture that you have never personally experienced.
You also have to understand the current and long-term trends as they apply internationally to be successful in creating a global marketing strategy. One of the most striking quotes from the Face of Opportunity conference came from one of its best speakers, Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham:
“We (the British) ruled the world in the 19th century, you Americans owned the 20th. This is Asia’s century, and how we all play that will define commercial success for the next 100 years.”
The worldview we have become accustomed to is changing. And when developing a global marketing strategy, you’ll have to throw away all the old ways of thinking and preconceived ideas. An incident during another presentation at the event highlighted this issue. A speaker used the example of the Chevy Nova not selling in Spanish speaking countries because the name supposedly translates into “it doesn’t go”. A member of the audience interrupted and called the story bogus as proven by Snopes and others:
Assuming that Spanish speakers would naturally see the word “nova” as equivalent to the phrase “no va” and think “Hey, this car doesn’t go!” is akin to assuming that English speakers would spurn a dinette set sold under the name Notable because nobody wants a dinette set that doesn’t include a table.
But I think most business people’s knowledge of international marketing only goes as far as the Chevy Nova and other false examples like baby food in Africa. If you’re planning a global marketing strategy, you need to start fresh with thinking approaches to marketing and not rely on old models as the world is a drastically different place than just a few years ago. Of course, as previously mentioned, the best thing you can do to help your marketing is go experience the country you’re planning to expand into.
But here’s the thing. Even if you don’t think you’re a global business, you are. If you’re online, you’re global and you need to think that way.
–Kent Bernhard, Jr. gives a much better a great play-by-play account of the British Airways Chicago-to-London Face of Opportunity events for Portfolio.
–Disclosure: British Airways provided my travel expenses for this trip.