Culture Plays A Vital Role In International Marketing Efforts

A lot of organisations these days, if not most, have customers, partners and suppliers spread all over the UK, Europe and the world.  Whilst this can cause problems of its own with language barriers etc, it also offers huge opportunities if you get the cultural differences right.

To be an effective marketer across cultures and borders you first must recognise that cultural differences exist.  Then you need to understand how to adapt your approach and marketing materials appropriately.

If you take some time to include the importance of cultural diversity when it comes to planning your marketing efforts, whether that’s brainstorming campaign ideas, problem solving for strategy or value creation with content marketing; then you could significantly improve how successful your organisation is in many areas, from approaching journalists to dealing with customer complaints and everything in between.

There is an amazing piece of research formed over a decade ago by Dr Geert Hofstede who developed a model of “cultural dimensions” that has now become an accepted standard when it comes to understanding global cultures.

The research ranks each country on a range of dimensions:

  • Power Distance – how people respond to power
  • Individualism – how much people care about the wellbeing of others
  • Masculinity – based on whether a culture believes in male / female equality
  • Uncertainty Avoidance – whether people need structure, rules and process or if they are risk takers
  • Pragmatism – about respect for tradition
  • Indulgence – the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses

So for example, if you are a UK business looking to work with Germany then you can see from the chart below where the big cultural differences exist.


Looking at ‘Uncertainty Avoidance’ we can see that if you are dealing with a German company, they will have a strong need to avoid uncertainty.  This makes it critically important that your marketing campaigns spend time on re-assuring them any business deal is well thought out and planned, so that the potential for things to go wrong has been minimised.

Add to this the low ‘Indulgence’ score, which means that Germany has a tendency towards cynicism and pessimism, then you can see the importance of reassuring your potential German business partner or customer, by talking about what could go wrong and the steps you have taken to minimise the risk of this happening.  This can also mean that you talk a lot about your customer support mechanisms in your marketing materials, more so than you would for other countries.

When dealing with journalists from Germany, I always talk about the security features of Prezi and how safe the data is.  I even had a security Prezi built in German, to talk about and showcase these issues.  This small step is crucial to gaining trust.

Another good example is that due to the business meeting culture in Germany, a lot of people email their presentations to the chairperson of the meeting ahead of time as a PDF.  This means I need to ensure that our products PDF and emails features are promoted, as this could become a barrier to adoption if not.

However, this kind of cultural analysis is not just important to marketing and sales, it’s critical for other areas of business too.

You need to make sure that your customer support team either has native speakers of the main languages you focus on, or ensure that your team is not only aware of, but also comfortable with, the cultural differences that they will have to deal with in a way that delights the customer.

This can also extend to your suppliers.  For example if you need to build a contract with a supplier, then it’s good practice to make sure your lawyer understands the differences, so that any negotiations or sorting out of the contract details runs smoothly.

In addition to how you build your marketing messages there are other considerations to think about.  If you have an online business or just have a website, then spend time on Google analytics and monitor behaviour.  I have two windows open all the time looking at traffic by country and traffic by city.  This gives me a unique insight into what cities and what countries are active at what times.

You start to see patterns over time that some countries have longer lunches, or the lunch break stops earlier.  You can see that in some cities, people generally start work earlier or stay later.  This information can help a lot when it comes to planning your Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and can make your online ad budget work smarter.

It can also help you target which media to talk to, based on concentration of visits or product usage.  Maybe you can identify where you need to target regional press as opposed to national press.

To close the loop on this, you can also monitor what happens on the day of press activity.  You can start to see that certain types of content work well in one region versus another.  This again can help you focus your marketing spend and time resource more effectively.