Successful marketing comes down to one thing: understanding your consumer. This understanding is deeply rooted in knowledge of your target audience’s culture, values and context. Above anything else, culture has the biggest effect on consumer behaviors—which is why cultural marketing is so important.

Keep reading to learn more about cultural marketing, its role in international marketing, and how marketing strategies differ across cultures.

See also: Localization strategy: Your guide to engaging a global audience

What is cultural marketing?

The Portuguese beer brand Super Bock, sponsoring cultural events during the festival month of June in Portugal, is a form of cultural marketing
The Portuguese beer brand Super Bock, sponsoring cultural events during the festival month of June in Portugal, is a form of cultural marketing.

Cultural marketing involves creating promotional content directed at customers from a specific culture or demographic. It considers the different cultural elements of that audience and creates content that is both respectful and relevant.

When we talk about culture, we’re referring to more than language. Cultural marketing also considers different customs and traditions, religion, political and legal systems, history, lifestyle, cultural values and ideas. It’s more than simply translating your content, but instead fully adapting it to connect with a specific audience.

What about cross cultural marketing?

A cross cultural strategy reflects the ability of a brand to cross over to multiple cultures. Cross cultural marketing targets the similarities across different cultures. It looks at what is common among different ethnic groups and using those similarities to devise a suitable cultural marketing strategy.

Dove offers a great example of cross cultural advertising with their 2015 “Choose Beautiful” global campaign. After exploring our relationship with beauty, self-esteem and body image among women across the globe, Dove found the same experience everywhere: that it’s complicated. Their campaign encourages women across the globe to embrace their inner beauty, an idea that translates across cultures.

See also: Translation vs. localization: What’s the difference and why should you care?

If you need help with adapting your content to local audiences, download our free worksheet below:

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Why is culture important in international marketing?

A hairband used to celebrate the Euro Disneyland launch in 1992

International marketing refers to a brand’s marketing activities outside of its home country, which involves speaking to people from all sorts of backgrounds, languages and perspectives.

Varying cultures have both similarities and differences, and sometimes those differences have a massive influence on how your brand is portrayed to an international audience. Understanding the uniqueness of each culture helps you avoid any cultural mishaps that may damage your brand. 

Here’s an example of how relevant culture is when launching into international markets:

Euro Disneyland—now Disneyland Paris—was plagued by cultural clashes after its launch in Paris in 1992.

One of their mistakes was trying to localize the park to a “European culture.” Starting with calling it Euro Disneyland—where there is no one European culture. And launching in France, a country known for being fiercely protective of their own culture and skeptical of imports from other nations, made it even more essential for them to respect French culture in particular. Locals called the transplantation of Disney’s dream world an assault on French culture. Some even referring to it as “a cultural Chernobyl.” 

Only once they renamed the park to Disneyland Paris, relooked how they serve food—adjusting meal times and serving alcohol—and restructuring ticket prices for day visitors, as French people aren’t interested in vacationing multiple days at a theme park, did they slowly start to turn a corner.

Cultural localization is particularly important in Europe, where each country is unique. During a conversation on The Content Mix podcast, Allan Formigoni, content and email marketing manager at WeTravel, spoke about the challenges they faced when launching into European markets:

“Each market has a different way of thinking, and they behave differently and have their own buyer journey for the same product. How they make decisions, what they do, what influences them, who influences them, and their price perception is completely unique in each country.”

Culture is what molds an audience and determines why, or why not, they buy into your brand. The quickest way to succeed in a new region is to adapt your entire strategy—not just marketing—to meet the local cultural standards and perceptions. 

How do marketing strategies differ across different cultures?

Lidl, a German retail chain, creating Father’s Day content highlighting French products on their French Instagram profile is a form of cultural marketing.
Lidl, a German retail chain, creating Father’s Day content highlighting French products on their French Instagram profile is an example of cultural marketing.

There are cultural differences from country to country and usually also significant cultural variations among sub-cultures within the same region. These variations may include different languages/dialects, norms and values.

On a global scale, what works in the Western world may not resonate in Asia or the Middle East. Similarly, how you market in the US may not work in the UK. 

On a local scale, how you market towards audiences based in big cities versus rural areas may also differ. There are also complex cultural norms and values between generations, various social groups, races and genders.

“You have to be aware of different important dates in each culture. For example, Father’s Day is super relevant in Austria but not so relevant in Germany. It helps to have a person who knows these important days and when it’s necessary to create relevant content for them.” – Adriana Carles, head of content and social media at Ladenzeile

See also: US vs. German marketing content: Why localization is key

Various cultures also respond to different forms of messaging. For example, Germans and Americans resonate more to supportive facts, while the French and Italians tend to respond more to imaginative messaging. The Japanese prefer indirect messages and are turned off by hard sales techniques. They also respond well to messages that stress tradition and family. Which is why the KFC Christmas campaign in Japan received such a strong response. 

What started as a marketing campaign in 1974 turned into an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families enjoying KFC on Christmas. KFC has become a nationwide tradition in a country that doesn’t traditionally celebrate Christmas. 

An advert for celebrating a KFC Christmas in Japan

Why you need to work with local experts

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when incorporating cultural localization into your content strategy. It requires heavily investing in local audience research, consulting with locals and working with a cultural marketing agency to get “under the skin” of the local culture.

See also: Native language marketing: The benefits of local knowledge

At VeraContent, we’ve found that working with local community managers is the best way to not only create the most culturally relevant content but also stay on the pulse of what is currently happening in each region.

For example, during the devastating wildfires in Turkey in 2021, our local community manager working on the Turkish account for one of our clients advised that we pause our planned content. And instead create and share a post showing our solidarity with the people of Turkey.

It’s so important to create relationships with local community managers that you can trust to advise you on what content will best resonate with your local audiences. Download our guide below for a free checklist on how to successfully hire, onboard and nurture relationships with local community managers:

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The benefits of cultural localization as part of your global content marketing strategy

A culturally localized advert for a gin brand shown on Portobello Road in London

“When you’re trying to connect with an audience, it’s important to speak to them in a language that feels comfortable to them.” – Kyler Canastra, head of business development at VeraContent

Culture really is the driving force behind consumer behaviors. By giving your marketing a culturally relevant spin, you’re better able to tap into the emotions of your local audience and the “why” behind their purchasing decisions. You’re not only giving them a reason to notice you but also to develop a relationship with your brand.

Here are a few more benefits of cultural localization in international marketing:

  • It helps local audiences understand your products or services
  • Creates stronger customer experiences by creating content that better fits the intended market
  • Avoids offending potential customers 
  • Improves brand loyalty
  • Increases sales

Become a local favorite with cultural localization

The ultimate goal of any brand expanding into new markets is to become the local favorite. And the quickest way to become that local favorite is to communicate like a local would—incorporating all the cultural nuances, traditions, ways of thinking, behaviors, values and lingo. 

At VeraContent, we work with local community managers in each country to ensure we accurately adapt your content. This helps us culturally localize all content while remaining on the pulse of what’s currently happening in each respective market.

Learn more about our content localization services and get in touch with us to find out how we can use cultural marketing to make your brand the local favorite.