How brands can navigate uncharted markets in 2021
Mélanie Chevalier, CEO at Creative Culture, looks at how easy it is for brands to fail when they don't consider cultural nuances, and the success that potentially awaits if they do.
The world is getting smaller. With the advent of new technology and, more recently, the current health crisis, there has been an acceleration in connectivity between people and businesses. In this digital age, generations both young and old are able to transcend borders through a window to global conversations provided by the internet.
For brands, this has opened up a whole swathe of opportunity to take their products and services and introduce them into markets across the globe. As different markets become more accessible, new lucrative customers become available as pools of potential growth.
With the promise of new consumers comes a stark warning to businesses looking to enter new markets.
But with the promise of new consumers comes a stark warning to businesses looking to enter new markets. Expansion means placing your brand within the context of a different culture than the one your brand finds its roots in. Businesses are faced with the crucial task of not only communicating their brand in a manner that is authentic to its global identity, but that also speaks to the various cultural influences that will make any campaign successful. It’s not only about adapting your clothing line or food products to meet the needs of local consumers, all elements of your brand - from communications to product - must consider the cultural expectations present.
Above: Alibaba's Singles Day is a huge event in Asia but has not translated well to Europe
Learning lessons from 2020
Ignoring this is a sure-fire way for brands to become victims of cultural blunders. We only need to look back at 2020 to see that brands continue to think globally without acting locally. Back in November, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba launched campaigns in Europe to promote its shopping holiday, Singles Day. Its annual, glittering celebration of music, entertainment technology and retail experiences are similar to Valentine's Day in terms of popularity and commercial opportunities for brands, however, it is still seen as an unusual novelty in Europe. Despite racking up $75 billion in sales and 583,000 orders a second during the event’s peak in Asia, infomercials on Alibaba’s platform rarely got more than 1,000 views in France.
[Brands] sometimes stumble at the first hurdle by struggling to understand the cultural nuances within the market.
But the problem for many brands is that they sometimes stumble at the first hurdle by struggling to understand the cultural nuances within the market where their brand first came to life. Last summer, Bacardi launched a new range of flavoured vodkas called Plume & Petal in the UK and US with a campaign based on the notion that the product was ‘by women, for today’s modern woman, intended to be enjoyed with other women’.
For both consumers and the media alike, Bacardi seemingly hadn’t paid attention to the cultural shifts taking place in the West, with gender equality within businesses and society being placed under a scrutinising microscope. The result was a backlash from both consumers and the media for its gendered branding and the connotations around low-calorie drinks and body image, forcing the brand to apologise and back-track on the message to say it was ‘not for women specifically’.
Above: Bacardi's Plume & Petal vodka, aimed at women, received a stinging backlash.
Local must feed global
What brands often fail to recognise is that cultures and cultural viewpoints are not static, they evolve continuously as society adapts and advances. It is the smart brands that immerse themselves in the nuances that arise and shift over time, and execute their brand ecosystems with this knowledge in hand. This means taking it down to a local level at the very start of the global strategy process. There needs to be an integration of local insights before campaigns are conceptualised globally. This is where an on-the-ground, human-led approach becomes essential. Using native experts that understand both the local language and culture can provide real-time, qualitative insights through access to relevant local platforms, data and resources. Strategic planners and anthropologists are great for developing a strategy in line with local needs and expectations.
There needs to be an integration of local insights before campaigns are conceptualised globally.
But this also applies to internal and domestic briefs too. Every country and organisation is made up of a whole host of different cultures and individual backgrounds and within some of these communities, behaviours and choices are strongly influenced by culture, either consciously or unconsciously. When Creative Culture was speaking to a large international telco brand, they mentioned that in their effort to push the gender diversity agenda internationally, they were looking to extend parental leave across genders with the organisation across all markets.
When rolling out to the African continent, they hadn’t anticipated a key cultural element: polygamy.
However, when rolling out to the African continent, they hadn’t anticipated a key cultural element: polygamy, and what the policy meant for men with multiple births across their various households in the same year. In this case, local market intelligence would allow such a business to create inclusivity compasses that internal teams could consult during this initiative and build upon to develop a framework that is relevant across all cultures and nations where the company is present.
Audit, audit, audit
Once your local experts are in place, it is time for cross-cultural audits as a way to review creative and strategic output. These teams will review and identify any potential red flags within your global content to ensure that the materials are locally appropriate, from product innovations and concepts to brand names. They can also suggest targeted cultural touches that will make the message even more powerful with various audiences.
Ensuring there is adequate due diligence and risk assessments is absolutely essential and if done appropriately, and early enough in the creative stage, they ensure consistency across markets as well as optimised local engagement. Following roll-out, and when combined with semiotic analysis, they can also be used as a reliable way to identify which elements have resonated particularly well in order to find the recipe to a successful campaign for future initiatives.
Ensuring there is adequate due diligence and risk assessments is absolutely essential.
Culturally sensitive communications are key in all industries, and especially on the public stage as seen in recent events last year. However, with the right insight, brands will be placed in a strong position in 2021 to build a strong communications strategy that not only resonates but also embeds brand love and loyalty within a number of new and exciting audiences.