As global head of social for my company, over the last two years, I have personally visited dozens of cities—from Bogota to Reykjavik to Singapore and beyond. I have also visited dozens more interactively and worked with our local teams on the ground, getting to know the many disparate and rich cultures of the world.
Despite our differences, what I have come to understand is that we also have much in common. In many cities around the world, for example, commuters shove themselves into metal tubes every morning, hurtling underground to get to work. And as people travel via those tubes, many are on their mobile devices, consuming content and connecting with friends, family and co-workers.
Of course, we also have varied individual traditions, tastes and cultural norms—all one needs to do to understand that is to check out how the menu at McDonald’s in the U.S. differs from the menu at McDonald’s in Korea (home of the Purple Potato McFlurry), or the U.K. or Argentina or hundreds of other markets.
Cultural nuance and marketers’ understanding of that nuance matters - as so many major brands that have unwittingly stepped into controversy have discovered. Knowing the local language and customs from market to market is essential in an increasingly global and interconnected world.
Making the right impression at the get-go is essential—after all, you may never get a second chance. Following are some tips marketers looking to make a global impact can learn from the rest of the world.
Embrace diversity and inclusion within your own organization
There are all kinds of different and extremely valuable experiences and voices those who work in your organization bring with them every day that can help educate your organization and help create better campaigns.
Leverage social feeds
Automatically pair local ads with local factors including climate, language, landmarks, allegiances with sports teams, and currency and pricing.
Do your homework
At my company, we employ a WeChat incubator in Chinese markets, so that instead of having teams in our offices around the globe all learning Mandarin, we tap into our experts on the ground in Beijing and Shanghai to help us avoid cultural missteps.
Tap into relevant influencers
Influencers present a way for a brand to present itself in a more authentic way to a market and can serve to raise the profile of representative voices.
Marketers should partner with influencers who are relevant to a local audience and who are known commodities in a market to best resonate with consumers there.
Understanding how deeply an influencer connects with a brand’s target audience is key. Just because a brand partners with a celebrity who has the most Instagram followers does not mean that person is going to be influential with all or even most of a target audience.
Marketers must evaluate and verify influencers in a market with rigor. They should be aware of the multiple potential uses for influencers, including content creation, distribution, testing on emerging platforms, as an alternative promotional strategy, or as an affiliate partner. (Facebook is in the process of building out a feature at check-out on Instagram whereby influencers can help sell products.)
Tap the power of messaging
To understand the future of messaging, marketers should look to APAC. While Facebook Messenger is dominant in North America, WeChat is the leading messaging app in China, while KakaoTalk rules in South Korea. A brand embracing the right influencer and executing the right message on the most popular messaging app—and having an understanding of consumer behavior and cultural norms in that market—has a better chance of breaking through the clutter.
When it comes to messaging, fish where the fish are. Understand the most popular apps in a market, then build to scale across platforms. Intel such as a site’s FAQ, call center queries, keyword reports, usage reports from AR activations and social listening data are crucial to understanding how a brand can provide automated value. It is essential that a brand ground itself in a valuable customer experience.
Meanwhile, brands must remember that messaging should be viewed as an additional communication channel rather than the basis of a campaign—and yet, also know how important an ingredient messaging needs to be in your overall marketing strategy. Despite the power of the medium, a recent report suggested that as many as 80% of marketers have never advertised on messaging apps.
Tap the power of video
Especially in markets where data plans come cheap, video usage has exploded. In India, for example, video consumption grew five-fold in just one year. Jio ushered in inexpensive data in the country, allowing mobile consumption and sophistication to rise dramatically. This is especially important in a country with many speakers learning to speak three or more languages usually consisting of a local language like Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, the more widely used Hindi and English for business.
You know the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words”? Well, instead of translating all those words, video can be a valuable shortcut.
When using video, there are some important things to keep in mind. Among them, identifying the role of local or regional languages and subtitle your video accordingly. Consider rich media style ads like cinemographs or .gifs in addition to video to present a distilled, relevant message. While India is a well-known example of a country that is home to multiple languages, there are many others, including Canada, Belgium and South Africa, while many languages, including Spanish and Arabic, have distinct regional differences.
Understand that global commerce is fragmenting
Purchase behaviors are not universal, nor are the modes of payment or consumer shopping preferences. You may be a multinational brand, but you will have different payment processors and providers in different markets, and you will have consumers who prefer to purchase goods in different ways.
It is important to understand global trends that impact your business—for example, did you know that by 2023 four of the top 10 online grocery markets will be in Europe, according to projections by IGD Research?
On the topic of fragmentation, consider not only the breath-taking growth of online shopping but the numerous, dominant online shopping sites that have been spawned from market to market—from Amazon in the U.S. to Alibaba and Lazada in Asia to Germany’s Aldi.
A brand can likely take lessons learned via one of these distribution points to score success with others.
Understand why you need to learn from the world
One need look no further than five years into the future to see what’s in store for global commerce.
According to Kantar’s projections, ecommerce will be by far the largest single organized trade format in the world by 2025, accounting for 27% of global organized retail sales and nearly 20% of personal care business. The U.S. and China together will constitute just one-third of global retail growth in terms of revenue. The balance of power is projected to be radically different in just five years, with Brazil’s growth outpacing that of the U.K., Mexico besting Italy and Colombia surpassing Sweden. The U.S., China, India and Turkey together will account for half of global growth.
The bottom line is: there is tremendous growth potential for brands that are willing to incorporate learnings from beyond their own backyard.
Kieley Taylor is global head of social at GroupM