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The Secret To Selling To Different Cultures

GCL | 8 July 2019

In today’s ultra-connected world, many B2B companies are looking to expand their reach across the globe. However, operating in other markets comes with a variety of challenges. One of the greatest of these challenges is selling your product or service to an entirely new culture.


Here are a few tips on how to handle your marketing and sales in cultures across the globe.

Not everyone is like you

Perhaps the biggest mistake people make when expanding their business into new regions is assuming that everyone is like them. Many campaigns have not just failed, but offended their target audience because the marketers behind them didn’t do their homework. Here are some of the ways cultural differences can affect your B2B marketing: 

  • - Not all cultures are highly individualistic, and cultural complexities can clash with reality – Many Western cultures are highly individualistic. A single person is the main focus or target of a marketer’s messaging. However, many cultures do not place that much weight on individualism, instead focusing on the family unit or wider social group. In addition to this, there are even greater levels of complexity that can affect how you market a product.

    One development aid worker experienced this when researching which rice cooker would be better for less privileged South Africans. Contrary to what they thought, the “best” product, which needed to be used outside because it ran on solar power, was severely disliked by many.

    Why was that the case? Many of these individuals believe in a cultural concept of “ubuntu”. Ubuntu is a belief that a person is defined by those around them, which is why we must help those around us. This means that if people in the community saw you cooking a meal outside, they were informally invited to join in.

    This is fine when people have enough, but many of these people lived in poverty and were struggling to feed their own families. The “best” rice cooker worked outside and relied on solar power, meaning they would have to share if their neighbours saw them cooking. This is why many of them preferred “inferior” rice cookers that allowed them to cook indoors – they were out of sight and wouldn’t have to deal with the cultural pressure of ubuntu.
  • - Beware of “holy cows” – Religions vary dramatically across the world, and a failure to recognise these differences can land you in hot water. Canadian grocery store chain Food Basics made the mistake of promoting Halaal chicken, which is a dietary requirement for Muslims, as part of their Baisakhi promotion, which celebrates a religious holiday for Sikhs. 

  • - One man’s treasure is another man’s trash – You should always be careful when developing promotional content. Fiat made a tremendous mistake when picking Richard Gere for an advertisement where he drives a Lancia Delta from Hollywood to Tibet. While Gere may be well liked in most places, the Chinese dislike him because of his outspoken support for the Dalai Lama. Needless to say, the response from the Chinese was definitely not positive

Don’t rely on stereotypes

While there are sometimes elements of truth to stereotypes, businesses should definitely take the time to do their homework. For example, in 2015, a Yellow Pages subway billboard became a hot topic of discussion, but for all the wrong reasons. The text in the ad referred to a popular Korean dish called Bi Bim Bap, next to a stylised image of a bowl of noodles with some chopsticks. Unfortunately for The Yellow Pages, Bi Bim Bap is actually a rice dish.

Be patient in building your relationship

As a new brand entering a region, it’s unlikely you’ll make inroads into the local market very quickly. You’ll need to take extra steps to demonstrate that you understand the culture, the people and what they want. This is especially important considering you’ll be competing against well-established local brands that have existing relationships with your target market.

Find a partner who understands the region you want to expand into

When developing your marketing campaign, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by partnering with an agency that operates in the region and understands the culture of your target audience. 


GCL are B2B telemarketers with over 29 years of experience operating across the globe. If your organisation is looking to expand into EMEA, America or developing regions, and are looking for a partner to help you navigate any cultural obstacles, contact us today. 

We’ve also developed an ebook, The Definitive Guide To Telemarketing In The Digital Age, which explores how data is changing telemarketing and how you can use this to your benefit.


Marketing Data Guide