In 2013 Nike released a line of women’s sports gear inspired by the tatau tattoos of the Pacific. More specifically, Nike released womens leggings and workout tops emblazoned with copies of the pe’a, the male tattoo which symbolizes the history of the wearer and his people, and serves as a rite of passage for Samoan men. This was a deeply symbolic and religious emblem that Nike turned into running pants. As expected, the line was pulled when cultural groups spoke out against the use of such a personal and significant symbol for such callous reasons.
This is an extreme example, but it’s easy to see how, without adequate market and cultural research, a company’s attempts at globalization could be dead before they begin. Today, more than ever before, there are reduced barriers to globalization, particularly when it comes to information technology. However it’s important to remember that just as it’s now easier for you to move your business around the world, it’s easier for negative publicity surrounding your company to do the same. The moral of the Nike story isn’t simply that one should research their own products better, but that it’s often difficult to imagine the sort of cultural taboos that one can accidentally perpetrate when exposed in the global spotlight (answer: All of them.)
And of course it’s not enough to just not be insulting. The painful lesson that many companies learn at great cost is that if their product or service doesn’t fit the market or is simply way out of line with what foreign customers want, their globalization efforts are dead in the water. A full cultural relevancy assessment can often be the only thing standing between your company and completely failed attempt to expand overseas.
Your company needs to establish trust, understand the most important cultural values and show a respect for cultural differences when moving into a foreign market, and you’ll never get a chance to do any of that if you lead with a gaffe. In the example above, Nike was obviously large enough to weather something like that… are you?
That’s the reason that Accelerate-IT works with teams of multicultural experts who not only have experience in specific industries but also live in the target cultures. Before you ever go to a foreign market, we can help you get a better idea of how to approach each region and what you need to know before you begin deploying resources.