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Print Marketing in a Multicultural World

Understanding Cultural Differences Propels Growth

By Steve Aranoff & Robert FitzPatrick

Even under the best conditions there are significant issues when dealing with partners, vendors, and dealers. When companies facing each other across the table come from different ethnic backgrounds, countries, and speak different languages, issues are often magnified by misconstrued meanings. Besides cultural differences, individuals from different countries have unique ways of approaching business. Even with the best product, you need to understand these differences to ensure success.

For those accustom to international business, this is always of importance and interest. But today, these same kinds of issues are important in our own community—even if you are interested in promoting your business or limiting distribution of your printing related product. The U.S. is no longer a melting pot. Instead, it has now become a patchwork quilt made up of people from various ethnic and special interest groups. To grow and prosper, even a small printing business must understand and cater to the nuances that are important to such groups.

It is important to understand that an even number of roses, brought as a present to dinner at a house in Moscow is a faux pas. Traditionally, an even number of roses is brought to a funeral! Equally important is knowing that a Dane arriving to dinner early is a sign of respect. Or that Indonesian Moslems don’t eat pork, so something else must be on the menu for them. Being aware of these cultural practices can help avoid unintentionally destroying an international business relationship.

A successful multicultural marketing campaign can net—or lose—a printing business. Whether big or small, a vast base of new customers could ultimately turn into lifelong patrons.

We vividly remember trying to market a new brand of color page makeup systems to the NY color trade shop community in the early ‘90s. At that time, the community was heavily populated by people of Armenian heritage. This group lived in a few bedroom communities around NY and the employees of various competing color businesses carpooled together into Manhattan. No color trade shop manager/owner wanted to be the first to buy a new system, if he made a mistake it would make him the laughingstock of this close-knit community. Without finding a way around this perceived impediment, the first sale was never made.

On the other hand, approaching the community more intelligently might have won more than just the first customer. The product provided advantages that clearly would have made the color separators more efficient. If you can effectively target a new group, massive benefits may accrue to your business.

Every business must learn how to appeal to a wide array of culturally and ethnically different groups, many of which have their own customs and value systems. This is becoming more important to profitability, let alone successful growth in many U.S. cities as immigration and ethnicity changes the make up of our markets.

Getting the message right starts with having an intimate understanding of the target audience a company wants to reach. It is not sufficient to merely translate an advertising message or in-store display materials to another language, as the message may be insulting.

That is not to say that translation isn’t important, but prior research is necessary to determine the correct message. We particularly remember an advertisement that introduced a dramatically new version of an existing product. The ad and banner developed for an international printing trade show proudly stated "TADA! Introducing the New Raycomp Adset," a page makeup workstation for newspapers. We were taken aback, however, when a group of Japanese visitors to the trade show lined up outside our booth. Although they were kidding around with us, we were told that "tada" meant "free" in Japanese, and they were lining up to get their "free" products.

Fortunately, we were kindly made aware of our mistake, but in real life, a miscommunication could certainly backfire. You may have heard about the trouble Chevrolet supposedly had in Latin America with their Nova car. "No va" in Spanish means "doesn’t go." It is easy to see that naming problems can easily contribute to fiascoes abroad or even in a multicultural neighborhood marketplace.

Even if you get the message correct, various demographics have different basic market needs. The perceived importance between cost, convenience, and quality of a product may be radically diverse between neighborhood groups.

Workplace situations may also have a large bearing on business acceptance. The entire community may boycott your business if your target market perceives that your employee base, advertising, phone conversations, or facility is culturally insulting.

Multicultural Guidelines

Before you approach new markets you may want to consider some of these differences. Language, values, and behaviors all need to be evaluated before implementing any type of marketing or print campaign.

Determine the most appropriate languages before participating in a business meeting. Use native speakers who understand the needs of the community to translate for you. No matter how slowly you speak, or how well a group seems to understand English, understanding of their native language is far more precise and more comfortable for them. Not only does it show effort on your part, it eliminates any chance of miscommunication. It is also important to be in tune with the values of the group you are trying to reach. Stressing cost to a group that believes in paying for quality can certainly backfire. Creating a message targeted toward values, and not just accurately translating, is important.

Learn the acceptable behaviors of your marketplace. A friendly environment will go a long way to drawing members of the community into your business. Is being business-like enough, or do you need to provide other "comforts" to gain acceptance. Certainly, a recent situation where a business posted a sign saying, "Only English Spoke here," would not be an inducement to a multicultural clientele.

Know the kinds of printed material that the community uses and finds important. Focus on small business product literature for a community that consists of small retail business owners. Show them examples of how you would approach their needs and not the needs of others.

Lastly, hire members of the focus community to be your public face and integrate them into your workforce. Working with someone who is knowledgeable about the community’s cultural needs will show your interest in learning more about the potential client.

Understanding both cultural and business differences may take time and money, however the benefits of educating yourself and your employees will reflect in eventual growth.

It is important to consider a number of communications before launching any new campaign. Accepting the needs of a multicultural buying community will enable you to maintain and grow your business in a changing world.

Mar2008, Digital Output

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