Culture counts

Culture counts

Jack Porteous, language and cultural adviser at UK Trade and Investment, explains how understanding local cultures leads to digital marketing success.

A host of studies have shown that if we want the UK to improve its export results, we need to improve our linguistic skills and our inter-cultural understanding. A report for UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) by Professor James Foreman-Peck suggested that the UK loses out on £48bn annually because of this skills shortage.

One place where this is evident – and can be fairly easily improved – is online marketing. Your website is your shop window and you should want your customers to feel comfortable using it. All kinds of factors can contribute to a high bounce rate; when you’re going international, not taking culture into account can be one of them.

Think about yourself as a consumer of websites. Evidence shows our first impression is made in a fraction of a second, while eye-tracking studies have demonstrated that Westerners look at the top left corner of websites first – so sites catering to people in the West should take this into account. It is easy to put somebody off your site if you don’t consider such cultural variations – and that can lead to lost revenue, reduced brand awareness, and sub-optimal returns on your investment in your website.

The expectations we have of websites have a large impact on what we choose to consume, and culture can help us understand the expectations of others. For instance, highly collectivist cultures such as China and Japan focus on the achievements of a group, whereas more individualistic cultures tend to concentrate on the success of an individual. This could alter the way you frame your product or service or have an impact on the images you use. 

This is just one example, but factors like colour semiotics, a preference for certain types of multimedia, norms around layout and the quantity and type of content expected on a site can make a huge difference to success. These should be borne in mind, alongside technical considerations such as SEO, when localising your website for a different market.

There are other simple changes that can be made, such as making sure you have some properly translated local-language content rather than relying on a hit-and-miss machine-translation (if something is difficult to understand, people tend not to bother trying!). Also, make sure contact forms are usable for cultures with different naming conventions, and that dates are written the ‘right way round’ (in much as for Asia it’s ‘year/month/day’ and in the US it’s month/day/year’).

For your website to be truly international, you need to consider the consumption habits of your target audience and tailor your website accordingly.

UKTI is the government department there to help UK businesses succeed internationally, offering a range of advice and other services to assist companies exporting products and services. The Export Communications Review service can help in developing an international communications strategy. For more information, or for any other export advice, get in touch here

Jack Porteous UK Trade and Investment Language and Cultural Adviser
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