Going global: the importance of cultural differences

photo-1423439793616-f2aa4356b37eWe wrote this blog for WordWorks Media, a London-based agency which offers translation and localisation services for global brands, foreign voiceover recording and dubbing, affordable subtitling and transcription services.

Going global and doing new business on an international scale is a challenge, but also a great opportunity to improve overall growth and potential. Many agencies have decided to go global and embrace the opportunities it presents, but such an important expansion is rarely an easy and problem-free exercise. There are many challenges and risks, and the fact that business works differently in other countries is a key one. One of the most difficult challenges businesses face arises from cultural differences: going global and being successful abroad not only involves speaking a foreign language, it means becoming familiar with a whole set of local cultural rules which are country – or even region – specific.

The opportunity in global expansion cannot be denied and is demonstrated by the increasing presence of ecommerce websites and online platforms which sell worldwide. In an era where the internet speeds up awareness of global markets, businesses that extend trade into other countries need to translate accurately and address region specific needs if they are to realise the full potential of international trade. Accurate translation on both a linguistic and cultural level results in a stronger customer engagement and trust, and a higher likelihood that purchases will be completed. Websites that are too confusing and that don’t address cultural and region-specific needs usually sell less.

Taking the leap is however not easy. Among the main barriers which prevent companies expanding their new business strategies abroad is a lack of knowledge of foreign markets. Companies are often aware of the fact that practices might be different without understanding what those differences are and those differences in culture, business practice and regulation can be a real risk and can impact on everything from sales to payments and delivery.

How can businesses overcome these barriers and create the right environment for international growth?

1. Embrace a more Global mindset

Do your research, find out more about how your industry might vary around the world. Try to discover the different approaches and solutions used overseas. Become familiar with different selling processes and try to evaluate the situation from both a Global and a regional perspective.

2. Pick one core capability

As much as taking the leap can be scary, it can also consume a lot of time and energy. Try to focus on one core capability to export – either a product or a service rather than trying to adapt your whole business at once. Test and measure it over time in order to develop best practice.

3. Develop an export dream team: translation and localisation experts

Our strongest recommendation is to optimise your international new business team and materials. A strong team and set of materials should include advisors – lawyers, accountants – who understand local laws and financial practices, localised materials, and most importantly, a translation/localisation expert who understands the local culture, and business practices. It is not just about speaking the language, it is also about knowing the culture, how business works, and beliefs around how business is done.

In any society the way business is done is usually deeply intertwined with cultural rules. Considering the variation in business practices from country to country, one of the most common differences between two cultures is that of payments: some countries are used to receiving payment before delivering goods, for others the exact opposite might be the norm – delivery first, then payment once the goods are received. This is just one example. Another is haggling – in some cultures it is expected, in others it is frowned upon. The value of an expert is that they can take into consideration these sorts of cultural differences and adapt behaviour to meet the expectations of your customer.

There are multiple other issues that companies should be aware of when doing business internationally: In many cultures Religion plays a significant role because it influences holidays, dress code and in some cultures the fundamental rituals around human interactions; in European cultures, age and rank affects how you refer to people; weather and environmental conditions; preferences in design, colours, layout and typography. These are just some examples of the causes of difference in international business practices. Recognising cultural diversity is incredibly important and plays a role in making sure that your messages are not going to be lost in translation. Also, cultural differences determine sense of humour and the degree of understanding certain jokes – so always make sure jokes will not offend your prospect’s sensibility.

In conclusion, a company that wishes to expand their new business abroad, should remember the incredible value translation and localisation experts can bring in approaching international clients appropriately. Understanding the local culture, and being able to foresee culture-specific behaviours while nurturing your prospects can greatly enhance your new business relationships and make or break your Global endeavours.

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