Outsider's perspective
Editorial

Outsider's perspective

Working abroad, a different cultural background can be both a help and a hindrance.

Great artists are defined as much by their understanding of the medium as their ability to design and envisage a beautiful work. A clear understanding of what can be achieved with paint or marble is essential.

In marketing, people are the medium. A primary lesson of the discipline is that understanding the consumer is the first step to creating a great campaign but, if you’re working abroad, in a more or less unfamiliar culture, achieving a really deep understanding can be tough. 

Is there anything that can replace a local’s understanding of people’s thoughts and feelings?

Of course, it all depends on how different your culture is: after all, a German marketer might be more likely to share a similar perspective with British consumers than their counterparts in the United States, despite the common language, as a result of major differences such as religiosity and tiny ones like tipping.

There are also universal human traits shared by people the world over – love of family, ambition, curiosity – that we can all tap into. But if you don’t understand the nuances – that white is the colour of mourning in China, not black, or that in English-speaking cultures green can represent nature or jealousy, depending on context – it’s easy to make mistakes.

Fortunately, there are other ways to bolster your effectiveness.

With big data analysis and the other measurable approaches offered by digital technology, marketing is increasingly based on hard facts and figures. The good news is that, as an outsider, you may be more familiar with these technologies.

With digital ad spend of more than US$114 billion in Europe this year, according to eMarketer, compared with less than US$2 billion in Africa, it’s fair to say that many European marketers are likely to have greater expertise in this area that they could pass on to colleagues.

Lack of knowledge about local culture can be corrected with time, or mitigated by carefully checking work. Knowledge of technology – or unfamiliar techniques – can be a decisive advantage.

Steve Woolley Head of External Affairs CIM
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