How Cultural Differences Can Impact Your Content Marketing Strategy

Updated: May 11, 2022
cultural differences content marketing strategy

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If your company is aiming to expand your presence globally, content must be carefully crafted to have maximum impact on the culture you are targeting. Marketers must consider the buyer persona as it relates to demographics, interests, education, career and identity. A global content marketing strategy also requires awareness of different languages and cultural norms to connect with diverse audiences.  

This article will discuss how your company can enhance customer engagement in international markets by utilizing culturally intelligent content. We’ll also touch upon some major content marketing failures made by companies in foreign markets and how to avoid making the same mistakes with your brand.

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    Cultural differences and cross-cultural models

    Cultural differences matter because they inform people’s perceptions at every level. Images, hand gestures, colors, tone, and symbols can all have very different meanings in different cultures. Phrases and slogans that are translated verbatim into different languages can lose their original meaning, and regional differences in dialect, tone, and professional communication culture can add additional layers of complexity. 

    There have been many cross-cultural models developed by anthropologists that can help inform marketers when it comes to nurturing sincere connections between brand and consumers. One of the most common models used was developed by Richard D. Lewis, a communications specialist and social theorist. His theory claimed that cultures can be best classified by three behavioral categories: multi-active, reactive and linear-active. 

    Multi-active cultures placed heavy emphasis on emotions and relationships. Reactive cultures tended to be more passive and accommodating to authority. Linear-active cultures were less emotional and more focused on organization and factual data. According to this model, many Latin American cultures score high on the multi-active scale, whereas Asian cultures tend towards the reactive side and Western societies are generally more linear-active.  

    While these models can be a helpful guide, it’s dangerous to oversimplify cultures too much. There are many nuances in translations, context, and perceptions of color and imagery that will come into play when creating localized content. Just as many companies have chief compliance officers to ensure their companies are staying compliant with local laws and regulations, international brands should have local consultants for marketing as well. 

    These consultants should provide input regarding content creation and marketing strategies for the local context. By creating culturally appropriate content, your company can help nurture customers online and turn them into your local brand evangelists in other markets. Without them, you might commit some harmful faux pas. 

    Translation and context

    Many companies make the mistake of translating their content verbatim. While the translation may be technically correct, there is the possibility that the context or connotation is not. Even product naming can lead companies into trouble, as one word may mean something entirely different in another language. 

    Even huge corporations have made mistakes with translations. IKEA, for example, ran into this problem in Thailand. As English speakers know, many of their products are named after Swedish words or towns in Sweden. However, many of the Swedish product names translated to inappropriate words in Thai, which became a problem for the international brand. 

    Pepsi similarly ran into trouble when their slogan, “Pepsi brings you back to life.” It was translated loosely in Chinese as, “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the grave.” Simply involving a native Thai or Chinese marketing specialist could have helped prevent both of these mistakes.

    Situations like these underscore the importance of hiring a high quality translator, preferably one that is a native speaker of the language. Thankfully, with the internet, freelancing across country borders is easier than ever, with many specializing in translations and writing in foreign languages. 

    Cultural perceptions of color and imagery 

    When designing images and logos to build your online business, it’s important to be aware that certain colors or symbols are perceived differently in various cultures. Even if the reaction is subconscious, you want to avoid creating content that brings the wrong associations to your brand. The imagery and logo design of your brand and your online content must resonate with the culture you are speaking to.

    For example, in Western cultures, white is largely associated with cleanliness and purity, and in clothing, with marriage. However, in many Asian cultures, white is a color of mourning, and red is more commonly used for matrimonial ceremonies. 

    An extreme example of imagery gone wrong happened when Gerber, the popular baby food maker, aimed to expand their reach to Africa. The company sold their products to African stores with the same packaging they used in America – the well-known and adorable baby on the front of their products. 

    However, they failed to realize the cultural context of this image. In Africa, goods are often packaged with a photo of the contents inside, as many people are illiterate. Certainly, not many shoppers were interested in buying a canned baby.  This goes to show that involving a diverse team of local content creators is necessary to create meaningful translations of your copy and imagery.

    Format and tone

    Finding the right tone for your brand and your audience is difficult enough in your own culture. Copying that tone that you worked so hard to craft into a different language and culture can be even more challenging. 

    For example, in English, we have grown accustomed to reading content that is written in a casual tone. We have even learned to accept what were formerly considered grammatical and spelling errors as simply a more conversational way of writing. However, not all cultures and languages will embrace a casual, friendly tone for your content. 

    Consider that in many languages, there are different pronouns that must be used if you are talking to a superior compared to when you are talking to a close friend or a child. If your content is trying to make a joke, make sure that your audience knows that they are in on the joke, and not at the expense of it. 

    Dolce & Gabbana made this mistake with an ad in China, which they thought the Chinese would find humorous. The Italian luxury brand created an ad in Mandarin which featured a Chinese woman struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks. The ad sparked outrage in China, with many boycotting D&G and the owners of the luxury house forced to issue an apology to the Chinese people. 


    When deciding to expand to an international audience, companies must do more than research the local market. While your product or service might have a great chance of success in many countries, the type of content you create for your website or blog could make or break your chance. Not only should your content reflect your buyer’s persona and traits, but it should also reflect a cultural awareness that fosters an authentic connection between the consumer and your brand.

    This post was written by Nahla Davies, a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.


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