Think Global, Act Local: The Importance of Local Culture When You Want to Expand Globally

When you’ve worked hard to succeed, you certainly will feel you’re in the highest heaven when the company you’ve founded will make it. Imagine yourself in the shoes of Erik Yuan who left a 6-digit job in Cisco to start a novel smartphone-based video conferencing app called Zoom. You certainly will feel vindicated when after long years of finding investors you see your company grow exponentially in 2020 (when the virus hit town) — to make you a billionaire twice over. However, be wary. Such success can be blinding.

Indeed, many businesses which experienced overwhelming success in America failed to make it in other markets worldwide. It’s easy to think that what works in America will work anywhere else, but no. When you’re too consumed by your success, chances are you won’t adjust your strategy when going to a foreign market. And there goes your money.

Failing to Adjust Locally is Preparing to Fail

Take the case of Walmart, long hailed as the biggest retailer in the continent and the biggest employer worldwide. In 1997, the big-box retailer opened a shop up in Germany going strong with 85 stores. But it seems Germans didn’t respond as planned. To boot, they didn’t appreciate people greeting them at the store doors as it’s not in their custom. Plus, they felt offended having somebody else bag customer groceries was a bit off.

It would seem Walmart didn’t do its homework when it tried to crack that European market. In 2006, America’s biggest retailer packed its bags and closed all its shops in Germany. The cost of its German venture: $1 billion.

Walmart was not the only big-box retailer that failed in a foreign market. Another was Home Depot, America’s well-loved DIY company. In 2006, with China enjoying its growth spurt and basking in the sun with all its newfound glory, Home Depot thought the time has come for it to crack open the China market. And opened it did. With 12 stores, everything seems on track. But not if the Chinese can’t help it.

After half a decade, America’s top DIY store had to close all its shops in China. Apparently, the Chinese didn’t find DIY a hobby worth spending time on. Unlike Americans which find repairs and projects around the house as worthwhile, the Chinese consider repairs as a sign of poverty.

Conquering the World by Going Local

local seo

Right from the onset, giving local markets a lot of thought is wise. Even for small and midsize companies, the ‘think global, act local’ approach is helpful when you want to export your brand. With smaller elbow room when it comes to capital, you really can’t afford to gamble your international interests with sloppy marketing.

Here are ways you can create a good impression on your brand when you visit and explore a foreign market:

Understand Business Cultures

Failing to research business cultures ahead of time can have dire consequences. That can certainly show you haven’t done your homework and are not truly interested in the market you’re vying to conquer. Take note that each country has strong traditions.

Knowing these traditions ahead of time can save not only embarrassing moments but also, most importantly, your company’s prospects of gaining ground. For instance, in Japan people bow to each other when equals meet. You may not lose the deal then and there if you don’t do a ceremonial bow, but certainly, that tells your counterpart you are ill-prepared for the job.

Expand Your Palate

It’s advisable you learn of the traditions pertaining to food and dining so you will know how to roll with the punches when the official meeting begins. In France, for instance, dining with lots of courses is nothing new but don’t forget it can really go long and winding with lots of wine and talk.

Being aware of local dishes can be a good thing too. It can introduce you to possible business ventures. For instance, beautiful pizzelle cookies, branded as the oldest cookies in the world, came from two small towns in Italy, Calcullo and Salle. Finding such delicious treats in your travels could be just the idea you need to wow American consumers back home.

Dress the Part

When in a business meeting in a foreign land, taking time to research what are the cultural expectations with regard to clothes is wise. That way you don’t overdress or become drab. In short, you don’t offend.

Learn the Language

You need not be as fluent as a native speaker but if learning a local language can become a good introduction for you. The video of the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, speaking Chinese in a Chinese forum is a great example.

By learning the local language you show people of other cultures how much interested you are in their culture. It breeds goodwill. And best of all, it wins the hearts of local consumers. And that’s what matters most.

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