General Motors had a perplexing problem when they introduced the Chevy Nova in South America. Despite their best efforts, they weren’t selling many cars. They finally realized that in Spanish, “nova” means “it won’t go”. Sales improved dramatically after the car was renamed the “Caribe.”
Things weren’t much easier for Coke’s arch-rival Pepsi. When they entered the Chinese market a few years ago, the translation of their slogan “Pepsi Brings you Back to Life” was a little more literal than they intended. In Chinese, the slogan meant, “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave”.
It seems obvious that a business that is culturally sensitive is not only at a global advantage, but potentially stands to make a larger profit from an international market.
Businesses that want to be culturally savvy primarily need culturally savvy staff. Their skills can include:
- An awareness of how other cultures function (attitudes, feelings, empathy)
- acknowledgment of potential cultural differences and similarities (rituals and symbols)
- And how to approach and communicate appropriately and efficiently (communication and social skills).
Nowadays more and more industries require a repertoire of cultural skills due to the impact of cultural diversity in the workplace and in everyday life.
In the travel, tourism and hospitality industry, knowledge of international languages is an asset as there are many global customers. Consideration of dietary habits of certain groups is important when it comes to customer satisfaction and excellent service. Respect of religious beliefs and values of every customer is a must; religion can guide human behaviour, thus impacting customer outlook.
In international sales and marketing, it is vital for marketers to be culturally aware of the customs of the target buyers so as to avoid faux pas. Unsuitable attire, the wrong colour, number, logo, gesture or language can determine the success or failure of the goods that are sold for profit. Marketing strategies could fail if they ignore the specific etiquette of their audience.
Retailers who consider expanding internationally should ‘know their customer’ by taking into account their cultural style, history, beliefs and customs. Within an international expansion, the new market’s different business practices, etiquette and strategies should be accounted for business success and growth.
This angle of cultural considerations occurs in more industries, such as pharmaceuticals, aviation, banking, shipping, oil and gas and so on. Cultural mistakes can be avoided through tailored training on cultural awareness.
In that way individuals in the workforce can understand cultural differences better, and are able to master challenges faced in a multicultural environment.
Written by Dr. Eirini Daskalaki
Edited by Sahara Choudhury
 http://www.essentialaction.org/tobacco/intro/funny.html (1962-1979, 1985 &1988)