Tag Archives: international marketing

the one where I talk about international marketing

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.

Cultural Marketing 2.0

This week, I was contacted by a gentleman in Bangkok, Thailand about working with his company to develop their branding strategy. While I’ve worked with international clients before, I’m hesitant about taking this project because my knowledge of Thai culture stops after ordering Pad Thai in a restaurant.

If you’re marketing to any group, you have to know that group’s culture. And cultural barriers in marketing are difficult to work through. We’ve all heard the old cross-cultural marketing and advertising tales such as these:

  • The Chevy Nova failed in the Hispanic market because Nova means “it doesn’t go” in Spanish…
  • “Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation” means “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave” in Chinese…
  • Gerber baby food with a picture of a smiling baby on the label didn’t sell at all in parts of Africa. The reason? Because of the high number of illiterate Africans, African companies put pictures of what’s in the jar on the label…

The problem is that all these stories are not true. (Chevy Nova) (Pepsi ancestor) (baby food)

But here is something that is true about marketing to other cultures. Because of super segmentation, targeting of markets and the rise of a million niches in the Long Tail, marketing blunders similar to these will actually happen. And they will happen within the United States and within markets that you THINK you know. Companies will initially have no idea why the marketing isn’t working.

You can see it happening now. We’ve all seen several examples of a new corporate blog rising up, attempting to contribute, and immediately being seen as an imposter or wannabe by the residents of the blogosphere. The company can’t figure out why they’ve been rejected. It’s because they don’t understand the culture.

Following the success of entertainment models such as The Last Temptation of Christ and the Left Behind of books as well as the recent upswing of red-state politics, Hollywood saw an open market opportunity. However, with offerings such as The Book of Daniel and The DaVinci Code, Hollywood has wound up deeply offending and insulting the market that they’re trying to reach. At the core, it’s because they really don’t understand the nuances of that culture.

The cultural nuances…those are what makes a culture unique…not the big things. The nuances are also the things that are the hardest to replicate and communicate with outsiders.

If you’ve always thought cultural influences were something that just international marketers had to worry about, get ready. You’re going to start having to think about those cultural issues in marketing not just with different ethnic groups, but with the person who looks just like you that lives across the street.


Czech Mate

Just as we’re “re-branding” every spot on the map in the U.S….the phenomenon has spread worldwide. The Czech Republic now has a logo. [LINK]

Newsflash:: Most countries already have a logo…it’s called a FLAG.

I’m no expert on Eastern European Graphic Design…but it looks a LITTLE busy to be a logo. It looks to be more of a poster. Each of the little cartoon bubbles highlights a part of the Czech culture. From the press release….

It’s very bouncy and playful, and one row of bubbles is dedicated to words like “mushrooming”, or “Christmas carp” and “remoska” referring to favourite Czech hobbies and a very famous Czech portable oven.

Ahhh, nothing like the lights on the tree and the Christmas carp in the oven.

(Sad Disclosure — I actually got a little giddy when I thought of the corny title to this post. Close runners up were “Czech, Please” and “Czech out this new logo”. …I think I made the best choice.)