Over the last decade, waves of technological advancements, transport improvements, and communication progression have created what many call a “global village.” However, with the blurring of global borders comes a swarm of cultural differences that can make or break a customer experience (CX) strategy.
As business markets become increasingly globalised, the importance of understanding culture has become business critical. Failing to incorporate the concept of cultural diversity into a customer experience strategy will inevitably create barriers to winning the hearts and minds of customers.
The Importance of Being “Glocal”
Culture is essentially the characteristics and knowledge of a group of people. It encompasses social habits, religion, language, music, arts, and more. While everyone is made up of a similar genetic make-up, cultural upbringing leads people to laugh, eat, and even drink differently. It is indeed subject to constant change and has been made more dynamic in recent years by globalisation and the advent of the digital and connected age.
These factors have also sparked an increase in the number of companies competing amidst different cultures on a global stage today. A “global business” has become a benchmark for almost all brands and marketers alike. In fact, a brand with a great purpose is now expected to travel across borders and cultures. The rapid growth of e-commerce has further accelerated this demand. Companies are therefore constantly faced with a challenge of making their brand culturally relevant while also delivering economies of scale, efficiency, and shareholder returns.
To succeed amidst this fast-paced environment, brands with global ambitions must understand and embrace the broad similarities of people across the globe while also taking into consideration the differences at a local level where culture is subjective, changeable, and above all, personal. Getting well-acquainted with cultural differences will not just help global companies earn a competitive edge but will also prove effective in enhancing the customer experience. In the global marketplace, the players who are aware and sensitive to the culture of their consumers have a greater profitability of success than those who do not. To make a big splash in the global market, it is vital that brands don’t just localise, but “glocalise” — a term coined by the sociologist Roland Robertson to indicate the integration of local languages, cultures, and customs into global products/brands.
The influence of culture can have massive ramifications for brands who choose to ignore them. For example, Coca-Cola has massive competition from other caffeinated drinks in markets such as the US, whereas, in others, local juice beverages are the brand’s main competitor. Therefore, it is no longer enough to just be bi-lingual. People, companies, and brands need to also be bi-cultural — understanding the nuances of customers stemming from different cultures. It’s safe to say that cultural awareness can be vital for a company to foresee what their local brand names will do to their company image on foreign shores.
A Closer Look
With every aspect of global communication being influenced by cultural preferences or differences, global brands now need more than just attractive logos or a common philosophy to succeed. Brands need to develop the ability to engage customers in a way that feels local to them. Choice of medium, colour, font style, or even size may have cultural overtones.
It is no longer sufficient for companies to merely have messaging in a local language. Cultural awareness must be applied to every aspect of the customer experience strategy — advertising, labelling, selling, and all promotion of products. For example, the colour blue can be soothing and represent trustworthiness to Americans. However, blue to Mexicans is their colour of mourning. Likewise, in some cultures, personal bonds and informal agreements are far more binding than any formal contract. In others, the presence of legal documents is paramount. While punctuality may be expected in one culture, in other cultures, a meeting time might be considered more of a suggestion than a hard-and-fast schedule.
Failure to “glocalise” and take into consideration these details can lead to the demise of brands in certain countries. For example, popular brand stores including Best Buy and Home Depot were recently closed in China — the world’s second largest economy. Best Buy opened stores in Shanghai and attempted to replicate their “big box” or large store retail strategy that worked well for them in America. However, trying to secure reasonably priced space in Shanghai was difficult as the city is known to have to have one of the highest densities in the world. Ultimately, Best Buy opened a giant flagship store in downtown Shanghai selling far too many product lines in a location where consumers had to walk up several stories to reach the entrance. Nearby local competitors Suning and Gome opened small stores right next to Best Buy with convenient access and sold only high demand, high margin products.
However several brands have succeeded in localising their strategy while also governing the ethos of their company. McDonald’s, for example, has been well-known for their subtle localisation strategies across the globe with the creation of regional menu items for each of their markets. Conversely, Apple has stores all over the world and follows a very strict customer experience protocol that is tailored to each region. The brand further ensures that the building type in each country matches the culture appropriately. Even Dove’s popular “Real Beauty” campaign which in Western markets featured images of everyday women in their underwear was modified to suit the preferences of the Middle Eastern market.
Factors to Consider
It is evident that brands that retain their core values and simultaneously tailor messages to suit individual markets reap a multitude of benefits. Hiring a diverse and multilingual staff can be a first step towards facilitating interaction with international customers. Furthermore, cross-cultural training can equip customer service staff with the knowledge and skills needed to strengthen overall customer experience across the world.
Humanising a brand with a vision and mission that inspires local markets can be yet another force that drives forward brand recognition across the globe. For example, Johnnie Walker’s “Keep Walking” campaign sustained tremendous global flex over the years by using culturally relevant quotes and messaging that connected with markets all over the world. Even Johnnie Walker’s latest “Keep Walking America” advert is a musical celebration of diversity.
Streamlining content and ensuring that local teams have complete access to a rich library of global assets can further assist a global-local alignment and visual consistency. For example, Unilever has recently centralised its global and local marketing functions to ensure that their marketers are better equipped in today’s “super-connected” consumer landscape. This can further support the brand’s desire to showcase commitment towards celebrating and embracing different cultures.
Since in different cultures the perceptions regarding behaviour, assertiveness, and satisfaction are different, it is important that brands embrace the importance of culture and provide customers with experiences that first and foremost take into consideration their varied cultural backgrounds.