Over the last decade spent at the helm of Bennis Public Relations, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with a vast and varied network of vendors, businesses, organizations, and fellow consultants whose goal is to reach unique markets with highly customized messaging. It’s been rewarding to team up with these individuals to craft the right message, to be placed at the right time, and on the right platform in order to not only be seen and heard, but to be turned into measurable actions.
What’s most important about the success of such communications and public outreach campaigns is the intimate understanding that the goal is not to be everything to everyone, but rather to carefully identify with and emulate the culture we wish to engage. This is not easy! In order to effectively reach small and diverse markets, the smartest businesses know that they need to pay close attention to culture – and culture is so much more than how you look, where you live, or the language you speak. Yes, these things contribute to how we define culture, but the more you’re able to peel back the layers and understand a culture from its core beliefs and values, the more effectively you’ll be able to earn trust, gain respect, and ultimately guide actions.
How do you define the culture of your target audience? If you’re honest about who you really want to reach, it’s likely a smaller and more niche demographic than what may be convenient or within your skillset. How can you break down the barriers of reaching small and diverse markets, especially of various cultures and backgrounds? Consider this advice.
Think Beyond Direct Translation
I would hope that you would not trust Google translate to help craft an important marketing message. But even if you hire a professional translator, keep in mind that culture is much deeper than words alone. It’s not just what you’re trying to say, but how you’re saying it. You’ll want to work with an experienced communicator who is highly familiar with the culture you wish to target. This will help you to understand the cultural meaning of different words as well as slang, which can either make you look credible and cool – or completely out of touch. A grammatically correct message is not enough to drive people to take action. It’s all about how you’re presenting your message, and this will vary across cultures.
Be Respectful of What’s Important
If you’re trying to reach a culture that is different from our own, do you understand their core values? What do they hold of the highest importance? Or in other words, what do you risk offending if referenced incorrectly? In some instances this is religion. In other instances, it’s the various roles family members play in the community. Sometimes men are the head of the household and the decision-makers, and sometimes it’s women. To connect with our target audience, you need to respect what they respect and value what they value – and one prime way to do this is through the messaging you’re putting out through public relations, marketing, and advertising.
Meet People Where They Are
Often uninformed marketers will wrongly assume that just because so much of the world uses X, Y, or Z technology, so will every culture. We know what’s not true if we take even a moment to think about that statement. There are some cultures that simply don’t rely on social media and who still have landlines that they prefer over cell phones. And I’m not talking about third-world countries. That’s right here in the United States. So how will you effectively reach this culture if you place all your resources into social media advertising? You won’t. One of the smartest things you can do is to research and study where your target demographic spends their time and how they consume news and messaging they trust. Simply put, you need to know how to meet people where they are in a way that’s approachable and convenient.
Be Aware of Limitations and Barriers
Much like the differing uses of tools and technology from culture to culture, you need to also be aware of limitations and barriers within cultures that can stop your outreach from effectively reaching its intended user. Language is a major first barrier. When trying to reach a culture that does not speak the native or most common language in an area, you need to anticipate the limitations and barriers that exist and work to tear them down. How can you spread your message in a language they understand and in areas where they spend the most time? What resources can you create to overcome cultural limitations and lift barriers? This should be at the foundation of any public outreach and advertising strategy you put together.
Hire for Cultural Experience
Finally and most importantly, know when you could benefit from outside assistance. Most often this comes in the form of a firm or consultant who specializes in reach your target demographic and who has experience with and even a background in that culture. When you set out on your search for a marketing or advertising firm to handle your outreach, you’ll find many qualified professionals who understand the broad tools and technology, but it is much harder to find professionals who live and speak the culture you’re trying to reach. My advice in this scenario – hire for cultural experience over anything else. The other “trends and tech” skills are more easily attained and can be quickly researched. No one can effectively research culture and emulate it like those who have lived it their whole life. The ideas such professionals bring to the table are invaluable!
For businesses or organizations who are considering hiring an outside firm or vendor to handle any piece of their strategic communications plan – marketing, advertising, public relations, social media, and more – carefully consider how all of these points impact the success of your public outreach. If you fail to understand the cultural values, common language, limitations, and barriers, or do not show respect for what’s held of high importance, you will miss the mark every time. Uninformed messaging stands to do more harm than good if it’s not built on a solid foundation of experience, expertise, and knowledge. If your product or service needs to reach a diverse culture, take heed of this tried and true advice before rolling out messaging that may not resonate with your audience, or worse yet, make a negative first impression.
Do you have experience appealing to different cultures with your products or services? What have you found to be unique about your approach – what has worked and what has not? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!