The furthest two people can physically be from each other on Earth is about 12,450 miles (20,036 km), but digitally this “distance” can be mere nanoseconds. We have never been more connected to a global society than we are today and that connectivity will only get faster and more intense moving forward. But, at times, marketing across international borders can make it seem as if the distance and time gaps are unbridgeable. The purpose of this article is to acknowledge and show our respect to three very important aspects of global marketing, no matter the location – whether physical or virtual.
“Where things can get off-track is a lack of cultural awareness.”
Before we get into the three C’s, let’s address the one commonality I have experienced in all my travels to support clients in a variety of locations around the globe: account management. In my seven years managing an international marketing organization, I have managed projects and clients in Western Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle East, North America and Africa. No matter where my team was operating, the principles of account management remain virtually the same – no matter the country, language or culture, clients want the same things and the “language of marketing” endures. They all want sound strategies and ideas. Everyone wants to be able to prove impact and value for the money spent. And, this cannot be overstated enough, they want proactive communication and engagement.
Increasingly, most corporate marketers are looking for value-added services and the flexibility to cherry-pick skill sets, allowing them to tap into exactly what’s needed and when. They want teams that are tailored to their needs, who can support them at all levels and they want personal support they can trust from a global organisation. While at the same time, they expect and demand consistency and continuity. In essence, the clients want it all – the creativity, personal attention and continuity of a small agency with the might of a large, powerful, global organisation.
That is hard enough to do for any organisation. It’s harder still if you do not have the skill and presence to support such a client. The following 3 aspects provide a playbook on how we manage our international communications.
A term that appears often throughout this issue of Buzz and although it may seem counterintuitive, true collaboration is difficult to achieve. It requires not only an understanding of the other people and organisations involved in a project – but to make it mutually beneficial – each has to understand the motivations, challenges and goals of the other. This takes effort that goes beyond mere business discussions. True collaboration requires everyone to be invested in the relationships with the other people and companies. And, to ensure alignment, each group working with the collective objectives in mind. As part of collaboration, one of the challenges we often find is the management of time zones…it’s hard, and adding a world clock app has been a must-have for all of us doing international business. The further the distance, the less likely each participant will have an ideal time to hop on a call or Skype. So, we rotate “the pain” and acknowledge those who get up early or stay up late.
Where things can get off-track is a lack of cultural awareness. While it is noted that historically closed societies such as Saudi Arabia or China are becoming more open, there still is a lot that we need to understand before we begin marketing in a particular part of the world. We owe it to ourselves to do two things specifically:
We never underestimate the importance of culture and understanding their norms and expectations. We use a number of resources that aid our understanding of a particular culture and how they conduct business. Specifically, I tap into Doing Business guides from sources like The World Bank, United Nations and Business Development organisations in a specific country.
To bolster this, we also take time to learn from the people we work with from other countries, using each opportunity we have to speak with them to show interest in the way they do business. This is a bit of a mantra around BBN and most conference calls or meetings we have are rife with exchanges around cultural nuance. Most are funny episodes of people getting it not-quite-right, while other times it is a genuine effort to stop somebody from making an inadvertent offence.
Another cultural pitfall that occurs while cross-border collaborating can be the use of colloquialisms. What may be shorthand or easily understood in one language often fails to resonate when it gets translated or relayed to non-native speakers. This is ever prevalent and head-scratching in my business where our two largest offices in the UK and US epitomise the saying of two cultures separated by a common language. The number of stories we have just between these two offices could be the subject of a book, but it highlights the point… we keep it simple until everyone learns the shorthand and we make every effort to learn and teach the shorthand.
The last C is a bit tricky because while value is relative, the cost of doing business in one part of the world is very different from doing it in other parts of the world. This can be all at once a good and a bad thing. We are always mindful of the money when working internationally as we want to ensure that neither party suffers unintentionally. Things we consider are:
The price of labour and how that might be different depending on the market. But, we are also aware of the standards, which in the digital space (for example) can vary widely, so we make sure we understand what it is we are purchasing.
Currency exchange rates are something we constantly keep track of – particularly if we are doing a significant amount of business overseas. If we do more than $500,000 in business internationally and start paying more than 1.5% in exchange fees, we speak to our bank and ask for a better rate or work with a broker who can keep the rate competitive.
Obviously, there is more to working with clients and partners across borders but the foundations for success are laid when we collaborate, are conscious of cultural nuances and mindful of the cash. More importantly, we are social beings and the concept of eradicating borders is one that will only enrich how marketers evolve and better serve their clients.