Cultural Customization Of Digital Media: An Imperative

From Translation To Cultural Customization

With the rise of the World Wide Web, we saw the emergence of e-commerce corporations. These e-commerce corporations included companies that were generally doing business online or through hybrid business models combining online and offline presence. Many traditional companies in the late 1990’s and in early 2000’s did not see these online e-commerce companies as threat, till online business models made some brick and mortar companies obsolete. That is the story which has repeated many times as evident in cases such as Borders, Blockbuster, and Barnes & Noble etc.

Now the new reality of e-commerce is global e-business expansion. Companies that do not take advantage of the inherent global nature of the web will be left behind.  The Web allows companies to be global from day one. But the challenge for companies is to take advantage of this global connectivity to reach worldwide consumers. Some Avant-grade companies such as Amazon, eBay, Google, and Facebook have taken advantage of the web’s global connectivity, and have emerged as ‘Global online Multinationals’. However, many more companies due to the lack of expertise or vision have not been able to leverage their online presence across global markets.

The doctrine in the past decade was if you translate the website and digital media then they will come. But study after study has now shown that customers worldwide are not just looking for a website or digital media which is merely translated. The website or digital media needs to be well localized so as to resonate with its end user’s cultural and functional expectations. From a broad marketing perspective localization basically means adapting market offerings to best meet end user expectations.

In international marketing and advertising context, localization pertains more specifically to adapting company offerings and communications to locale-specific expectations. Thus, marketing localization is more specifically analyzed in context of the 4 P’s (Product, Placement, Price and Promotion); for example, print and television advertisements, product localization, localization based on distribution and logistics, and localization of pricing strategy. But in terms of digital media, and more specifically the web, localization entails adaptation based on cultural, linguistic, functional, technical and other locale-specific requirements.

As the global e-commerce market is expanding, companies and brands are competing fiercely for the consumers mind space and clicks. The era of translated content to compete in the global digital media market is over.  Evidence suggests digital media needs to depict cultural values, symbols, icons, and content which resonates consumer’s locale-specific expectations. Studies have shown that when the website is culturally customized to locale specific expectations, then consumer attitudes and purchase intentions on the website are also higher. Consumers also find culturally customized websites easier to browse and more useful. In fact, cultural customization can make your website ‘sticky’ which means more engaging to your online users. Thus, online users will not only click through your site, but will also stay and engage with your site. This is a key competitive advantage in a medium wherein another website is just a click away. So the question is how do you create a culturally customized digital media environment and ecosystem?

Key Steps For Culturally Customizing Digital Media

To effectively culturally customize your digital content and interface, it is important to first understand the cultural expectations of your end users. It is also important to have the expertise of a cultural expert who understands various linguistic and other cultural nuances. Presented below are some broad steps which can help you think more strategically about the overall process of cultural customization of digital media.

  1. Understanding The Mindset:
    Use quantitative methods to understand your customer’s national and global identity.  This analysis will help you gain insight into whether your end user is highly nationalistic or global minded. With these insights you can better decide the extent of cultural customization you will incorporate in your digital media. Global minded consumers may demand localization that reflects their global values, and national minded consumers may demand localization that reflects their national cultural values. This step is also useful to help you optimize your localization budgets. Localization budgets can be optimized by localizing content based on end user expectation and by not over-doing or under-doing the efforts. However, you will still need to understand specific consumer cultural expectations.
  2. Cross-Cultural Digital Media Expert:
    To understand the cultural expectations of your customers, you can seek the help of cross-cultural digital media marketing experts, who have the knowledge to design research methods appropriate to capture cultural insights, in digital media environments. This step is also an investment toward your future brand reputation and profits. Past evidence has shown how cultural blunders can ruin company brands and profits.  So it is better to do the cultural due diligence early, rather than be embarrassed by cultural blunders which come across as insensitive at best and offensive at worst.
  3. Cultural Tripod Strategy:
    Then develop a cultural tripod strategy to address cultural customization of your content and interface  from perceptual, symbolic, and cultural value levels. In short the cultural tripod strategy elements could include:

    1. Perceptual Level: at this level you need to focus on forms that help individuals in a society to discern directly with their senses. These could include things such as shapes, sizes, color perceptions and categories, ecological perceptual styles, navigation modes, spatial orientation, and differences in visual input processing.
    2. Symbolic Level: from a symbolic level it is important to understand the codes of the society. These codes of the society include things such as the aesthetic codes, non-verbal codes, humor, codes of conduct etc. It is also important to understand various semiotic structures of the society and associated symbols, rituals, colors, myths, metonyms, etc.
    3. Value Level: from the value perspective we speak of cultural values of the society. These cultural values serve as a guiding force that shapes societal expectations and even consumer behaviors. Cultural values can range a broad gamut including values such as: Universalistic vs Particularistic Orientation, Affective vs Neutral Orientation, Specific vs Diffuse cultures, Achievement vs Ascription Orientation, Time Orientations, Relationship with Nature, Power distance, Masculinity vs Femininity etc.
  4. Review And Testing:
    Then the final step is cultural customization review and testing. This phase I also call as the experimental design phase. During this phase we need to create some experimental designs of the digital media or website, reflecting varying levels of cultural customization to test user experience. You will need good statistical and research method insights to properly capture differences in user experience, by varying levels of cultural customization.

In conclusion, the winners in this highly competitive global economy will be the ones who cater to their customer needs and customer expectations. The tech savvy consumer is now demanding content which caters to their cultural and functional expectations.  The question is, will your company be ready to deliver it?