How to avoid the global marketing blooper reel

If your company is expanding to new countries and cultures, success will require a global mindset as well as local knowledge of customs, needs, and interest

Published: Oct 11, 2018

g_109867_global_280x210.jpgImage: Shutterstock

Global marketing gaffes get plenty of attention in their re-telling – from Pampers in Japan to Coca-Cola in Saudi Arabia ­­– but there are also heaps of global marketing success stories. Which category will you and your company fall into?

For starters, just say “nope” to hope. You can’t hope your way into global marketing success – that’s not a strategy, says Arizona State University's Dr. Matt Semadeni. “So many organizations just hope things will work out,” he says. “But hope is a four-letter word. It takes you to a really bad place if you’re relying on it as a strategy.”

Achieving success in global marketing requires knowledge and know-how. Here are some skills to build (and warnings to heed):

BUILD: Global Mindset
If your company is expanding to new countries and cultures, success will require a global mindset as well as local knowledge of customs, needs, and interests. And you’ll need networks and connections to bring those mindsets into your organization. Having a global mindset is more than being open-minded--it's a comfort level with other cultures, business norms and expecations and a curiosity and willingness to dig in deep and understand the nuances of various global markets. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to marketing on an international scale, so having a team with well-honed global mindsets will put you in the best position to succeed.

BEWARE: Stereotyping
When marketing across cultures, beware of stereotypes. Falling back on assumptions and blatant generalizations can be unwise and offensive. Stereotypes can lead to distorted expectations of your buyers. Instead of stereotypes, start with prototypes: people who represent cultural averages (i.e., the core features, behavior, and values of a culture). And then (this is an essential step) go out into the market and actually listen to what your buyers tell you.

BUILD: Trust
Whether you’re designing an ad campaign or negotiating with a channel partner, you’ll need to build cross-cultural trust. Know the difference between cognitive and affective trust, for example. Cognitive trust is task-based – it’s the confidence you feel in another person's achievements, skills, and reliability. And it’s more common in the United States. Affective trust is relationship-based – it arises from feelings of closeness, empathy, or friendship that develop gradually from activities such as sharing meals or conversation. Affective trust is more common in China, for example.

BEWARE: History
History is more than museums and sightseeing tours – its influence is everywhere, and that includes the current business world. Each country and region has its own story, with decades or centuries of cultural and political context as well as potential hazards. Avoid assumptions or oversimplifying with terms like “East vs. West.”

Want examples? Check out the chart comparing business cultures in Australia, China and Spain in Overcoming Cultural Differences in Negotiations”.

BUILD: Value
You may have heard the term “value creation,” but how well do you understand it in the context of global marketing? Success requires knowing who your customers are and what they value. Your product or service should be one that customers actually value. And then you must know how to communicate that value.

Thunderbird Professor Douglas Olsen, who teaches Value Creation and Winning in the Global Arena, says the most effective way to engage with customers is to communicate with them, not to them. “Customer engagement is a boon for value creation,” he says. And that’s nowhere more important than across cultures.

Want examples? Check out “Engaging Your Customers”.

BEWARE: Bad aim
Many marketers fall into the trap of communicating features rather than benefits. But customers don’t buy products or services for the features; they buy for the need that product or service will meet. Yet you can’t market to a need if you don’t understand the needs of the buyers in your target market. Indeed, many of the most colossal marketing fails were the result of misunderstanding the buyers’ needs.

Getting marketing right is perhaps one of the toughest aspects of global business. But if you make the effort to build global mindset, build trust, and build value, you’re most likely to land in the right category of global marketing stories: success.

[This article has been reproduced with permission from Knowledge Network, the online thought leadership platform for Thunderbird School of Global Management https://thunderbird.asu.edu/knowledge-network/]

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