Building relationships is essential to international sales, and an awareness of cultural considerations is hugely important when selling your products and services in international markets. What may be acceptable in the UK could deemed as inappropriate, insensitive or even offensive in other cultures, and a little understanding of the culture you are selling into goes a long way.
I have included here a small selection of the advice I often give to businesses before they embark on doing business in international markets
1. Be aware of cultural sensitivities. These may relate to religion, belief systems, historical and political factors, attitudes to children, animals, gender and sexuality. Graphic design, marketing copy and video production for websites and other media should be produced in association with someone who fully understands the culture of the target market.
2. Do your research before visiting a country. Find out about the history, geography, economy and religions of the country – these will give you insights into culture and help you to understand customs and behaviours. Be aware of how wider cultural factors affect business such as attitudes to time that may mean that negotiations and decision-making, for example, may take longer than you expect.
3. Choose colours used in your branding and marketing carefully. Some have negative or specific associations in some cultures. For example, in Japan red text has negative connotations associated with death. White and/or red flowers are associated with funerals in many cultures. Black and blues are predominant in Western branding whereas brighter and bolder reds, gold and oranges have more positive association in many Eastern cultures.
4. Be aware of auspicious and inauspicious numbers. Certain numbers can be considered to bring good or bad fortune. The number 8 is considered very lucky in some cultures, such as in China. Meetings, negotiations and other occasions can be organised according to their numerical significance. The numbers 4 and 9 should be avoided in Japan as they are associated with failure or bad luck. A golf ball manufacturing company experienced poor sales after packaging them in packs of four for the Japanese market, resulting in the company having to withdraw the product at a great loss. A greater understanding of the cultural implications could have avoided this costly mistake.
5. Translating the written content of websites, other marketing materials and business documents needs to be done by a skilled translator. Invest in the services of a skilled translator who is a native speaker of the language you are translating into. Materials should also be proof read by a third party before publishing. If you have an agent or distributor you can ask them to check translations too.
6. Bear in mind that your target market may use more than one (official) language
For example Belgium has Dutch, French and German and Switzerland has German, French and Italian. There may also be varieties of a particular language – there are several forms of Arabic: for example, Gulf Arabic is different from Moroccan and Egyptian Arabic. This rule even applies to English, which has many forms apart from the British type (USA, Canadian, Australian etc). Ensure you use the right one(s) for the market you’re targeting.
7. Learn a few basic words and phrases for occasions when you meet or speak to your customers. Culture and language are inextricably linked so showing that you have taken the time to learn the basics in your customer’s language is a sign of cultural awareness, courtesy and having invested in building a positive business relationship.
These are just a few examples of some of the many aspects of language and culture our advisers at UKTI can assist UK exporters with.
For further information, companies in the North West can contact me at email@example.com. Companies in the rest of the UK can find their local UKTI language and culture adviser by contacting your local UKTI office.