The Marketing Strategist:

How to Use Cultural Differences to Your Advantage

December 20, 2011

Relationships are at the heart of marketing; to build customer intimacy, marketers need to be more relationship oriented. When cultures clash, building relationships can be a challenge. Culture not only pervades all our relationships and behaviors, it challenges every aspect of what we know about marketing, says Anja Langbein-Park, a management consultant, corporate facilitator, and executive coach with Trompenaars Hampden-Turner who focuses on cross-cultural business. In her presentation at ITSMA’s 18th Annual Marketing Conference in October, Langbein-Park used examples and anecdotes to highlight two ways marketers can take to build their cultural competence:
  • Dig deep into cultural differences to learn. At the core of any culture are basic assumptions that are buried deep within individuals’ subconscious, causing them to think and act in ways that they cannot explain or even identify—that is, until someone with a different set of subconscious beliefs comes into the picture. Because these cultural assumptions are not written down in any manual, you have to dig deep to discover them in customers (and within yourself). Marketers can learn about cultural differences among their customers by spending time with them, making observations, asking questions, and encouraging customers to ask about their own assumptions. But the interest can’t be superficial—you need to believe that you will learn something through the process and commit to seeing it through. The more you ask, the deeper you can get with the customer (and the more relevant and targeted your marketing will become).
  • Focus on what you have in common. When we don’t know a culture, we often focus on stereotypes, such as the idea that all Americans are in a hurry or all Germans are punctual. But you don’t learn by focusing on labels. Instead, when marketers leave their comfort zones, they can grow both personally and professionally. Langbein-Park offers two suggestions for how to do this: first, rather than focusing on the cultural differences between you and your customer, look at what you have in common. Second, don’t let the stereotype color what you think of the entire group. When you’re in a new environment, whether in a foreign country or a new business setting, ask how you should behave. Seek help in understanding the culture and the way things are done. Turn your discomfort into an opportunity to learn and connect.
Langbein-Park says that culture is not just another factor to consider; it is the context of everything. Culture pervades all relationships, behaviors, and meaning. In today’s world, where business is global and teaming is virtual, marketers who work on their cultural skills will be offer more value to customers and be better colleagues. Watch this video to learn more about Langbein-Park’s views on the importance of cross-cultural marketing.

Want the latest news from ITSMA?

Subscribe to our newsletters and alerts for ITSMA blog posts, research publications, events, and more.

Further reading