A short while ago I came across this article on the BBC about “Americanisms” in the English language (being a non-native English speaker, “ideas coming out of left field” confused me for many years too!). Given my personal fascination with languages, and also because our very own CEC team is split across the “pond”, naturally I shared this with my colleagues. After poking a bit of friendly fun at the phrases each of us in the UK or US say, at the end of the day we must admit that we all use these little catch phrases in our day to day speak, and that sometimes things do get “lost in translation” when interacting with people in other countries (sometimes, even when we both speak the same language!).
As companies become more and more international, communicators experience increased difficulties when crafting messages for their diverse global audiences. I often hear members say things like “we want to make sure we act and sound as ‘one company’ and convey a consistent image, but we also want to sound sensitive to the local culture” or “we think we are being culturally aware in our messaging, but we’re still perceived as too American” [or too Swiss, Japanese, etc.].
How can communicators stay consistent in what they’re saying across markets to convey a unified company image, but at the same time be relevant? And even before thinking about content, how do you even prioritize communications for each market so that you’re not communicating too much and having your messages ignored?
Rather than aiming for consistency at the expense of local relevance, we believe that you should aim for message alignment. This means that you should have some basic guidelines/a clearly stated position on issues, but then build flexibility around when, where, and how to customize approaches and messages for local market relevance. How to do that? Here are some tips and tools:
3 Tips for Customizing Local Messaging in Line with Central Position:
1. Build local understanding of the central company view on key issues: this seems like an obvious one, but as issues evolve, often it’s not clear what the key company position is or where to easily find it. To help local communicators, give easy access to company views on key issues and be explicit on where and how to add local context to those views.
- Novo Nordisk creates an online news repository as a permanent feature of its Communicators Network, so that it becomes easy to find in the place where local communicators already are networking.
- Be explicit in your news announcement templates about which pieces of information can be shared and with whom.
2. Make Content More Relevant: Tailor tone and language based on local culture values and norms. Simple tweaks to the same story will boost relevance of the message in various markets and get your audience’s attention.
CEC Tool: Toyota uses a set of Messaging Customization Principles to tweak versions of the same message accordingly by local audience values.
3. Adjust Timing and Message Mix: reduce message overload by timing important messages to when your audience is most receptive. And, don’t hesitate to be choosy about which messages you do cascade locally – not all messages are need-to-know for everyone in the organization.
- Use these message prioritization principles to figure out timing of messages.
- Consider something like a message gatekeeper team to filter out nice-to-know messages.
What other things have you tried to customize messaging at the local level, particularly for countries and cultures much different to your home culture? What have you found to be the most and least successful strategies?
CEC Related Resources:
- Managing Communications Across Global and Virtual Teams
- Drive Message Alignment
- Message Management Resource Center
CEC Related Blogs: