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Global, Local, or Blended Advocacy Programs: Five Tips for Global Program Success
By Deborah Hanamura

Sales and marketing teams not to mention customers - expect relevant information immediately. What's relevant can vary not just from country to country, but even from one city to the next. Sales and marketing materials, including references and reviews, don't just need to be business-appropriate, they also need to be culturally and regionally appropriate.

Here are five tips that will set your global program up for success.

1. Relationships take time to build

Companies that want to develop strong customer advocates in other parts of the world should be prepared to invest time to build long-lasting relationships. In some countries, establishing rapport can take several months; in others, it can take several years.

Creating partnerships in other countries can help companies cultivate relationships that pay off with strong customer references and advocates. Partners can help identify customers who are strong candidates for referrals or case studies.

2. Respect cultural formalities

Titles and forms of address are very important in some cultures. For example, in Japan, you show respect by adding the honorific "san" to the person's name. "Koji-san" is a respectful form of address to Mr. Koji.
In Asia and the Middle East, efforts to engage a particular contact at a customer company may depend on whether you can arrange an introduction from someone who is either higher in the chain of command, or someone whom the desired contact admires. Yet in more egalitarian societies, like Scandinavia, you are better off simply contacting a person directly, because invoking the name of someone else may be seen as unwelcome "name-dropping."

Be aware that expectations of hospitality can extend to you. In Arab cultures, for example, if you are arranging a conference call with many parties, you are expected to play the role of host. It is up to you to make sure that everyone on the call is comfortable and is recognized appropriately.

Humor should be used sparingly. What's perceived as funny varies wildly between locales and regions, and even between individuals.

3. Regional privacy laws

Be aware of local privacy requirements when collecting data for customer references. For example, actions that are acceptable in the United States, such as scanning trade-show badges, may violate the law in other countries.

Statutory regulations of all kinds must be observed in doing business within a country, but because complying with privacy laws is so important in the gathering of customer evidence, those laws deserve special attention.
Further, be cautious about incentivizing customers. In some countries, including the UK, employees are forbidden to accept gifts. In other countries, gifts are expected and customary.

4. Simple gestures can make a big difference

Small talk can be nice and in some cultures, it's essential. Choose topics carefully and avoid politics. For example, in Arab countries, it's okay to ask "How is your family?" but avoid specifically asking about a person's daughter.

In Asia, a business card is seen as an extension of the person. Present your business card to the person you meet, text-side out, with both hands - and never with the left hand alone. Likewise, take the card that is offered to you with both hands, looking at the card and then at the person, acknowledging him or her. Keep the card on the table in front of you during the meeting.

5. Group and social hierarchies

In individualistic cultures like those in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Northern Europe, it is acceptable for individuals to promote their own reputations and social status. In some other cultures, however, people often prioritize their colleagues' reputations over their own.

There are three approaches to building a globalized marketing program:
     1. Centralized
     2. Decentralized
     3. Blended

A centralized approach can be simpler to deploy. Metrics, branding, legal drafts, mission and vision, pipeline management, and resources are all managed by a geographically connected team. However there are downsides it can be difficult to overcome language barriers, local customs and laws might be misunderstood, and it is more difficult to build trust and rapport with global customers.

With a decentralized approach, your team may be closer to their customers and will be able to present your products and services in a culturally and linguistically relevant format. Your team will be familiar with the territory and market landscape, and can use those insights to more effectively manage sales and clients. It can be difficult to control the brand and messaging in a decentralized approach, and coordinating a relatively seamless organizational culture can be problematic.

Running a flexible blended program with a global focus and local execution can bring together the best of both worlds. The centralized team can focus on brand and messaging management, tools, infrastructure, and communication, while the decentralized team can work in the field to realize those goals and work hand-in-hand with customers and prospects. The blended approach enables companies to achieve economies of scale, while still building customer relationships that are rooted in local cultures, customs, and practices.

By being aware of cultural differences, assuming nothing, and taking the time to find out what is expected within a given country or culture, you can form the relationships that will help you create an effective global customer reference program and significantly increase your potential for success.

About the Author:
Deborah has been providing strategic marketing insights and guidance to companies of all sizes for nearly 20 years. Her clients include Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, GE, NIK Software, PURUS Technologies, TUK Footwear, Contact Deborah Hanamura.


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