• Matteo Rinaldi

Cultural Differences - Barriers or Opportunities?

There are many definitions of the word ‘culture’, and it is not even certain where the word comes from. Most probably it comes from ‘kultur’, a German word which, in the eighteenth century, was used to refer to civilization. Summing up the different definitions, culture can be defined as the set of values​ and behaviors that are shared by individuals within a given territory. 

Needs, dreams, and wishes are influenced by the culture of origin, which, in turn, influences the consumption of people: "Consumers are cultural beings; people are their culture" (Prof. S. Borghini, Bocconi University).

For ages, multinational companies have used the same global strategies, brand/product names, and communication messages in very different markets around the world and as a result they’ve made some major marketing mistakes. An infamous example is Colgate-Palmolive’s launch of a toothpaste called Cue in the European market; it completely overlooked that, in French, cue has a sexual meaning. Or Chevrolet’s christening of the Chevy Nova, when nova literally means ‘no-go’ in Spanish.

Maintaining a Global Brand Identity is essential for customer clarity as customers travel across borders, but at the same time, it is necessary to adapt strategies to local needs and to go deeper into customer values and behaviors. Think Global, Act Local sounds good as a mantra, but the reality isn’t that simple. You need to think and act both globally and locally all the time. The question is more about ensuring your brand messaging is globally consistent and locally relevant.

Leveraging the appropriate brand imagery elements is a very good mechanism to align your local marketing with the global brand to increase relevance to local customers.

Product imagery (feeling and attitudes directly related to the core brand experience, functional futures, and benefits) and usage imagery (feelings and emotions associated with actually buying and using the brand) are connected to the very essence of the brand, and should not be altered locally. User imagery (connection with the people who use the brand) and associative imagery (link between your brand and the image of the other brands, activities, and events you align yourself with) can and should be altered to ideal to connect your global brand to local users and the activities they enjoy. The key here is to ensure the local imagery is still aligned with the global imagery. For example, the choice of Lake Balaton for a Coca-Cola partnership is an excellent choice for associative imagery because Balaton means an authentic Hungarian summer experience that is always fun and inclusive which ties into the global Coca-Cola usage imageries of authentic, optimistic, and inclusive

Coca-Cola is the most recognized brand in the world because it has used approach with the appropriate mix of global and local imagery. Coke all over the world is about Optimism, Inclusiveness, and Authenticity; but the strategy was to capture and converge those three values in the different cultures by linking local consumers to local events and activities that are in line with their global attributes.

Cultural differences should not be seen as barriers, but rather as an opportunity. Companies that study and understand their brand values relative to local cultures will not only avoid the Nova and Cue mistake, but will obtain a competitive advantage by having the power of a global brand that is locally relevant and meaningful.

#HumanCentricMarketing #CulturalDifferences #Barrier #Opportunity


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