The Importance Of Understanding Cultural Differences

Sometimes you come across an article that just makes you laugh. Such was the case when I came across Thieves steal Herman Munster’s identity, which mentioned how someone was caught trying to sell credit card information in a chat room for the fictional tv character. The story made me laugh, but it also brought to mind an important concept in marketing.

From the story as reported by the Associated Press

Crooks in an underground chat room for selling stolen credit card numbers and personal consumer information offered pilfered data purportedly about Herman Munster, the 1960s Frankenstein-like character from “The Munsters” TV sitcom.

The thieves apparently didn’t realize Munster was a fictional TV character and dutifully offered to sell Munster’s personal details—accurately listing his home address from the television series as 1313 Mocking Bird Lane—and what appeared to be his MasterCard number. Munster’s birth date was listed as Aug. 15, 1964, suspiciously close to the TV series’ original air date in September 1964.

Anyone who’s ever seen the 1960’s series would no doubt realize how ridiculous it is to try to sell this info. 1313 Mocking Bird Lane has been locked into my brain ever since I first saw the series in syndication as a kid. My guess is if you’re familiar with the series you’re laughing along with me at the stupidity of the thief.

How does this relate to business and marketing?

evidence indicates the thief, known online as “Supra,” was operating overseas. “They really stumble over our culture. He’s probably not watching any reruns of ‘The Munsters’ on TV Land.”

It’s that stumbling over the culture thing. This story is funny to me because of that culture stumbling. It’s amusing to me that someone could take literally the financial details of someone I know to be a fictional character based on Frankenstein’s monster. It’s not really an unreasonable scenario, though. You’re very familiar with your own culture, but how familiar are you with the customs of a foreign country and how might that unfamiliarity affect your marketing?

Cultural Differences in Language, Color, and Age

Think of translating a page of text into a foreign language. Translating word for word seldom works to convey the same message. You’ve probably seen examples of sentences translated from another language into your own and how silly they can sometimes be. Just for fun I translated the quote above about stumbling over cultural differences into Dutch with the Babel Fish Translation tool at Alta Vista and then back to English. Here’s the result.

the proof material indicates on the online known robber, such as “above,” overseas worked. They stumble really concerning our culture. He has probably paying attention on no reruns of ‘ Munsters ‘ to the country of TV.

Not exactly clear is it?

How about the use of color? You’re likely aware that different colors convey different emotions. There’s a reason you see so many blue corporate websites. Blue generally conveys feelings of calm, trust, and stability because of it’s association with the sky and the ocean. However, the Cherokee interpreted blue as meaning cold, defeat, and trouble. Take the color yellow. In China it’s associated with nourishing, whereas in Egypt it’s associated with mourning. Imagine what message your nutrition bar with the yellow packaging sends to an Egyptian. You might not see the same sales in Egypt as you would in China.

Now think about the different ways English is spelled in the U.S. and the U.K. and the possible effects it has when read by someone from the one where you don’t live. Beyond the spelling consider the different words used to describe the same thing. Elevator and lift, apartment and flat, bus and coach. How about area code and dialing code? And I’m sure there are examples where a common work in one country would be considered insulting in the other.

Even within a single country there are regional cultural differences and age related cultural differences. The MySpace crowd is very comfortable with txt speak, while the Wall Street Journal crowd probably isn’t. You wouldn’t use txt speak to sell the Journal and you would use formal language to sell to MySpacers. Most Americans are probably familiar with the Munsters. Then again there are those who don’t watch tv. At some point in time the show will have faded from the general consciousness and won’t be so familiar to a new generation.

Cultural Understanding Leads to Better Marketing

If you think about marketing it’s all about finding a targeted audience and appealing to them using their culture and their language and not yours. If you want to sell to the dog you need to speak the language of the dog. Within your target market there will be people with different personality types and you need to do and say different things to close the sale with each of them.

In the context of seo if you want to do well with a social media site like Digg or Reddit it’s worth your time to get to know the culture of the communities before trying to sneak content past them and hoping it makes the front page. Communities are very good at sniffing out someone who’s being disingenuous. When you take the time to understand a community it becomes much easier to get them to do the things you want them to do.

It’s still pretty funny to me to think that someone tried to sell Herman Munster’s identity and maybe it is to you too. But maybe some of you had never seen or heard of the Munsters tv show and wouldn’t have thought anything odd seeing Herman’s credit card details for sale other than the obvious crime being committed. And there’s no real reason why you should.

Let’s laugh at these criminals for their lack of understanding, but let’s also learn the lesson they didn’t. There are cultural differences everywhere and if you have any desire to sell your services or products outside of your immediate culture it’s a good idea to spend some time understanding other cultures before trying to market to them.

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