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Cultural Nuances Can Make or Break Your Personalized Marketing

22nd Feb 2016
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Did you catch Ogilvy & Mather’s marketing blunder that sent ripples throughout the Internet?

In the name of public do-gooding, the agency produced a two-minute film called “Mums and Maids” that urged Singaporeans to give their maids a day off. But instead of empowering maids and inspiring compassion in the hearts of Singaporeans, Ogilvy only succeeded in making moms angry by showing how they knew less about their children than their maids.

This is a prime example of how marketers fail “Marketing 101” — they forget about cultural nuances. In a global marketing environment, various quirks within individual markets must be thoroughly researched because they can make or break your campaign.

Exploring Singapore’s Cultural Nuances

Though Singapore is known as the world’s easiest place to do business, Singaporean culture is full of unwritten rules that marketers need to understand. Here are five cultural nuances:

1. Singaporeans are collectivistic. “We” is more important than “I” in collectivist societies. According to social psychologist Geert Hofstede, “…people [in collectivist cultures] belong to in-groups (families, clans or organizations) who look after each other in exchange for loyalty.”

Families and other in-groups are important to Singaporeans, so any criticism — such as Ogilvy’s “mom shaming” campaign — will not be popular.

2. Singaporeans avoid confrontation. Singaporeans go to great lengths to be polite, and they actively avoid confrontation. Hofstede noted that politeness takes precedence over honest feedback in these types of cultures. This is one of the primary reasons why Ogilvy’s campaign flopped — the premise was confrontational.

3. Singaporeans love good deals. This is illustrated by the fact that they are strategic about credit card usage and rewards systems. Marketers should make Singaporeans feel as though they are getting the absolute best value.

4. Singaporeans value efficiency. Singaporeans love optimization and hate wasting time. Therefore, marketers should avoid forcing them to jump through hoops or go through extra steps in order to buy a product, service, or idea.

5. Singaporeans love technology. Singapore is one of the most tech-savvy countries in the world, and it is striving to become a “Smart Nation” by improving its digital infrastructure and data services. The government pushed $1.95 billion toward this task in 2014 and has upped the ante to $2.2 billion this year. This tech-forward mindset means that marketers who gravitate toward digital campaigns will find more success.

Though Ogilvy failed to create a message that resonated with Singaporeans, other companies have experienced some tremendous victories.

For example, in Singapore, Scoot Airlines has done a brilliant job of personalizing digital media campaigns to target markets within the nation. The company recently rolled out a wildly successful campaign that highlighted how easy it is to do online group bookings with the airline. This message caters directly to Singapore’s collectivist, efficient, and tech-savvy culture.

American marketers need to take note of these case studies. Scoot and Ogilvy show us how vital it is to research cultural nuances and test marketing messages before launching campaigns. Doing so will ensure that you don’t offend consumers, and it will guarantee that your campaign will resonate within a country’s cultural context.

This is the only way to avoid embarrassing marketing blunders and find success on a global level.

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