Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
Let’s take an extreme example. Many Westerners are partial to a Kit Kat. In the UK, Kit Kat is the number one brand both as a confectionery item and as a biscuit (or cookie). In Canada and the US, Kit Kats also feature in the top ten chocolate bar brands. But how would you British, Canadians or Americans fancy a soy sauce-flavoured Kit Kat? Perhaps not licking your lips quite so much now, are you?
In Japan, however, Nestlé has created a whole host of unusual flavours for its Kit Kat bars – among them soy sauce (the most popular nationwide), miso, green tea, wasabi, yubari melon, baked corn, sweet potato, cucumber, pickled plum, bubblegum and mango varieties. And it seems to have worked: Kit Kat is the No. 1 confectionery brand in Japan too.
Many of the flavours are considered regional, and therefore only sold in the Japanese region for which they were created – and often for a limited time only. This has built the brand into something of a phenomenon, with domestic travellers snapping up the unusual varieties as souvenirs or gifts.
A clever marketing strategy, right? Not only have they adapted their product to suit local tastes, they have chosen an unusual distribution strategy and created some real excitement around the brand. It’s certainly an interesting approach and gives us all, ahem, food for thought….!
In this week’s Thursday Night Insight, Julia Cupman explores the importance of language in marketing communications, highlighting that market research is a small price to pay to avoid costly linguistic blunders.
I moved to America a couple of years ago and my legal title here is a “resident alien”. No I don’t look like ET, but I have descended from a little island 3,000 miles away where we eat Branston Pickle, Yorkshire puddings and cream teas – otherwise known as Great Britain.
As a foreigner in this huge country, my ears have been attuned to the American vernacular. Indeed when one of my friends called me and asked, “How’s it hanging, sister?”, I wondered (a) whether we had metamorphosed into siblings over night, and (b) what exactly she was alluding to as “hanging”? Despite my confusion, I did think, what a friendly country I’m living in!
At one point, I was, however, grateful at being considered just a “sister” given that I heard the same friend call another woman her “girlfriend”, only to then discover that ALL my female friends had “girlfriends”. Good grief, I thought, this place is full of love! (If any American readers are confused here, the term “girlfriend” in the UK tends to be more than just a platonic relationship…)
Although language can create that sense of community, it has also created a linguistic barrier for me on a number of occasions. For example, I was disgusted and outraged at being offered a “fanny pack” in a store selling outdoor gear. I asked myself whether this was some kind of incontinence bag – until the sales person showed me what us Brits would otherwise call a “bum bag”. (Dude, I know what you’re thinking – this term is no better!)
In this country, you want to pay for your meal but you ask for the “check”; you park your car on your “driveway” but drive to work on a “parkway”; you frequent “bathrooms” in which there’s not always a bath; and you “ship” packages across land even though there’s no water transportation involved. But in spite of these absurdities, I’ve conditioned myself to speak the local lingo under the firm belief that when in Rome, you do as the Romans do.
These are just a few examples of the linguistic challenges and confusions I have encountered in my time here as an “alien”. In fact, of around the 200,000 English words in common use in Britain, it is estimated that 4,000 have a different meaning or are used differently in the US. So in summary, we speak the same language, but with a myriad of exceptions, foreignisms and alienisms. We are two nations divided by a common language, as Winston Churchill once said, as well as George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, apparently.
So what have language discrepancies got to do with marketing? My point is this: for marketers to meet the needs of the market profitably, they have to be able to speak the language of their customers. This might sound simple, but consider the following illustration of how a supplier has clearly failed to talk the talk of its customers. After reading the sign in the photograph below, have a guess at the type of establishment in which this sign is placed, before you read any further.
Believe it or not, the sign is by the swimming pool in the most exclusive hotel here in Westchester, New York. This hotel costs several hundred a night and caters for mainly businessmen and government officials. In displaying a sign forbidding activity from all human orifices, is the hotel not therefore suggesting that these well-to-do people would actually urinate, defecate or release any other bodily substance in the swimming pool had this sign not existed?! What’s more, apart from providing a totally inappropriate message with unsuitable language for its guests, the hotel embarrasses itself further with the non-existent term “expectorting”, which should actually read “expectorating” – otherwise known as coughing or spitting.
It cannot be presumed that the language suppliers speak is the language that buyers understand or relate to, especially where international branding or marketing communications are concerned. Indeed Honda only realized the importance of cultural, linguistic nuances after having introduced its new car “Fitta” into Nordic countries in 2001. Had the major car manufacturer invested in cross-cultural market research, it would have discovered that “fitta” was a vulgar, old fashioned word used to refer to a woman’s genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. This, by the way, through a rather circuitous and very expensive route, led to the birth of the Honda “Jazz”.
Ikea made a similar mistake in launching a children’s desk called “FARTFULL”. Although this apparently means “speedy” in Swedish, it was an embarrassing blunder given its connotation in English–speaking geographies. Once again, why was research not carried out to test the language and its meaning?
The UK food manufacturer Sharwoods suffered equally costly embarrassment. The company spent £6
We seldom stop to consider the language we use and how countless words and expressions in our branding and communications campaigns can be misinterpreted. This can lead to discrepancies in understanding, sometimes embarrassment such as in the examples above, and a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the message being conveyed. Given the considerable financial resource required for new product development, branding or marketing campaigns, the relatively low cost of market research is a small price to pay to eliminate risk and maximize marketing potential.
Ethnography research is a technique that is being used more and more in business to business markets and in the last month B2B International has carried out numerous ethnographic projects looking at getting into the mind of the trade (both plumbers and builders).
Ethnographic research must surely be among the most misunderstood, misrepresented and misused of the currently used qualitative research techniques, and this is true whether it is within a B2B or a B2C context. This article below by Neil McPhee and taken from this month’s BIG Times spreads some light on the technique.
What is Ethnography?
Ethnography is a research process that is rooted in the anthropological and sociological traditions of understanding that places a researcher within the context of the research setting they are studying. Through the process of first hand observation and participation in people’s lives, a process known as cultural immersion, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of individuals and their cultural belief systems. Ethnography represents more than mere observation, it involves direct participation into the lives and the culture of people. Its strength is its attempt to get at the underlying meanings of actions and beliefs within the context of a cultural group/ setting. In order to leverage ethnography to generate new insights, commercial research organisations have uniquely adapted ethnography to fit the needs of commercial business practice.
My friend and co-tutor, on the ESOMAR Ethnography and Observation workshop, Hy Mariampolski PhD, from the USA, calls it Marketing Ethnography. I tend to call it Research or Commercial Ethnography, but in any event, it has a number of characteristics which make it a very different animal from an interview. Commercial ethnography is a movement away from the study of ‘native cultures’ and a movement towards the study of consumer cultures, this including a B2B context here. The principles are the same: a quest to understand people within the context of their natural environment.
Due to both consumer and business pressures we spend much shorter periods of time than would be ideal with people but our aim is still to participate directly in people’s lives in order to gain access to social situations that help us to better understand their world. We then take this understanding into the realm of business to better design products and services that will in turn better meet the needs of our constituents.
How do we recognize “ethnography?”
There are a number of attributes that constitute its practice.
1. Ethnography: describes the behaviours, values, beliefs, and practices of the participants in a given cultural setting. This is important, as the notion of Culture/Values etc, are prerequisites for “real” ethnography. We need to identify, and then understand,
In his latest Thursday Night Insight post, Matt Powell reflects on his experiences working in our China office and the difficulties inherent in conducting business across cultural boundaries.
I recently saw a TV advert from one of the world’s major banks that professes to its excellent local knowledge in every single country. Of course, this campaign has been going for quite some time now as the bank positions itself not as a sprawling, faceless mega-corporation, but indeed as a very localised and personal bank. Whether or not the bank does in fact deliver upon its promise remains to be seen, but the importance of local knowledge cannot be underestimated.
There are many horror stories about corporations naively taking one product or brand that is successful in one country and launching it into a foreign market without first adapting the product or its branding to meet the local culture. Pepsi and Coca-Cola give two sterling examples of ‘how not to do it’.
When Pepsi launched their cola in China, the company thought it would be sufficient to translate their slogan "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life" into Chinese and simply launch the product. Unfortunately, the slogan was translated a tad too literally and instead proclaimed that "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave." Of course, the problem was rectified, but damage had already been done.
Coca-Cola did something fairly similar when launching their product in China; they chose to launch their brand using Chinese characters that read phonetically as “Kekoukela”. Of course, the phonetic spelling sounded similar ‘Coca-Cola’ to a westerner, but I imagine there weren’t many Chinese consumers looking to purchase a refreshing can of “female horse stuffed with wax”. Surely, even just the smallest foray into market research would have highlighted these significant blunders, and saved the companies millions of dollars – let alone the damage done to the brands.
Indeed, in many cases, the same message or piece of information can still cross hazy lingual and cultural boundaries. I myself had an experience when on secondment in our Beijing office, where lingual barriers became slightly hazy to say the least. Each day when finishing work I would order a taxi to where I lived, pronounced ‘Hua Mao’. Every time I asked, the taxi driver would either laugh, shake his head, ask to see a map, or (in one extreme case) make a loud cat-like ‘miaow’-ing noise at me. I knew I was saying the name of the location correctly, so although slightly perplexed at the behavior of the Beijing taxi drivers, I thought nothing of it… until, that is, one day towards the end of my stay when I took a taxi with some of my Chinese colleagues. When I asked the taxi driver to me to my destination my colleagues burst into uproarious laughter – it turned out that for two months I had been saying the words correctly, but pronouncing them with the wrong tonal inflection – and, of course, was asking the taxi driver to take me to ‘cat with flowers’. At least the miaow-ing taxi driver seemed slightly less disturbing after that.
Although it is an amusing story, it does indeed highlight the importance of local knowledge and just how critical the nuances of any language and culture really are. To most westerners, what I was saying and what I should have been saying sounded fairly similar indeed, but (despite me always managing to get to my destination) the difference it made to the local person – the person who mattered – was huge.
At B2B International we, like the large bank, recognise just how important local knowledge is. Every country is different and brings with it a whole set of language issues and cultural traits. We use ‘mother-tongue’ interviewers when conducting international interviews for this very reason; the cultural nuances are critically important in understanding information and indeed any subtle inferences that may be missed by someone who is not completely immersed in that particular culture or language. Indeed, across our three offices we can span the globe from Asia, to Europe, to the Americas.
Our expertise can help our clients in many ways – from conducting multi-country studies in various languages, to conducting in-depth research and analysis in specific countries, to researching new markets to enter. For more information about how we could help your Company, contact a member of research team at our European headquarters in Manchester, our Asian headquarters in Beijing, or our American head office in New York.