Effective cross-cultural communication – do not make assumptions

Communication in various languages image
Image by Charl Nigrini

Most of us are aware that effective communication is critical. Yet, there is still so much misinterpretation and confusion in our world today, resulting in brand damage. Michael Wood, an accomplished, results-driven marketing executive with >25 years’ c-level experience shares his insights on this subject.

Communication is important. Some argue that it is replacing culture as the primary source of knowledge and that the success of an organisation begins and ends with communication. Employees can spend up to 80% of their time communicating.

Modern technology has opened up business routes and communication channels to new geographies, locations, and cultures. This, and a vast increase in remote working, means that cross-cultural communication is fast becoming the norm. Consequently, this not only applies to corporates but also small and medium businesses.

From a marketing communication perspective, these pitfalls are typically brought about through a lack of attention to potential communication ‘barriers’ including language and vernacular differences, contextual nuances, cultural aspects, demographics, and psychographics.

Cross-cultural communication can go wrong quicker and easier than one thinks. Several global brands have made huge cultural blunders. See this article by Mike Fromowitz.

Atypical camel and pyramid
Image by Omar Esharawy – Unsplash

The question then is, ‘What can, or should, be done to mitigate the risks of misinterpretation, confusion, and brand damage?’ – It has been suggested that having a basic understanding of cultural diversity is the key to effective cross-cultural communications, and I agree. The ‘how to say it’ aspects of your communication campaign are as, if not more, important than the ‘what to say’ aspects. Here are some facets of communication that you want to address before you communicate.

  • Understand cultural diversity, different communication styles, and that message senders and receivers are from different backgrounds.
  • Become aware of individual cultures in your target audiences.
  • Do not compare other cultures to your own.
  • Adopt a mutual acceptance approach and be open-minded regarding ‘their’ situation.
  • Do not trust your intuition or make assumptions. Ask lots of questions.
  • Take it slow, keep it simple, and ensure that your messaging is unambiguous (avoid humour).
  • Translate correctly and ‘reality check’ the messaging for each geography. For example, there are notable differences in the Portuguese spoken in Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, and Angola respectively. Check it again.
  • Collaborate with in-country or in-market professionals.

The good news is that there are examples of brands that have got multicultural marketing right. See this article by Refuel Agency.

Authored by Michael Wood (not a SAFREA member)

Michael is an accomplished, results-driven marketing executive with >25 years’ c-level experience including owning an agency for 15 years. Michael has deep B2B experience in communication, positioning, content, branding, and strategy across several verticals. This insight, and a balanced and foundational post-graduate education complement, allows Michael to add value through campaign design, and strong messaging across multiple mediums. Simply put, he tells the right stories, to the right people, using the appropriate channels, at the right time. Michael has a keen interest in the convergence of technology.

Proofread and copyedited by Delilah Nosworthy (SAFREA member)

If you would like to read more of Delilah’s articles click here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


One Response

  1. This is interesting for those who need it and important for them to use it. We are still stuck in misunderstandings between the same first language communicators. I often see communications in English where people write what they think they mean but don’t state it clearly and unambiguously. The reader often understands the opposite. The response is then based on the wrong interpretation and this creates a spaghetti of confusion. It is the same with the spoken word and advertising. I think that technology, social media, and the resulting style changes are largely to blame. Great fun and lost opportunities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *