Why are so many multinational firms getting their marketing strategies so wrong when it comes to emerging markets?
I remember my first business trip to China. Myself and a colleague gave an internal presentation and at the end, we handed out our business cards.
I reached for my wallet, “here’s one for you and one for you,” I repeated as I stretched my arms across the table for ease of distribution. In response, each of our Chinese colleagues smiled and said thank you. They then proceeded to stand up, walk around the table and present their own business cards, holding them carefully with both hands. For them it was a proud moment. We were now connected. We now had a trusted relationship.
For me, I was embarrassed. I’d made a cultural failure. I hadn’t prepared for how to greet people and hadn’t appreciated the importance of the business card. A minor indiscretion maybe, but I learned some valuable lessons that day: always understand your local markets, always appreciate cultural differences and always accept that a one-size-fits-all approach rarely fits in reality. Just as importantly, I learned to never make assumptions. None of us can possibly understand local cultures without taking the time to get to know our markets. If we want to be successful, there are no shortcuts.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? So why are so many multinational firms getting their marketing strategies so wrong when it comes to emerging markets?