Commonalities across Borders

During the past 31 years, I have traveled to 134 different countries. Of all the countries I’ve visited, I’ve lived and worked for six months or more in 23 of them. I have been fortunate enough to live with people from different ethnic groups, socioeconomic strata, and educational backgrounds. They all had varying religious beliefs, cultural diversities, and values, but by allowing myself to be open to listening and understanding what drove these unique human beings, I was able to grow as a person and as a global businessman.

Expanding into global markets can be a tricky business. The truth is that no matter how many global diversity classes you take, nothing can replace firsthand experience. By immersing myself in different cultures, I have learned one very important business lesson: We, as human beings, desire the same five things.

The Five Human Commonalities

What we desire is basically the same around the world. Each of us carries a belief that we have the right to:

Health: We all deserve clean water and safe conditions at home and work.

Justice: We want to live in a just world, with the knowledge that we are equal, regardless of our socioeconomic status.

Education: We want to better ourselves through fair and proper education.

Safety: People want to be free of threats — to be able to live freely and without fear of persecution.

Love and Belonging: We need meaningful relationships with friends, family, and our community.

While cultural differences, conditioning, education, and environmental influences can change the way we interpret what these desires mean, the root terms are the same. For example, one person’s desire for education might mean obtaining a college degree, while another person may want to learn a specific trade. In the end, both wish to better themselves through learning.

The Danger of Ignoring Cultural Differences

If we want to market on a global scale, we must embrace the notion of understanding and respecting local sensitivities. If firsthand experience is impossible to attain, we must learn from people with a positive track record of successfully working with different cultures. Failure to take cultural differences into account when marketing globally can result in very negative outcomes.

For example, when Proctor & Gamble first released its laundry detergent Cheer to Japan, it was marketed as an all-temperature detergent, something that was very popular in the United States. What the brand failed to take into account was that the Japanese typically wash their clothes in cold water or tepid bath water; therefore, the all-temperature distinction meant little to them. Later, when it took cultural differences into account and marketed its new detergent, Ariel, to emphasize how well it worked in cold water, the product was successful, eventually claiming the No. 3 market position.

When attempting to enter a new market, it’s important to remember the old adage, “First impressions count.” This is especially true in the above example, as Proctor & Gamble’s marketing mistake in Japan took more than five years to correct, with some ramifications lasting even longer.

All of this just goes to show that it’s important to do your homework. Even if the product you offer is in demand, cost-effective, and useful here at home, people in other cultures won’t necessarily be impressed by the benefits. You must consider what impact local ethnic and religious beliefs and values will have on the demand for your product, as well as how your strategies will affect different market structures.

How to Apply the Five Human Commonalities to Business Decisions

We can apply the five human commonalities (health, justice, education, safety, and love and belonging) to our marketing decisions by keeping them in mind and asking ourselves the following:

How does my service/product address those needs?
Does my service/product alienate any of those needs?
Does my service/product undermine any of those needs?
How are those values manifested in the local life of new markets?
Will my service/product go against any cultural sensitivities?
Cultural sensitivity is critical in the design, delivery, and promotion of new products. Furthermore, we must understand the emotional underpinnings of attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, and values because these are the drivers behind purchasing decisions. By answering these simple questions and using this information in your research and discovery phase, you can anticipate a more successful introduction to the local market.

As business owners, we must not depend on service or business norms. Many fine products have failed due to a lack of consideration for — and understanding of — cultural sensitivities. The danger of placing too much focus on differences, however, is that you run the risk of alienating the individuals of that culture.

Instead, the goal should be sensitivity and respect. Rather than focusing on how we differ in religion, politics, beliefs, and values, we should give our primary attention to commonalities and similarities. If we can understand how our differences affect our similarities — in that order — we can successfully market our products globally.

Submitted by Roderick Beaumont, Accredited Trainer Member

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