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Cultural Sensitivity to Preferences is Required for Global Brands

 
 
Once a month I join a group of international expats, people from all over the world that have relocated to Atlanta. It is a really great event; I meet folks that usually have some kind of interesting life story to share. I make new friends every time I go. People help one another out with all kinds of tips, especially if someone has just arrived in town.
At the last gathering I made some interesting observations while explaining to a fellow German what I do for a living. Since Preference Management is a relatively new concept, I usually take every chance I get to find out what people understand about it. Usually they have never heard the term so I have to give some examples.  
I usually start with a relatable scenario about how banks communicate with consumers. Many people are surprised how it all works together, from the call center down to setting personal preferences at an ATM. But, people immediately get the idea. As a next step I give an example of a consumer company. With my German friend, I could literally see how her thoughts immediately shifted as she imagined getting piles and piles of unwanted advertising in her mailbox. 
Now, in Germany the shopping culture is a little different. As you might have heard, Germans like quality. That’s why you still find a lot of specialty shops that offer expertise that cannot be found in discount stores. If something is offered for free or cheap, a German brain usually connects that with poor quality. Or, they think there is some trick involved – i.e. in exchange for the free item you will get huge amounts of advertising because your information has been sold.
Overall, Germans are not into online deals and coupons and don’t like to give their personal data to consumer companies. I can personally relate to that, especially coming from the former East Germany, where brands and advertising were non-existent. I remember how shocked I was when the flood of advertising rolled over East Germany. It felt like I was being thought of as naive; someone who would buy anything that was put in front of me. People that could not resist were seen as poor or not smart enough to look beyond the colorful ads.
With customer service, the focus usually changes. I changed my friend’s thinking when I asked her whether she ever had a problem with a product and tried to resolve it with a company. Of course she had and she knew how painful it could be. I asked her if she would give her information if it would result in a better experience when solving an issue with a company.  She agreed she would likely provide her information. She could see the difference between the need for the company to contact her regarding a service issue, vs. the company using her contact information to try to sell to her.
By talking to my German friend, I can see how my own attitude toward privacy has been changing over the years. I have lived in the U.S. for 15 years, and am used to the American way of shopping. I am probably guilty of giving away my information too many times in exchange for convenience. But thinking about the conversation that evening, I made three key observations:
  1. People of different cultural backgrounds have very different understandings of privacy. There is a fine line between being comfortable with giving personal information or finding it creepy.
  2. As soon as companies can show a tangible benefit; for example, a customer service situation, people seem much more at ease with providing their information.
  3. Not every benefit is valued the same by each individual. For some, convenience is the most important. For others, convenience can be sacrificed to maintain privacy.
For companies doing business internationally this means they have to take a good look at the local consumer. There are different drivers — and barriers — that encourage or prevent consumers from providing their information. In order to build trust with your local audience, it is important to identify cultural differences and core drivers and apply them to the way companies collect and use information from their consumers.




About the Author: 
 
Sylvia Kay is a Project Manager of the Preference Management Consulting division of PossibleNOW.

 

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