In my last post I outlined a framework to improve cross cultural communication in the digital realm utilizing some of the concepts from the field of cultural anthropology. In this installment, I will focus on the first construct that I discussed in my last post – cultural context. According to Edward Hall, the pioneer of this concept, a high context message indicates a rather implicit meaning, which is ‘either in the physical context or internalized in the person’, and little information is included in the ‘coded, explicit, transmitted part’, and vice versa for a low context message.
A few decades ago Chevrolet had a much publicized failure rolling out their model the Nova in Mexico. It turned out that “no va” means “doesn’t go” in Spanish. Not really an ideal name for a car. Years later in Italy a campaign for Schweppes tonic water translated the name into Schweppes toilet water. Sales were unimpressive. These two marketing blunders have become somewhat legendary in the annals of cross-cultural marketing and communication.
With globalization becoming a seemingly permanent element of our society, the importance of navigating the complicated maze that is cross-cultural communication is becoming more important than ever. And not just to large global brands and firms, but to smaller organizations who through happenstance or necessity find themselves in the position of trying to sell their products and services to a broader, more international audience. In the past, most firms simply translated their American (or home country) marketing collateral and message to their target countries language and called it a day. This approach rarely yielded the desired results, but most firms lacked the know-how and wherewithal to do better.
It turns out that there were several models available to try and optimize these cross-cultural marketing and communication issues, but they resided in a completely different field and hence were unknown to most marketers. The field of cultural anthropology utilizes multiple models to explain and understand communication among and between different cultures. This field has identified that cultures have unique and different ways of looking at the world, varying attitudes towards accepted behavior, differing ways of expressing personality, and perhaps most important to this audience, different ways of negotiating and communicating. Each of these differences affects the customer experience in unique and interesting ways and needs to be considered when a firm is branching out and attempting to do business with new nations, cultures and regions.