Across the cultural divide

With clients moving into new geographical regions, marketers are increasingly expected to have multinational experience and excellent language skills – but it seems too few do. By Ian Whiteling

The sound of trade barriers crashing down is becoming commonplace in our increasingly global economy. As UK companies are facing more threats from overseas competition, they are countering this by looking beyond crowded domestic markets to the emerging economies. The result is that greater global demands are being placed on marketers, from devising and running international campaigns to breaking into new foreign markets.

“With the constant quest for double-digit growth and the difficulty of delivering such a progression in established and mature markets, the faster-growing regions like Asia – and more specifically China – are gaining increasing importance in global strategy and direction,” says Liz Wilson, client services director at marketing and branding agency Brandhouse WTS.

expanding in new markets Changes within the marketing industry have also increased the international scope of marketers’ roles. Startling proof of the increasingly global slant of marketing is revealed by market research agency Nunwood Consulting, which employs around 100 full-time marketers. “Our international work increased by 185% from 2004 to 2005, and now 20% of our entire business has international scope,” says human resources director Emma Cuthbertson. “This has happened because many clients are expanding into new global markets and want to research them.”

Cuthbertson also reveals the benefits of capitalising on this trend. “This growth in international business also stems from the successful work we have carried out in international market research, which is attracting more clients with a global perspective,” she explains.

The InterDirect Network, the international network of leading independent direct marketing (DM) agencies, has also picked up on the internationalisation of marketing. It is championing international recruitment and career movement by launching the first exchange system for direct marketers wishing to move not only within their industry, but also from country to country.

Ulrich Bruggemann, chairman of the InterDirect Network and of German DM agency, Bruggemann & Freunde, says/ “With more clients demanding cross-border campaigns as well as greater operating efficiency between their agency partners, we recognise that there is now a need for marketers to have a more structured career progression system, which in turn will ensure the industry can meet this client need with staff that are experienced, knowledgeable and adaptable within an international setting.”

This also recognises the difficulty of recruiting marketers with the necessary global experience – a factor that was revealed in a new survey from Executives Online entitled Executive Talent 2006. Of the 102 board directors and senior human resources professionals questioned, 60% said they found it difficult to find people with the right experience, while 43% said they found it hard to recruit people with enough experience.

understanding potential Market research company Ipsos MORI has also found that the demand for international experience is becoming increasingly urgent. “We are seeing more and more of our clients’ brands making global headway,” says the company’s chair of marketing and advertising ⢠research Gill Aitchison. “As an example, one of our major clients is a leader in pet foods, and has been taking some of its European brands into global markets. In turn, this has meant that the Ipsos MORI account team has had to gain, very rapidly, a deep understanding of the potential positioning for these brands.

Global feel, local subtlety

“This has put a premium on individuals’ ability to cope with complexity, to get their heads around subtly different market factors, such as trade structures and quite widely differing attitudes towards pet ownership and feeding. We look for individuals who can not only devise and coordinate appropriate global research programmes, but who also have the cultural sensitivity and experience to interpret subtly different market factors.”

Language skills are also a growing requirement, and this is where British marketers may get left behind due to their weaker command of foreign tongues compared to many of their colleagues overseas.

“It’s ridiculous that as a country we are so behind in our inclination and ability to become linguists,” complains Angus Crowther, client partner at EHS Brann. “If marketers are going to be placed on foreign accounts they must have the necessary skills, and communicating with their international colleagues must come top of this list. Of course, most of our foreign neighbours can speak English, but this isn’t a good enough excuse these days. The rise of the global consumer means that efforts must be made to be as diplomatic as possible, working alongside each country to achieve business objectives, while giving them the necessary respect by showing that you can do so in their own language. After all, why should their entire office switch tongues just because a foreign visitor has arrived?”

This issue, plus the need to develop strong multi-cultural knowledge, means more and more companies are recruiting marketers from overseas.

Use local knowledge

“Marketing bosses need to ensure that their teams are as international as possible,” continues Crowther. “It’s essential to get as many nationalities on board as you can and, if you are abroad, involve the locals. By working with people from different countries and making a visible effort to use local knowledge and talent, it will be clear to clients and consumers alike that you are doing your best to service their requirements.”

With new global markets emerging all the time, it looks like marketing will become even more inter- national in its scope over the next few years. This is placing increasing demands on companies to recruit marketers who have the necessary global attributes, rather than simply cultural and market knowledge of Europe and the US.

“Approximately 56% of the world’s population lives in the very diverse markets of Asia,” says Wilson. “Therefore, a global marketer who only understands the other 44% is not really equipped to provide a global solution.

Multi-market solution

“Multinational organisations increasingly value employees who have multi-market CVs and are open to multi-cultural solutions, so marketers and agency personnel now need to be highly aware of all cultural and commercial nuances,” she adds.

Good marketers might like to know their markets backwards, but when you are marketing to the world, this is impossible. However, there are people who have worked abroad and studied overseas cultures and languages, and who at least appreciate the major pitfalls of running global campaigns.

Unfortunately though, at the moment, there simply aren’t enough of them to go round.

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