At a time when the global market is wide open, it is a standard practice that some companies’ development strategies assume foreign expansion abroad from the start. It is worth getting prepared for it not only in terms of legal and economic issues. You should also get some intel on the cultural differences in a given country. Only then you will be able to plan effective communication for our company or product and avoid unnecessary mistakes, which can cost you a lot of trouble and money.
The first step is to become aware of the barriers to effective communication you may encounter on your path. Let’s start with these more obvious ones such as language or different understanding of the same concepts. There’s even a saying, “that’s all Greek to me” that emphasizes such misunderstandings. These obstacles are relatively easy to overcome by hiring a translator to help create content in the local language. Just be careful not to get caught up in an affair like PepsiCo when the brand was entering the Chinese market—their slogan “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” was translated to read “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”.
It can get really tough when you encounter barriers that are deeply rooted in people’s consciousness, that is a system of norms and values people acquire as children, which in every culture can mean something different, such as animal symbols or colors—you can translate a given word into another language or use a picture, but not knowing the meaning it brings in another country may mean putting a bullet through your own kneecap. This is what happened to the Polish manufacturer of krówki (literally meaning “little cows”, which are Polish toffee candies)—they placed their candies on the Indian market with a picture of a cow on the packaging, forgetting that the animal is considered sacred there. Later, to make up for their mistake, they changed the color of the packaging to green, which in India symbolizes grief and sadness.
What to think about when crafting longer announcements such as press releases?
Collectivism and individualism
Some cultures focus more on relations (collectivism) and others are individual-oriented (individualism). It’s worth remembering this when creating a communication strategy and the resulting content. In collectivist cultures (most Asian countries, Italy), it is important to emphasize how a given product/company affects social groups, strengthens the bonds between them, e.g. X for you and your friends, Y would be perfect for your family. Let’s assume that you want to market coffee and create a longer story about it—it’s would be advisable to include messages about how this beverage will make your time with friends more pleasant and meaningful. In the case of individual-oriented cultures (e.g. USA), you’d rather emphasize that when someonoe starts feeling tired, they should take a break, reach for this product, enjoy the peace of mind and gain energy for further action.
Level of excitement in your stories
Just compare a press release sent out in the US with one designed for the German or even Polish market. In one country, the use of five words like “brilliant”, “irreplaceable”, “perfect”, or “wonderful” in one sentence will be a daily occurrence, while in another it will be considered as an unnecessary and worthless mix of words that no one will believe. You can already say a lot about a culture by judging the number of words to describe something in a particular area—Eskimos have many terms for snow and reindeer, Africans for green, and Poles for interpersonal relations (literally meaning “someone I know”, “acquaintance”, “friend”). It is worth remembering this when sending out your stories in different markets.
High-context and low-context cultures
Low context means that messages are communicated directly, in a simple manner. Therefore, when creating slogans or press releases, don’t include any hidden meaning—the words should be understood exactly as they are written; if something has not been said, it means it isn’t there. Messages are explicit and unambiguous and leave little room for free interpretation. Simple. Examples of countries with low-context communication are Scandinavian countries, Germany, Austria, the US. It is quite a challenge to navigate high-context cultures, such as Arab countries, most of Asia. In such countries, the messages are ambiguous, there are lots of things left unsaid, to be guessed. There is more room for the recipient to interpret the message freely.
Foreign expansion may be a fascinating adventure—it’s just worth getting prepared properly! :)