Let me share a work anecdote with you…I handled the communications component of a public health plan to combat the potential of pandemic avian influenza. The goal was to create a simple, concise and substantiated messaging platform for an international organization that could be used across part of the African continent. During the bird flu scare a few years ago, experts from the CDC and the World Health Organization were urging people to wash hands several times a day as one of the key ways to minimize risk of infection. These two bodies know more about disease than anyone else. You might assume that our sub-Saharan campaign was therefore built around this key point. But the reality is many people in large parts of the world do not have ready access to water. Water is a valuable life-sustaining resource in much of Africa and not something squandered on hand washing, no matter how important it might be to prevent disease. Developed-world assumptions that everyone has access to water and Western thinking about what constitutes hygiene would have made absolutely no sense in many regions of Africa. The point is it is critical to be aware that we don’t even know what we don’t know about other nations, no matter how worldly we (think we) are. Challenge everything you take for granted from a strategic and communications standpoint when heading overseas.
As regards American companies looking to enter the Russian market through the use of social media, they need to be aware that they face a similar type of cultural relativism challenge. In a video interview with Edward Shenderovich on John Bell’s blog, the lead strategist of the Moscow online media company SUP explains that while multinational businesses tend to behave similarly no matter where they operate around the world, consumers act differently based on culture. What works in the U.S. or in Europe will not work in Russia. People simply live different realities and have different mindsets depending on where they live. This insight can be gleaned from interpreting Mr. Shenderovich’s remarks:
>Americans are interested in individuality, whereas in Russia, community is the prevalent desire. Russians want to be like other Russians. They seek community feedback to confirm their identity. Corporate messages should therefore be designed to show how the product or service being marketed helps the consumer fit in, not make them better or different. For example (using a beverage brand), it would be better to show videos on Russian YouTube of a group of “average” consumers enjoying themselves in a pub all drinking the product than having a celebrity shown cavorting about with beverage in hand. On Russian social networks, getting real people (who would have to be solicited and converted to the brand before hand) to casually mention that they consider the product their beverage of choice would be better than introducing the beverage with a social network promotion like this one. If Svetlana’s friend likes the drink, there’s a chance she’ll try it to “fit in.” Using consensus tactics in Russian social networks may be the best sales approach.