In an increasingly globalised world today, to get the language and culture right when doing marketing communications to a foreign country seems a widely adopted idea for brands. However, although the former has become easier — thanks to language specialists, the latter remains tricky for many, even for big brands.
Last year, Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana had a PR fiasco in China. Despite the designer’s response on social media that sparked much anger among Chinese consumers, the advertising itself—showing videos a Chinese model struggling to eat pasta and pizza with chopsticks— was awkward, if not offensive. The brand paid a dear price for it; not only did they cancel a major fashion show in Shanghai, they also had to withdraw their products from Chinese e-commerce sites.
Whether you are looking to break into a foreign market or engage with the local communities from different cultural backgrounds, it is essential to have someone with intercultural competence to advise on your communication strategy. Intercultural communication skills can’t simply be picked up by reading books or watching TV. It takes years of real-life experience, exposure and practice.
Recently a client of Chin asked the company if they should make an effort for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and push their ads on the Chinese search engine Baidu to reach out to the local Chinese community. After a meeting with the client to understand their objectives, Chin’s intercultural communication specialists advised them to use different platforms on WeChat while maintaining Google SEO to maximize their market reach to the Chinese community in Australia.
For foreigners, the behaviours of the Chinese consumers inside and outside of China may just be a nuance. In fact, while the mainland Chinese can only rely on Baidu to get their search results (Google is banned in the country), Chinese residents in Australia prefer Google to Baidu for most of their research needs.
This is an example of intercultural communication – communication between different cultures. In this case, it is the subtle difference in communication with mainland Chinese and Australian Chinese. It is not only the language, but also the mediums and the social norms.