Avoid cultural mistakes when scaling globally – here is what you need to watch out for

9. Dezember 2022

The diversity of different cultures makes us feel marvel, discover, and learn new things. Be it culinary, lifestyle, symbols, gestures and traditions, there are peculiarities in every culture. For companies that want to conquer new international markets, these cultural differences represent a challenge. Both in product design, advertising communication, brand design and service, cultural differences can have a strong impact. Therefore, when deciding to enter a new market, it is important to directly consider these specifics and incorporate them into your scaling strategy. Depending on what your goal is when scaling, there are areas that can be adapted for the new market and others that cannot.

Example: Langnese

A perfect example of brand adaptation is „Langnese“ as it is actually only the name of Unilever’s ice cream brand in Germany. In total, there are over 20 brand names for the ice cream. How did this come about? It should be noted that not every country allows the launch of a foreign language brand name. Not only does the brand name have to resonate with the target group, but it should also not be misunderstood in the foreign language, and even more important, must be allowed. (Hahn-Wermuth 2013)

  • Portugal, Tunisia, Madagascar: Ola
  • Greece, Poland, Russia: Algida
  • Bulgaria, Czech Republic: Eskim

Example: KitKat

Another exciting example is the “KitKat” chocolate bar on the Japanese market. KitKat has established itself as a good luck charm thanks to the Japanese advertising slogan „Kitto Katsu“. It means „You can do it,“ and is often given as a gift during exams. In addition, there are very unusual varieties in Japan. Some are only available in limited quantities, such as chestnut, yuzu, wasabi, matcha tiramisu or soy sauce. These varieties were created especially for the Japanese market and developed according to the culinary preferences of the Japanese. There are so many varieties that it has even become a trend in Japan to collect all KitKat varieties. Some of these special varieties are also loved by tourists as much that they have established internationally. The Japanese variety KitKat Strawberry and Matcha can also be purchased in Germany, for instance (Mattern 2022). 

Example: Ikea

Culinary offerings are not the only good examples. „Ikea“ has adapted over 2000 products to the high humidity for the Indian market. There is a large range of flat pans, which are preferred for cooking in India, and mattresses filled with coconut fiber. Ikea conducted a study with 1000 Indian families before entering the Indian market to best understand the housing situation of their new customers (Putz 2018). Of course, it must be noted that it is probably rather difficult for startups to conduct their own study at scale.

What you need to watch out for

Nevertheless, all accessible information about the new market should be made use of. This includes the following information:

  • Naming and trademark
  • Currency and system of units
  • Legal requirements, prohibitions
  • Punctuation, symbols, signs, gestures, proverbs
  • Formalities in correspondence and writing direction
  • Electronic differences e.g. plugs, frequencies, voltages

You should pay attention to these matters and do proper research. This is a lot of work, but essential to succeed in a new market. In the case of physical products, there are also case-specific issues, such as the Japanese food culture mentioned within the KitKat example. A country and industry expert from the target country is therefore a useful partner to get to know a new market properly. 

With GERMAN X by your side, you become part of an international network of experts. We provide you with international contacts knowing and practicing the lifestyle and habits of a culture unknown to you. This allows you to grow and develop – even in international territories.