In this digital era, all aspects of your company’s digital footprint -- earned, owned, placed or otherwise -- can be accessed by anyone at any time. From an exposure standpoint, it’s hard to not feel excited by this fact.
But before you get too carried away thinking about people across the globe visiting your website and learning about your company, it’s worth noting that your online presence comes across quite differently in Bangalore than it does in Bangor, Maine. People in Rio view your branding much differently than those in Riyadh.
And that's where culture and politics come in: If you aren’t careful, even your own next-door neighbors may take offense to your branding. Just recently, a restaurant in Australia made headlines for naming itself Uncle Ho. The local Vietnamese community considered this a direct reference to communist dictator Ho Chi Minh -- a highly polarizing figure in their culture. Nearly 100 people gathered outside the restaurant in protest, threatening to burn the building down and inflict harm on the owners of the establishment.
That incident illustrates the importance of approaching your business from a global perspective. The broader your cultural horizons are, the more markets you will effectively reach -- and the less likely you are to commit embarrassing faux pas, costly mistakes and outright showstoppers.
The awkward crossing of cultures
It doesn’t matter if you’ve created a stunning website that features eye-grabbing visuals and incredibly persuasive copy; the name of your company or product alone could stop international consumers dead in their tracks before they even click on your URL.
Dublin’s C&C Group, for example, couldn’t get Germans on board with its Irish Mist whiskey because the sound of the word “mist” means “manure” in their native tongue. Similarly, Tripping.com wasn’t getting much love from Germans because its nickname for its users was eerily similar to the German word for gonorrhea.
Related: The 5 Worst Marketing Fails of 2015
Enhancing your company’s cultural sensitivity and knowledge doesn’t just lower your odds of likening your product to an unpleasant infection; it helps you craft a brand presence that properly and effectively communicates your message to a wider audience.
Raise your global awareness.
Today, you don’t just need to comprehend your clients’ business needs; you need to know where they’re coming from, culturally. Too many companies drum up their product and mission without considering how (or whether) those things apply to people outside their immediate surroundings.
As the founder of a PR firm in the tech world, I found it to be in our best interest to become a globally minded company. A good portion of our clients are located overseas, and we help these companies pitch their products and services to their local markets. To meet this challenge, we prioritized hiring global citizens.
As a result, my team speaks a combined 10 languages, and our staff is comprised of folks who grew up all over: Europe, the Middle East, the American Midwest and South -- and all five boroughs of New York (each its own cultural melting pot). Because of the expanded worldviews we now have in-house, we see an influx of creative ideas, opinions and solutions that resonate on a global stage.
Boost your cultural IQ.
Assembling a staff full of cultural wizards is no easy task, but following these three tips will send you in the right direction:
1. Cast the right net.
Start at the source. Identify colleges and universities that are known for having great study abroad offerings, high-quality international studies programs and high numbers of foreign students. You could also look at American schools located abroad, such as my alma mater, Franklin University, in Switzerland.
Once you amass your list of schools, reach out directly to their job placement departments to introduce yourself. Let them know that you have job openings (whether they’re entry-level or internships) that you hope to fill with their top soon-to-be graduates. Specify the international impact your company strives to make, and you'll likely find they are glad to send you the names of several relevant candidates.
This is the best and easiest way to find employees who will boost your company’s global acumen from the ground up.
2. Look for the right cues.
Look at your applicants’ track records. If they studied abroad during college, they likely have an interest in other cultures. If they say they’re fluent in multiple languages, chances are strong that they grew up in a multicultural household or spent time in a foreign country.
Also, be sure to ask pointed questions about your industry’s global climate during the interview process. If the applicant is in tune with current events and can speak confidently and thoughtfully about them, you’ve got yourself a keeper.
3. Walk the walk.
Having even a base level of cultural awareness and sensitivity will help you win over the best and brightest applicants. Rather than line your desk with mini Eiffel Towers in the hopes of wooing a French candidate, have a meaningful conversation about his or her upbringing and values.
I know you’re busy running a business, but try your best to visit your target markets and experience their cultures yourself. If that’s out of the question, make a point to read about them. Start by asking Google to alert you every time something noteworthy happens in a country you currently (or someday plan to) operate within.
Also, if you’re serious about operating in non-English-speaking cultures, consider learning a new language or two in your free time. You don’t have to become fluent, but being able to at least understand a foreign language is an important part of becoming a global entity. Download an app that allows you to practice while making your lunch in the morning or commuting to work.
Hiring with cultural diversity in mind will liberate your company’s creativity, branding and product development processes from the narrow confines of its leadership’s limited experience. Most importantly, it will provide a comprehensive understanding of target audiences, allowing you to stand out from the pack as a culturally aware company with an expansive global reach.