Solutions in a Small World: The Words Have Meaning

Gerald Youngblood, AMD Manager of Worldwide Component Channel Marketing, says marketing must be nuanced to fit a geographic region's communication culture. Second installment in a four-part series.

Communication is the single most important element of marketing.

In my job, for example, I identify the most compelling way to convey the value and importance of the goods or services that my company provides. While that may sound easy, think about how many brands communicate in different ways depending on what demographic and region they’re targeting. It’s a lot to take in, right?

For me, the real thrill is being able to translate specifications and proof points into wants or needs for customers you may never meet face-to-face. Admittedly it’s easier said than done, so where should a brand turn to determine the appropriate strategy?

Edward T. Hall, a well-known American anthropologist, wrote a book in 1976 called Beyond Culture that segmented countries into high-context or low-context cultures by their routine communication style.

In low-context cultures, such as Germany and the United States, a more direct correlation to the words spoken and written to the exact meaning of the words is prevalent, whereas in most Asian countries a tendency to communicate more with body language or intonation makes them high context areas.

These cultural differences manifest themselves in both online and offline advertisements. The vibrant visuals of city streets in Tokyo and dynamic billboards in Seoul speak to the importance of striking images in connecting to the masses in a high-context environment.

In my mind, the high-context/low-context division is a useful starting point for companies seeking to adapt their communication style to suit that of the country or culture in which they operate.

For example, consider the vast APAC region, which consists of many countries from India on the Western edge and Japan in the Far East to Australia in the southern hemisphere (I’ll cover Great China separately at a later date).

The key question for any region, including APAC, is how can we best adjust our communications to preempt misunderstandings that could arise by trying to do business without first doing our cultural homework.

At first glance, that might seem too broad a question. You might be wondering how Japan can possibly require a similar strategy as, say, India? To some extent, that’s true.

However, despite the incredible diversity, I’ve noticed a remarkable consistency in communication styles across the APAC region, marked by vibrant “high context” communications.

AMD is currently embarking on a global newsletter and communications strategy where we must reconfigure our messages to engage both high context and low context cultures. My team is quickly finding that it is not as simple as translating materials. We must seek to truly understand our audience and their background.

For instance, in a high-context, symbol-aware country such as India, we avoid featuring the left hand for advertisements, where the left hand is considered unclean. In other instances over the years we’ve had to customize images of dragons for some regions because of the significance of that image.

We’ve learned that the broader meaning of images and phrases can be the difference between success and failure in a marketing campaign.

Finally, it is important to understand where the melting pot analogy begins to blur the cultural and geographical boundaries. As an example, Texas is now viewed as a higher-context state in the U.S., and immigration, travel and the Internet have no doubt altered the contextual understandings and communication styles of countries around the world.

An old Japanese proverb states, "The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour." In less poetic language, my takeaway is that for companies and people alike, the first impression will always resonate the most strongly.

That’s why it’s so important to effectively leverage the "high context" Asian communication style in our marketing initiatives. If we approach our customers with a communication style that does not complement their own, we miss our chance at making an impact.

While striking the right balance can certainly be challenging, the proper attention to context offers us a much greater chance of doing business effectively.

Gerald Youngblood is AMD Manager of Worldwide Component Channel Marketing. His articles are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third-party sites are provided for convenience and unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such linked sites and no endorsement is implied.

This is the second article in a four-part series that will examine examples from four key regions--EMEA, APAC, Greater China and the Americas--to demonstrate how solution providers can learn from business innovations worldwide and apply it to drive profitability.

The first installment on EMEA can be found here.

The AMD Worldwide Channel blog can be found here.

TAGS: marketing,AMD,communication,Gerald Youngblood

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