Leave Your Assumptions at the Door

Picture an auto show in Mexico City. You’ve been to several of these fun shows in the U.S. and know what to expect…or so you think. But as you approach the door, you hear music that makes you think of parties. You enter the building and are immediately surrounded by bright colors, loud music and a throng of very attractive women in short, revealing dresses and spike heels, proffering drinks. It’s not unpleasant by any stretch of the imagination, but were you prepared for this? Probably not!

Trade shows and events around the world reflect the culture and values of their host country. Behavioral expectations vary to match, and if you’re not in tune with those standards you are unlikely to achieve your objectives for the event. These cultural differences are often the most ignored aspect of many international marketing programs. Instead of wondering what went wrong, consider these tips to help you arrive prepared:  
  • Plan ahead and do your research. You don’t want to inadvertently offend your clients and prospects through cultural ignorance. Work with a trade show consultant who can help you with strategies for cultural engagement, marketing, and negotiating – in addition to the standard protocol of design, look and feel, use of color, materials, and the local rules / regulations for installation and dismantle. The consultant can help ensure that your marketing materials and messaging works well for the local audience – and facilitates a strong branding presence that’s appropriate for the show.
cultural differences are often the most ignored aspect of international marketing programs
  • Be aware of differences. Before you enter the facility take a deep breath, collect your thoughts and remember that you are doing business in another culture. The people you will meet do not think, act or express themselves in the way you were educated. You’ll see changes beginning the moment you step-off the airplane. Though the airport may look typical, there will be subtle differences that catch you off-guard. To avoid getting flustered, you can work with a consultant before you arrive. If you are meeting an established client, you might also ask him or her politely for assistance with specific issues. Just keep in mind that this isn’t something you can request from casual contacts or potential clients.
  • When in Rome, try your best to do as the Romans do. Learn as much as you can of the native language so you can speak fluently as you greet others, make basic conversation and introduce yourself and your business. Learn how to ask about names, educational background, personal interests and families, and how to recognize and answer these questions when they are directed to you. Learning about the do’s and don’ts of conversation in the culture and what role gestures play in communication should also be high on your list of crucial study points. Don’t let the language barrier intimidate you though. You can attend classes at a local university or through a bi-national chamber of commerce in your home community before making the trip. Engage a tutor if you prefer to work one-on-one.
  The most important thing is to do your best, even if you don’t know as much as you wish you did. Wherever you are and whatever your level of familiarity with the culture and language, you should make a strong effort to fit in. Most people will give you a lot of brownie points and make generous allowances for mistakes if they see you’re at least trying, no matter how you may struggle.   Ignoring the native language and social conventions is perceived as offensive. That behavior communicates an arrogance and lack of respect for your host culture that will negatively impact your ability to build relationships and conduct business. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it’s better to speak haltingly and make silly mistakes in the language of your host country than to be eloquent in English. Learn what you can and sally forth bravely, ready to handle a bit of gentle teasing, and you’ll be on the road to success.

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