Export and International Trade: Cultural Differences

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Planning on exporting or selling more abroad? If you are new to international trade then you may be new to cultural differences. Research has shown that language and cultural barriers are amongst the top cited reasons for companies struggling to export.

In this article, we look at a specific tip on entering foreign markets for export and trade – recognising cultural differences.

According to an article on Business 2 Community, it is crucial for all businesses, whether located on the high street or online, to have knowledge of the market(s) they are aiming to export and sell to. Some business owners or managers might believe this only encompasses language and customer base demographics, but this is not the case.

Language cannot be ignored. Even when the language of the new market seems to correspond to the mother tongue of the company, one should always be aware of variations. Think for example about the difference in spelling and colloquialisms between American and British English. If Britons are asked to ‘choose a color,’ this will probably strike them as strange. If a business is not aware of these differences, conquering a spot on a new market might prove to be very difficult.

Differences in spelling or language can be resolved relatively quickly and a language can often be easily adapted to fit a new audience. Using a translation services for most companies helps them overcome any language barriers.

Other differences to be aware of are cultural differences; and these can be a little more difficult to resolve. Business 2 Community has gathered the most important cultural differences to be aware of.

These are:

Gender roles: in some cultures, gender roles are still very clear-cut. This could mean you could be aiming for the wrong gender in your marketing or branding which could alienate you from your target audience.

Economic conditions: your success, and not to mention your image, can suffer greatly if you don’t take the economic limitations of the targeted market into account. If people cannot buy on credit or are going through tough financial times, marketing high-end products might scare of customers.

Religious dominance: if you market a product that is not accepted by the dominant religious group, you might harm your company considerably. For example, if selling into the Middle East how much have you researched sharia compliance and the concept of “halal”?

Cultural mores: if a certain product or action is ‘not done’ in a certain country, there is there any use in trying to launch it there? Think skimpy bikini’s in Islamic countries.

Educational standards: when marketing a product, you must consider the literacy rate of a country. If a big portion of the population cannot read, ads with a lot of texts will not have the desired effect.

In addition to these fields, there are many other subtle cultural differences that only inhabitants of a target country will notice. Knowing the above mentioned differences and the more subtle ones will open many doors for you, while these doors will stay firmly shut when ignored.

Online businesses, especially those that are aiming for markets that differ significantly from their own, should dive into the target culture. Preferably, they should take on someone that knows all the ins and outs of the culture in the process. This way, companies can anticipate any problems that might arise, but can take advantage of new opportunities as well.

Business 2 Company assumes companies will research their market before they launch their products. However, ‘the devil’s in the details,’ so businesses should definitely not rush into new markets. Cultural differences might sometimes seem small, but taking them into account might be crucial for a company’s success.

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