Category Archives: Culture dynamics

Websites Going International




I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, since I see my company venturing into foreign markets, and also because I often read about other companies entering international markets. I think it’s exciting, I love this stuff! For companies, it’s the next thing to do.

I was triggered to write this post from a discussion forum at Forrester Reasearch that I’m part of.  Jim Deitzel from Newell Rubbermaid was interested in knowing our opinions on how to go about setting up a website in different languages. This was a great discussion, and these are my thoughts on it… (I added a few thoughts from my old post)

Besides the critical language and currency support that website must have in order to go international, for an ecommerce retailer, going international should not just mean ‘translating’ (although I argue ‘adapting’ is better) a website into multiples languages, so ‘we speak the same language they do’. It should mean going a step further and creating a website and an experience that is consistent with what the target market perceives as relevant, meaningful and persuasive.

‘Think global and act local’ applies here too. No one market has the same drivers, and no brand has the same image and ‘feel’ in every market. But when it happens, that markets and brands are similar enough to each other, a same strategy is likely to work for both. So it seems to be the case with Oral-B, which has similar websites in the US and United Kingdom with minor adjustments: and

When countries and brands differ drastically, then it’s appropriate to also create unique websites and experiences that closely match the expectation and mindset of that particular new market. Such is the case with Pepsi in the US and France: and; Coca-Cola in the US:; Brazil:; Danmark:; and China:; and Clairol in the US:; Canada:; Australia:; and Ireland:

It seems there isn’t just one way of going international. Ultimately, market conditions, brand variables and brand’s strategic objectives in that market determine whether a brand pursues a distinctive effort or a standardized one across markets. ‘Best practices’ exist, and while I don’t presume to know all, I agree with one in particular. When going international, think in that language, emerge in that culture, and don’t translate!  In transcultural marketing, I learned that ‘adaptation’ is a better term to use than ‘translation’.

Why adaptation and not translation? Because the experience must be comparable from one context and language to the other, and translation – which is taking words from one language and finding comparable words in another language – misses that completely. In other words, when you translate from one language to the other, the underlying “conceptual anchor” (meaning) is lost. In addition, translation imposes the concepts of one language on the other arbitrarily, whereas adaptation looks at each language conceptually independent from another, on their own merits, the only truly valid alternative for decision purposes.

Technically, the researcher must assess (functional equivalence) whether a given concept or behavior serves the same function from country to country (or market to market); he/she must also determine (conceptual equivalence) whether these same concepts or behavior occur in different countries (or markets) and whether they are expressed is similar ways; and finally, he/she must examine whether the same classification scheme of objects can be used across countries (category equivalence). Without being too technical, the easiest example I always use to explain this is with the word ‘rice’. It performs the same function in any culture, as food, and it’s also categorized as food item. But it has slightly different concepts, and many times eaten in different ways, depending on the culture.

To Americans ‘rice’ is a small cup of pre-cooked, boiled Uncle Ben’s white rice served as an accompaniment to a narrow range of foods. To some South Americans, ‘rice’ is a dinner plate full of saffron-colored, scratch-made fried rice served as an accompaniment to a broad range of foods. To the Japanese, ‘rice’ is a medium-sized cup of scratch-made steamed rice that serves as a blotter to the flavors of the foods with which it’s eaten. It misses the point for a marketer to say that rice is rice is rice when, in fact, in each of these cultures ‘rice’ is a totally different and highly personal social experience.

Adaptation requires intimate knowledge of the culture and its idiosyncrasies, something that translation lacks in principle.


Miller Chill

Miller Chill I’ve seen the ad a couple of times and, obviously, the Brazilian samba (meaning the lyrics are in Portuguese, not Spanish, in case you don’t know that we speak Portuguese in Brazil, not Spanish) playing on the background is what gets my attention. Then… I remember… ahh… it’s beer and it’s ¿Se Habla Chill? campaign… for the Hispanics… the ones who speak Spanish… not Portuguese… how confusing!!! Are they trying to be global here? Appealing to “all” Hispanics? The Spanish and the Portuguese-speaking ones? If so, they still have long ways to go.

I wonder if the intended audience of this campaign is having the same confusing reaction. Can they be annoyed by the samba on the background? Ohh… yes, they can!

Shame on you Saatchi & Saatchi… I thought you had transcultural-competent people at your offices. What a lazy job, if you ask me.

Something else missing here… taste testing. I hope Miller did some taste testing before rolling it out, because I’ve already found some negative reviews of the product on this blog. To me, the whole concept of Miller Chill (like Tequiza) just does not appeal. It’s not beer (the way beer is supposed to be), no matter how golden it looks. It’s a hybrid drink… a confusing alcoholic beverage just like its confusing TV ad.

Adding a piece of lime to the beer is something that’s culturally ingrained in Latin America, mostly Mexico. Latins (Mexicans) do it because they like to add a bitter/citrusy taste to it (or whatever the reason may be)… but when they are on the beach, sun bathing, relaxing, chilling, having a good time. Mixing lime juice in the beer and buying it at the supermarket is an ENTIRE different product and experience.

Marketers, please listen… not everything can be packaged or bottled! Corona did a phenomenal job because it showed Americans how to drink beer in the Latin style… by just adding a piece of lime. Corona did not invent a lime-beer. Very different approaches.

The case for “Originality”

Be original

I’ve been thinking about writing about the political campaign for quite a while now, but never got to it because I had to much to say (and write), which was getting a bit overwhelming. But, I have finally narrowed all my thoughts down to one simple angle: Originality.

The way I see it, it’s a simple equation:

Obama = original = victory

Clinton = unoriginal = defeat

Why is that?

Because times have changed. People are more empowered, more knowledgeable (blame it on the Internet) and more demanding of leaders who actually speak TO them (Obama) and not AT them (Clinton); leaders who see from the people’s eyes (Obama) and not over people’s heads (Clinton); and leaders who are charismatic (Obama) and not scripted (Clinton).

No matter how much we go around and spin the truth, we all know that at the end of the day we:

· Make friends with people we like

· Hire people we like

· Choose leaders we like

· And so on…

Charisma is a very critical quality of a leader and I don’t see that in Clinton, and neither do many other people who have chosen to vote for Obama because he transpires confidence, originality and charisma.

We can also make the case for originality in the business world. We all know that consumers are in control and therefore we must work with and for them and not against them and for us, the companies. Only companies smart enough to be and/or become original will have a standing chance in this new business world dynamic.

Classic examples are:

· Apple = original = consumers are fans

· Microsoft = unoriginal = consumers are buyers

· Zappos = original = consumers are advocates

· Footlocker = unoriginal = consumers are buyers

Etc, etc, etc… we all know which companies are original and the ones that are not.

In today’s business world, we don’t want just buyers, we want consumers who like and cherish us the same way we like and care for them, genuinely.

What’s most astounding to me is that even though we have the power of instant information at our hands and know of the changes happening in society, business leaders still refuse to accept that the old-school business model DOES NOT work in today’s world. It’s “people” as usual…

How long can these companies go without realizing that? I hope not for too long, otherwise there won’t be enough interesting companies with interesting products/services.

Just my $0.02.

Paper or Plastic? Thanks, I’ve ALWAYS got my own

Paper or Plastic? How many times have we heard this before on the check out line of the grocery shopping? I have to say that I’ve heard it countless times for about 8 years now since I’ve been in the US. Before that, I did not.

And I didn’t hear it before not because we were ahead of the environmentalism curve some 20 years or so ago, but because we have always brought our own grocery bag to the market, that’s just how we have always gone shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables in Brazil and Latin America. One thing to understand first is that, most consumers in Latin America are used to making a two-stop or even three-stop shopping at the local market – usually very small – for fresh fruits, vegetables, and sometimes fresh meat, otherwise a third stop at the meat place is needed, and another at the supermarket to buy the other things on the list, usually non-food items. Food items have always been purchased at these local small markets or flea markets, where fruits and vegetables (and meat, where is available) is much fresher than at the supermarkets.

Here I’m thinking about this the other day when I went to Whole Foods and decided to get one of their canvas totes to continue my shopping “tradition” of always having my own bag. It occurred to me that we, in Latin America, have been doing the “right thing” of not wasting paper or plastic on grocery bags all along, but the same “tradition” was not shared by consumers in the US and probably some other first world nations as well ONLY until now, we it became a trend.

I’m fairly confident – although without evidence – that the availability of grocery bags at US checkout lines stemmed from marketing and the savvy businessman who wanted to deliver to a convenience-minded-population exactly what it wanted, convenience. Who would, after all, remember to bring his/her own bag to shop for food?

I have researched on this topic but could not find anything to back me up, but my theory is that with advancement of machinery and the manufacturing boom in the US after WWII, manufacturers were able to produce mass quantities of raw goods very cheaply, which in turn enabled retailers to offer an array of “incentives” to attract consumers, such as the case of paper or plastic bags. I don’t know when supermarkets and grocery shops started offering paper or plastic bags, nor do I know how consumers did their shopping before these grocery bags were available. (I think Keith could help me with that). I just find interesting how different societies develop its habits around its own environmental and socio-economic conditions.

For one, the US became a very rich country due to the manufacturing boom and that has enable US consumers a lifestyle of abundance and waste. Two, has this manufacturing boom also made people less conscious of its actions, or have Americans inherently been like that? That’s a chicken and the egg question, and I think it’s a bit of both. In Brazil and Latin America, abundance and waste in most people’s daily lives is minimized to the teeth – it’s a sacrilege to even think about wasting – and abundance, it’s stuff that we see in the American movies. Again, it’s the chicken and the egg question: did our scarce environment taught us not to waste or were we “raised” like that already? Again, a bit of both.

Are our markets cheap for not offering us grocery bags? Probably yes. Are we miserable because of that? No. Do they offer it these days? Probably yes, after all, they have to catch up with the first world.

One thing that’s apparent and somewhat bothersome to me is that if the media and marketers don’t get involved in propagating “causes” such as this one, US consumers would never think of doing it on their own. Causes need to become trends, with a lot of celebrity involvement and the whole nine yards, otherwise American consumers don’t pay attention to it. Has life become so automated that people are even told what to think and do? Huh…. I think I know the answer to this question.

In the end again, we just think differently and have had different life experiences that have shaped our lives.

I want to be frugal!

mrs_frugal.gif I’m SOOOO happy about what I did the other day…

Ever since I came to NY (a far more expensive place than where I was before) and as part of my new year’s resolution, I decided to cut down on frivolous “fashion” spending, meaning spending on clothes, shoes, handbags, etc. I also decided to do that because I need to get my finances in order. After a while, I realized that I pretty much have everything I like to wear and that most of the things out for sale are not my taste. I like everything I have and REALLY wear them; and the reason I emphasize it is because I used to have a closet full of clothes, shoes and accessories which I did not wear… some, not even once. How stupid and unclassy is that?

When I first arrived in the US, there was an enormous amount of temptation to go shopping, from the media to the people around me. How can one resist? Everything is so readily available in so many shapes and colors, full or discounted prices, sales left and right, catalogs, coupons… and on top of that, you must keep up with the trends… it almost feels like an obligation. Well, I was in heaven back then. I could have everything I wanted. It’s a good feeling to be able to possess things. I early on decided that quality is much better than quantity and always bought designer clothes at full price because the quality was much better. I was enjoying myself… spending, spending, spending…

But then something happen… I got bored of shopping and couldn’t stand (and still can’t) going to the mall. I started to consciously ask myself “Why am I shopping?”, “Do I really need or want this?” and the answer was always “I don’t know why I’m shopping… I don’t need or want this.” I was seeking the thrill of buying, not something that I genuinely needed. It almost describes an addictive behavior, but I was not a shoppaholic, just someone with too much time in my hands and driven by the consumerism mentality of my new-found home.

It’s undeniable that this society is a buying machine; people are conditioned to buy, have bought into buying as a means to solve all their problems. If you happy, you buy; if you sad, you also buy. People probably don’t even know why they’re buying, but their favorite pastime is shopping. I don’t even know where I’m going with this, but one thing I know is that I have broken away from shopping for the sake of shopping. I want to be frugal now! Frugal is in! I’m frugalicious! I want to save my money for something better and bigger than a pair of shoes.

Oh…. and what I did the other day that made me very happy was to cancel an order that I placed online. I felt as good or better canceling the order as I did when I was buying things for no reason.

I learned how to plumb!

plumbing.gif This is exciting… I did a plumbing job yesterday! Might not sound that exciting to most of you, but I’m a woman and never thought I could plumb. My husband is a big DIY guy and he was trying to fix a leak in the sink. After all the back and forth to the hardware store, he decided to ask for help… my help. He couldn’t reach the hoses underneath, and given that I’m petite, he thought I could reach there just fine… and I did. I changed the hoses, tighten the screws and the leak was gone. I was so proud of myself! As the adage goes… if you want a job well done, do it yourself. I find that to be true in most instances. My husband even got a kick out of my “plumber’s moon” (butt crack…).

February 22, 2008 is the 8th anniversary of my arrival in the US, and plumbing yesterday was my very first DIY project. A bit of an embarrassment, I know, but DIY is not as popular in Latin America as it is here in the US. I didn’t grow up doing projects around the house (most Latin Americans don’t), and I always called for outside help.

I won’t generalize here… some Latin Americans do DIY projects. Mexicans, for example, are Latins who are into DIY. Big-box retailers such as Home Depot and Sears are well established in Mexico. I believe that the proximity of the two countries have influenced the adoption of many Anglo-Saxon “DIY” values by Mexicans – English (and their underlying American value system) are often tossed around in everyday Mexican conversation. However, this is not the case in other Latin American countries further away from the US than Mexico. Sears, for instance, wasn’t successful in Brazil, Argentina or Chile. (Boy… to take a DIY store to countries that have NO DIY culture and expect it to succeed? That should have been a predictable outcome… but that’s a topic for another post.)

DIY is a 100% American custom, it’s ingrained in the American culture. Kids grow up doing DIY, Americans take pride in DIY. Why not? It’s totally consistent with “the almighty Individual” mindset. There are even TV channels just for DIY (DIY Channel) and sitcoms about DIY (Home Improvement). DIY is an all-American thing… It reinforces what Americans are all about… the drive to do things for oneself; the individualism of doing things as one pleases; the ingenuity of doing things differently. This mindset is purely American, no other country ever had the pioneer experience, population-wide capitalism and the marketing environment combining at the same time, in the same intensity as the US. And that is, quite frankly, the charm and appeal of the US and its way of life.

Most of would never think of DIY in Latin America. We have more important – usually social – things to do. Besides, one has to get the tools, get in grubby clothes and get into positions that do not necessarily look “cool.” Worse, you might even get your hands dirty. And “dirty hands” are not what prestigious people do! At least those of us Latins who live in the Big City and have to project a Big City image 24/7. Phew! It’s not only exhausting… but that’s why you don’t have the time and energy to do DIY!

I had a great experience yesterday learning about plumbing and I felt a sense of accomplishment. I should really try DIY more often and get my hands dirty around the house. But again… maybe not… my back was hurting afterwards… I’d rather spend my time reading… or writing another post here…

PS: Happy New Year!

Traffic Rules

traffic499x323.jpg I’m in traffic for about 45 mins everyday commuting to and from work, and for 40 minutes of these 45 minutes I’m aggravated by how people drive. I’ve driven in a few different places, different cities and countries, and I’ve found that traffic rules are pretty similar across these places, but with one BIG difference: the way these rules are interpreted by drivers differ significantly from country to country.

This is what I mean… When I learned how to drive in Brazil, I was taught that the blinker is a courtesy sign asking for the other driver to give me the right of passage when there’s enough space to do so. On the other hand, when I started driving in the US, I noticed that the blinker is a notice sign to other drivers that I’m moving over regardless of them (not with total disregard, but with a lot). I can pretty much sum it up like this: I use my blinker as if I’m asking the other driver “can I please get in front of you?” and I only do if I get the ok from the other driver, whereas many people here use their blinkers as if they saying “I want and will get in front of you, watch out” and they simply do. Big difference!

It’s funny to say this, but I cannot imagine Americans acting any different in traffic from what I described and experience everyday, that’s exactly who and how they are… me first, me second, third and last, and my way! And I say the same for drivers in Brazil, since we’re all sheep. I, at one point, even questioned the proper use of the blinker and checked with the DMV. I found out that the blinker is an indicator of a driver wanting to move over and that he/she can only do so if there’s reasonable space and time between drivers. Sort of a middle ground between my and the American way of driving… I don’t necessarily need a “permission” to move over (not that I wait for one either), and Americans don’t necessarily need to be so aggressive in traffic. When there’s enough space and time, we can all move over.