Targeting international audiences is one of the best ways to raise your company’s growth ceiling. But connecting with people of other cultures isn’t easy.
Just one-fifth of the globe speaks English. Even non-Americans who do have different traditions and norms than stateside consumers. Add in differing economic conditions and time zones, and reaching global consumers can seem impossible.
Building trust with international audiences calls for an international team. Here’s how to build yours:
1. Get Payroll Squared Away
Before you can even think about hiring someone in another country, you need a way to pay them. Managing global payroll can be tricky due to the different labor laws countries have.
For example, most countries have different classifications for full-time and part-time workers. Some countries also have a mandatory minimum for employee vacation time. International payroll providers stay up to date on these laws to minimize potential risks.
2. Invest in Communication
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, few companies had the time and resources to shuttle employees back and forth overseas. Now, with travel restrictions in place, even the ones that could need tools to facilitate remote communication.
Make sure your team’s tools are user friendly and can be accessed all over the world. Maintaining separate communication platforms is a recipe for crossed wires, and you software training can be a massive time sink.
Default to Google services. With Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Hangouts, and Calendar, your employees will have what they need to collaborate with each other. Layer on a project management system like Trello, which integrates well with Google. Employees can assign projects, share, and track their work in real-time.
3. Get Cultural Differences Out in the Open
Communication tools can’t prevent cultural misunderstandings. Get both international and domestic employees together before they’re expected to work side by side to discuss cultural differences.
Don’t base these on assumptions. Encourage members of each team to pose questions to the other. Get the discussion going by explaining what’s important to you in the workplace.
For example, punctuality matters more in the U.S. than in much of the developing world. Team members in Southeast Asia may not understand why their peers are upset when they show up five minutes late to a meeting.
Not only do these discussions make it easier for the team to work together, but they can help you unearth international marketing insights. For example, the color green symbolizes life in much of the world, but in many South American cultures, it represents death — not something you probably want your product to be associated with.
These discussions will not always be easy. But by learning about other cultures, you’ll help your company become more well-rounded and considerate.
4. Mind Time Zones
Whether for internal meetings or external marketing, time zones are critical to consider. Hosting an educational webinar for Chinese consumers from the U.S. isn’t a good idea: Either your presenters will be downing coffee to stay awake, or you’ll need to ask your audience to tune in when they’re typically asleep.
If possible, hire people whose time zone is within a few hours of your home office. If you can’t, distribute meetings and deadlines around the clock. Otherwise, members of one team will inevitably begin to resent the one whose deadlines all fall during the workday.
When you put on events in other countries, put the geographically nearest team in charge. Not only will their time zones match up better, but they’ll be in a better position to avoid cultural mistakes.
In Spain, for example, businesses often close for siesta from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. No matter how much you enjoy an afternoon spin session, you aren’t likely to convince many Spanish consumers to attend.
The bottom line is, working with a global team means making compromises. Do your best to even the playing field, and take seriously the advice of team members who know the culture of international audiences.
5. Ask For Help
You don’t know what you don’t know. Rolling out a supermarket ad for a bacon-flavored product might seem like a smart idea — unless you realize your mostly Muslim audience is in the midst of celebrating Ramadan.
Run every campaign past international team members most familiar with the audience you’re targeting. Be humble: You’re going to make mistakes; what matters is that you give yourself a chance to correct them before you put them on display for the entire world.
What if you get it wrong? Don’t hesitate to apologize. Doubling down on a cultural faux pas will only further alienate your audience. Chances are, they will forgive you if you admit to the mistake and explain what you plan to do differently next time.
6. Appoint Local Managers
Obviously, managers and their teams work better when they’re in the same time zone. But there are also important cultural and customer-related reasons to keep them in the same office.
Trust is difficult to build remotely and across cultures. International team members may not feel comfortable speaking up to someone they don’t know about dysfunctional team dynamics. Even if they do, handling the issue fairly is tough when you don’t work directly with the involved team members.
Remember, managers are also the last line of defense in customer service. If an international customer insists on speaking to a manager, you want that manager to be relatable to the upset individual. You also want your manager to be able to solve their issue in a nuanced way to avoid making a mountain out of a molehill.
There’s no greater challenge in marketing than targeting an international audience. Don’t try to research your way into clever, successful campaigns from another country. Sooner or later, you’ll step on toes.
The only solution is to build and support an international team. Doing so will challenge your leadership skills, but then again, what growth strategy doesn’t? Lead with empathy, and you’ll connect with international team members and, by extension, the audiences they know best.