DMA Europa Group

Why is cultural awareness so important in marketing?

Working internationally is a wonderful thing; whether it’s selling into a foreign market, teaming up with colleagues from a different country or working a trade fair abroad – most businesses are somehow involved with other cultures. Here, DMA Europa look at the importance of cultural awareness in marketing.

What is cultural awareness?

Cultural awareness means being conscious of your own culture as well as other cultures. How does your culture affect your thoughts and actions? Being aware of your own cultural influences is essential to understanding others. This is of course very important from a marketing perspective and allows you to understand your target market.

Cultural awareness in business

You can observe cultural differences in the smallest of actions. When working with people from different cultures, you learn to look at their behaviour without making assumptions that are based on cultural identity. This is extremely importmant when it comes to cultural awareness in global marketing and business as a whole.
There is only one rule when it comes to dealing with cultural differences:

Observe but don’t judge.

Observing behaviours is important to understand different cultures as well as your own. However, the key is to never judge someone’s behaviour based on your own cultural values.

How important is cultural awareness for marketing?

In order to be successful in marketing we need to know our target group, which is why cultural awareness in global marketing is so important. In order to know our target market we need to be aware of their cultural background, preferences and differences. Just because a marketing campaign is successful in one culture doesn’t mean it will be successful everywhere in the world.
Here are a few examples that show how cultural differences can affect all elements of the marketing mix and the importance of cultural awareness in marketing:

Element Example
Product Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow [1965-1980]

Initially, the plan for this prestigious car was to be marketed as Rolls-Royce Silver Mist. Sounds elegant, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, “Mist” is the German word for manure (if you put it nicely…) so they quickly changed the plan and marketed the car as Silver Shadow. . [Source] A similar thing happened with the launch of the Toyota MR2 in France, pronounced out loud – with a French accent – it sounded like ‘merdeux’ which amounts to meaning the same as the German example. The number ‘2’ was quickly dropped from the nomenclature. [Source]

Price Wal-Mart [1998]

Wal-Mart was looking to enter the German market with their “everyday low prices” strategy which has been very successful in the US. However, there were already many discount supermarkets so the market was very different from the US market. As a result Wal-Mart left the German market with a loss of approximately one billion dollars.[Source]

Place Avon [1969]

Avon tried to enter the Japanese market using the same strategy that had worked so well in the US. This strategy included door to door selling. In Japan, however, this did not work. Japanese women did not feel comfortable selling to people they didn’t know. Moreover, in Japan the privacy of one’s home is very important and should not be invaded. Avon suffered a loss but adapted their product placement strategy accordingly. [Source]

Promotion Heineken [1994]

During the 1994 FIFA World Cup Heineken launched a special promotional campaign. This included the flags of all participating countries being imprinted under the bottle cap of Heineken beer bottles. Unfortunately, this included the flag of Saudi Arabia which depicts a holy verse. This caused angry reactions from Muslims everywhere and led to Heineken recalling all bottles. [Source]

Cultural awareness is essential for success in international marketing

The above examples show that if you ignore cultural awareness in marketing and apply an existing marketing strategy to a different culture as a blanket policy, things can go very wrong.
Instead, do your homework and learn about your target market. Ask your marketing agency to help identify opportunities and develop an individual strategy, taking big and small cultural differences into consideration to ensure you’re successful in every corner of the world!
DMA Europa have a team of experts, from across the globe, allowing us to understand the importance of cultural awareness in marketing.

Published August 31, 2017