“Form a strong bond around empathy before trying to get down to business,” he advised schools and agents. “Life is about power relationships and the essence of cultural communication is power. Power comes from empathy.”
Even though international educators work in multicultural environments daily, Shah reminded delegates that most people approach new experiences through a lens of ethnocentrism – a tendency to judge the world based on one’s own cultural understandings.
He advised delegates to be aware of their own ethnocentrism and be curious instead of aggressive when they’re faced with cultural differences.
“The first cultural bond is friendship and curiosity,” he explained.
That cultural connection is also crucial in international marketing even if companies are aiming to reach thousands of people. Marketing should establish immediate, cultural bonds with target audiences, he said.
However, too often multinational campaigns get it all wrong.
Shah used the example of baby food company Gerber which faced pitfalls in African markets where images on food labels matter more than wording or ingredients list. Shoppers were turned off by glass jars displaying the iconic Gerber baby, concerned they might contain more than just pureed vegetables.
The company misunderstood how many African shoppers think, said Shah. “Cognitive elements are important,” he said. “Find what you can tap into to form that instant bond.”
Localise campaign language as much as possible he advised, but warned there is a “danger of patronising a culture when you try to localise too much.”
To ensure marketing campaigns hit the target, education marketers should use translators – but not to translate texts into the local language.
“You can find a cultural baseline by asking translators, ideally native speakers or someone who has significant in-country experience, cultural questions like ‘what are the do’s and don’t’s?’,” he said. “Translators are your secret weapon.”
More practical advice extolled by Shah included creating separate landing pages that respond to the cultural nuances of different geographies or different interests of students. “What job are you fulfilling in the person’s life?,” he asked delegates, reminding them that “in the era of digital marketing we can aim different solutions to different jobs.”