Even giants like Facebook make cross-cultural missteps in global business communication, as explained well by Stanford’s Vivek Wadhwa. Wadhwa highlights the root cause of the fury over the proffered Free Basics program: Facebook’s fundamental misunderstanding of the issue (not data access but rather Facebook’s curatorial control). Facebook’s offer of also triggered the Indian’s “distrust of foreign corporations bearing gifts“. Wadhwa contends that Facebook’s intentions were good–and he’s probably right. However, this incident showcases the importance of double checking great ideas for cultural sensitivity, even if it means delay in launching them.
Innovative European firms are helping to fix societal problems globally, allowing their business lawyers to help fix societal problems, even if it means crossing the globe to do so. The Financial Times reports that global firms like Allen & Overy and Linklaters are tapping into their lawyers’ desire to improve society; creating outlets for their lawyers’ altruism helps these firms to attract and retain diverse and socially conscious talent. In addition, the firms can tout these programs as a client development tool.
“We see this as having an important business benefit,” explains Baker & McKenzie Partner Sarah Gregory. “Because, as a law firm, if we don’t look like our clients and represent their values, we’re going to be less effective.”
There’s no rest for the weary, especially in the Social Media realm. According to Statista, social media is alive and well–particularly on Sundays when re-tweeting ramps up. To the extent that Twitter is part of your Social Media platform, you may need to rest on another day of the week.
Look at the booming populations of China, India and other emerging markets. All of those new consumers may make you salivate. However, before research shows that the buying patterns of emerging market consumers differ from those of more experienced consumers. This means that to grab and hold their attention, sellers need to tweak their marketing approach.
As this month’s issue of the McKinsey Quarterly describes in Building Brands in Emerging Markets, emerging market consumers are more heavily influenced by personal recommendations from friends and family (as well as early brand awareness and a positive in-store experience). So, simply relying on a long-distance, virtual marketing won’t work too well. This can be expensive for smaller companies who might hope to market across the Pond, so to speak, without investing in a lot of local representatives, local marketing materials etc…
If you are such a seller–whether a seller of professional services or products–use this McKinsey data to target emerging market buyers more effectively. Ask, “How can I reach my target consumer, and then encourage word of mouth marketing to their friends and family? What’s unique about their culture that I can utilize to make my service/product more compelling?”
Perhaps launch a promotion tied to one of their national holidays, or national pastimes–even if it isn’t something that appeals to you or would work in America. Or, attract clients by stressing the American origins of your service/product; ABC News recently reported that “Made in America” products have increased in China 542% over the past ten years. (For more on attracting Chinese middle class consumers by advertising American origins, watch “Made in America Products Selling in China).
ABC News reports that exports from America to China have increased 542% in the past ten years–in large part because Chinese consumers are seeking “Made in America” products. According to this report, the sheer prestige of American labels drives sales among the Chinese middle class. Emphasizing the American roots of your product services could spur your sales–as long as it’s done with due respect to Chinese culture.
A new study published in Psychological Science finds that thinking through issues in a foreign language reduces bias, producing a more balanced result. In other words, how an issue is described (whether as a potential gain or loss) in the thinker’s native tongue clouds the thinker’s ability to analyze the data objectively. This bias disappears when the thinker shifts to thinking in a foreign language.
So, the next time that you ponder a global business issue, try pondering it a foreign language of your choice. You are bound to weigh the risks and rewards more accurately.
If you fuse your cuisine–like Chinese and Mexican, or Ethiopian and Spanish–why not similarly blend your global business teams? In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Northwestern University Kellogg School Professor Jeanne Brett argues for just that. Adeptly fusing multicultural teams prevents one cultural group from dominating the discussions–and the results. For example, setting the norms of team interaction up front, and acknowledging cultural differences, helps teams to fuse. Encourage success by ensuring that each multicultural team has one or more “metacognitive” members who know how to use “a cultural lens to analyze multicultural situations in nonjudgmental ways.” Well-fused teams produce more creative and practical results, Brett concludes. So, fuse away.
Executives who lead teams globally know how hard it can be to maintain alliances with colleagues across cultures and time zones. Yet, to lead effectively, executives must build strong relationships up, down and laterally–and make those relations stick across the miles.
Recently I’ve worked with global executive who is based in one part of the globe but reports to US headquarters. A lot of friction had developed between the executive and her superiors. Her corporation’s US-centric corporate leadership had struggled to understand the challenges she faced in her part of the globe.
We began to prioritize her forging stronger relationships with US management. For example, she made an effort to increase “face time” with these superiors, whether in person or via conference call, and to clarify (and meet) their expectations etc… She made a point of attending optional offsite meetings rather than always eschewing them in favor of pressing work in her region. Finally, she became more adept at managing cross cultural differences–communicating with colleagues at headquarters more directly, as her American colleagues did.
Implementing this plan wasn’t always easy. It required her to delegate more to her direct reports in her region, and to travel to the US more often. But she realized that to succeed in her geographically distant region, she needed people she could depend on at headquarters to tell her the truth and help her sidestep minefields long distance.
Her efforts to build and nurture strong relationships at headquarters–up, down and across the corporate hierarchy–paid off. She was promoted and received a raise when management began to understand her value and see her as a team member.
Global leadership success demands such strategic partnerships across cultures. “New leaders are those who are adept at building partnerships, both one-to-one and one-to-many, as a matter of habit” said Marshall Goldsmith and Maya Hu-Chan in Being an Effective Global Leader.
Today’s effective global leaders know this truth: Build strong relationships habitually–and main them across the miles, even when difficult.
Foreign accents make a bigger (and more negative) impact than previously thought, new research from the University of Chicago shows. A recent study proves that listeners subconsciously mistrust messages received from people with foreign accents–and the mistrust grows with heavier accents.
So what does this mean for those of us working globally? If we end up negotiating in another language, will our messages be mistrusted?
Solutions include (1) working with a native speaker to coach you in your accent, (2) bringing a native speaker to the meetings as a fellow negotiator or interpreter, (3) and building personal relationships (and with the other parties before business begins. Trust and credibility built in advance may outweigh such subconscious mistrust.
Yet another reason to build powerful business relationships across cultures.
Professionals, like accountants, architects and financial advisors, are increasingly incorporating social media into their comprehensive marketing plans. For example, The Progressive Accountant notes that the each of the Big Four accounting firms maintains a Facebook page, and many state CPA agencies use both Facebook and Twitter.
Even financial advisory companies are beginning to use social media, although, like many professional service providers, they must be careful about client confidentiality and related issues. (Note the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s January 2010 Regulatory Notice on Guidance on Blogs and Social Networking Sites, and comments on it posted on SocialMediaToday). Interest in social media spurred on consultancies like Advisorlocity, which offers a social media starter kit for financial service companies. CEO Bruce Johnston told MutualFundWire.com that he aims to help financial services companies utilize social media networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
But how can these social media tools be used creatively to attract potential clients? Markitecture, a DC area marketing firm, suggests that an architecture firm could engage potential clients by chronicling (via Twitter and Facebook etc…) a high-profile project from start to finish. Not only would this give readers a reason to return to the site again and again, deepening their mental commitment to the firm, it would also give potential clients insights into how the firm works on projects. In addition, Markitecture recommends that architects start a Facebook page focusing on a particular neighborhood or targeted area in the city, constantly updating the page with news, photos, and area history.
For professionals who work internationally, social media’s long reach can be powerful. Building on Markitecture’s example above, architects working in Dubai, Dublin and Denver could showcase their global projects through social media, thus reaching potential audiences globally. Similarly, accountants, financial advisors and other professionals could create numerous blogs or pages on their home websites, each targeting clients in a particular region of the world—and also communicating their overall global expertise.