Why culture matters in content marketing Author Zosia Jaskuła Read bio Underestimating or simply neglecting to consider cultural factors in your content marketing strategy can sometimes bring about disastrous results, as iconic brands like Dove and Zara have learned over the years. But there’s no need to walk on eggshells; that is, if you do the work beforehand. Let us show you how cultural factors can open up a whole world of possibilities, not only for your marketing strategy, but for the writers and readers too. The famous statement “content is king” seems to have reached around the globe to its most distant corners, repeated ad nauseam by marketers everywhere. You can also easily find a myriad of articles, guides and tips on how to plan and run a successful content marketing strategy. A huge majority of these work universally in any background – after all, the internet is more global than anything. There is one little detail, however, which content marketers tend to overlook when designing strategies, and which may make the knowledge of all these tips ineffective (the best case scenario) or turn all the savvy marketing tricks into a disaster (the worst case scenario). It’s cultural factors. The thin line between what’s proper and what’s not This might be tricky because what seems to be fine, cool or funny to us doesn’t necessarily mean the same to our target audience. In this global virtual environment we are often communicating with people who are perceiving the world differently than us. This isn’t simply an issue of different cultures living in different time zones, but rather groups of people who have different educational backgrounds, different values and beliefs, or have different behavioral patterns. And the key is to realize this and – here comes the really difficult part – understand how to correctly adjust our content for them. If you take these cultural differences further, you’ll see that it usually comes down to certain sensitive issues, such as taboo topics, sacred symbols, or divisive controversies. Finding balance and determining where the line exactly lies isn’t an easy task. We get a heads-up every now and then when the line gets crossed in a spectacular way even by professionals who create content campaigns for their local markets. In the famous case of Tiger, the players involved were: a Polish team in a Poland-based agency, Polish target market, and historical Polish symbols. No cultural surprises, and yet this was released: In the international arena, Dove is a great example of missing the point while navigating in the multi-ethnic world. Long known for emphasizing natural beauty and showing the variety of women’s bodies, including skin color, Dove forgot to take the foot off the gas with this one: Zara, in turn, provoked a social media storm with their “Love your curves” campaign. After spotting the ad, people expressed a whole range of negative reactions – from worries about their daughters to anger to disgust. What happens when we cross the line? For Maspex, the producer of Tiger, it was a massive wave of outrage, countless accusations of ignorance and disrespect, 500 thousand PLN reparation, plus an immediate contract termination with their agency. For Unilever, Dove’s brand image and reputation was ruined in a day. As for Zara, many women around the world felt deceived or mocked. Of course, the companies were not willing to share the exact numbers but we can assume how much their sales suffered. While Dove and Zara are among some of the world’s most recognizable brands, imagine what a similar scandal would mean for a small company that sells lesser known brands. Applying culture filters in practice While working with a Turkey-based e-commerce whose philosophy revolves around Muslim values, we at Elephate obviously had to consider that not every topic would benefit the client. Applying this halal filter to any activity weperformed, did, in a way, reduce the number of influencers and platforms we could reach. But without it our client wouldn’t have moved in the right direction. We also wouldn’t have learned that hijarbie and halal nail polish were very important inventions! Creating culturally-sensitive content may feel limiting at first. But think about it as a great incentive to learn and discover new, mind-opening ways of doing what you do. With this mindset you’ll see that a well-balanced, culture-oriented campaign can help you hit the jackpot. Some symbols evoke very similar associations across cultures. While others are perceived very differently, this can also connect cultures by allowing one to learn from the other. As the “Perceptions of Perfection” campaign by Superdrug Online Doctors shows, if used properly, cultural differences are a great bargaining chip. As a society (especially here in Poland), we’re still a long way from becoming culturally-aware. But slowly more and more people are realizing that there’s great value in culturally-aware content – such as Heineken’s “Open Your World” – and more importantly, they’re learning that diversity enriches. This is how using cultural variety in favor of your client can be a super empowering strategy too. How to get the feel for it There is no formula for gaining cultural awareness. Some people simply get it while others don’t. Like when we were compiling a set of funny memes for a British audience. We weren’t completely sure if we got the sense of their humor right up until the last minute. While you can never fully predict the reactions your content will provoke, there are some ways to avoid a cultural blunder. Here are some tips to ensure that your strategy effectively reaches the targeted audience and that your content goes viral because it’s just so cool and not because it offends… Do proper research. And by proper research we mean triple-check and check across various independent sources. All the most controversial topics, as well as the common behavior patterns are usually easy to detect. Checking recent trends will give you an idea of what’s hot, what’s not but could be, and what’s definitively “forbidden”. Get to know your niche market. You’ll probably check what content is there and what’s not. If you find a content gap, investigate why it’s there before deciding to fill it. The reason might make you realize you don’t want to go there. Understand the people you’re communicating with. If you check their social media profiles, forums, and knowledge-sharing platforms, go deep enough to distinguish between personal opinions and universally accepted values in a given society. Of course you should focus on your target audience. But don’t forget that other groups are out there too and you need to respect them. You don’t want those who are supposed to ignore you to notice you – if that happens, it will probably mean they found something wrong with your campaign (and it will be too late to fix it). Use your personal contacts. Confirm with a friend or family member who worked abroad, took part in an exchange or voluntary service in some exotic place, or travelled the world and made international friends. All the people who had a chance to integrate with other cultures are an invaluable resource to you. If you don’t know anyone, first release a sample of your content. Test what reactions it receives among smaller groups or try these less valuable corners of social media before contacting 300 thousand promising contacts. Use common sense. Whatever you produce, even if it’s your 246th email that day, give it a final, human look before hitting the send/publish button. Even when your project is ready, if there’s anything you notice that doesn’t seem right, verify it. A slightly conclusive conclusion Understanding the aforementioned tips are not just important to creating a successful marketing strategy, but rather, they are great tools to help you understand and relate to other cultures. Because even if the content fails to yield results, at least you were able to enrich yourself through diversity.