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Cross-cultural Communication

 Do Not Make Assumptions

Given the enormous, and often hidden, challenges associated with successful communication within homogenous groups, the additional pitfalls of communicating to different cultures and ‘foreign’ markets can be a minefield of complexity. This further exacerbates the risks of misinterpretation, confusion, and brand damage.

Communication is important. Some argue that it is in fact replacing the culture, as the primary source of knowledge, and that the success of an organisation begins and ends with communication. Employees can spend up to 80% of their time communicating.

Modern technology has opened up business routes and communication channels to new geographies, locations and cultures. This, and a vast increase in remote working, means that cross-cultural communication is fast becoming the norm. Consequently, this now not only applies to corporates, but also to small and medium businesses.

From a marketing communication perspective, these pitfalls are typically brought about through a lack of attention to potential communication ‘barriers’ including language and vernacular differences, contextual nuances, cultural aspects, demographics, and psychographics. 

Cross-cultural communication can go wrong quicker and easier than one thinks. A number of global brands have made huge cultural blunders. See this article by Mike Fromowitz.

The question then is, ‘What can, or should, be done to mitigate the risks of misinterpretation, confusion and brand damage?’ It has been suggested that having a basic understanding of cultural diversity is the key to effective cross-cultural communications, and I agree. The ‘how to say it’ aspects of your communication campaign are as, if not more, important than the ‘what to say’ aspects. Here are some facets of communication that you want to address before you communicate.

  • Understand cultural diversity, different communication styles, and that message senders and receivers are from different backgrounds.
  • Become aware of individual cultures in your target audiences.
  • Do not compare other cultures to your own.
  • Adopt a mutual acceptance approach and be open-minded regarding ‘their’ situation. 
  • Do not trust your intuition or make assumptions. Ask lots of questions.
  • Take it slowly and keep it simple and ensure that your messaging is clear and unambiguous (avoid humour)
  • Translate correctly and ‘reality check’ the messaging for each geography. E.g. There are notable differences in the Portuguese spoken in Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, and Angola respectively. Check it again.
  • Collaborate with in-country or in-market professionals

The good news is that there are examples of brands who have got multicultural marketing right. See this article by Refuel Agency.

Happy cross-cultural communication!
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