Cultural Sensitivity

5 Cultural Sensitivity Mistakes No Brand Should Ever Make

Comments (0) Cross-Cultural Training, Cultural Sensitivity Training, Global Business


Cultural Sensitivity: The art and science of being sensitive and aware of other cultures so as a brand you don’t stomp on feelings, values, emotions and beliefs.

I’ve already shared why cultural sensitivity training is the need of the hour. Today I want to talk about the 5 mistakes no brand should ever make when it comes to culture and diversity.


1. Ignoring the Language of a Country

This is the first thing that a brand must take into consideration when launching a product or service in a country.

Don’t simply translate the advertising text without keeping the context in mind.

A product that has a strong brand name in the United States may be a complete and utter flop in a European or Asian country.

Case in point: Clairol’s Mist Stick debacle in Germany. Mist is German slang for manure. See?

2. Overlooking Special Days and Religious Holidays

Brands need to pay close attention to national holidays and religious celebrations, as well as special days in various countries.

For instance, in India, Diwali is a much bigger celebration than Christmas. In China, the Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat festival and Mid-Autumn festival are public holidays.

Take into account holidays so you don’t end up organizing an event on that day, or worse, forget acknowledging it altogether.

Cultural Sensitivity 3. Placement of National Symbols

Many brands and businesses have suffered losses of millions due to wrong placement of national and religious symbols.

A Chinese company, for instance, came under a lot of flak for packing shoes in boxes that featured the Indian tricolor flag.

The Hollywood Buddha movie had to change its poster after protests from Buddhists worldwide about the image of a man sitting atop the Buddha.

4. Forgetting about Cultural Etiquette

Did you know that the Queen of England cannot be touched? U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama breached protocol when in 2009 she briefly put her hand on the Queen’s back for a photograph.

Fashion brand Kenneth Cole insensitively tweeted out about the Cairo uprising saying, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at -KC.” They later deleted the tweet and apologized as well.

Keeping cultural etiquette and sensitivity in mind when interacting in person and on social media is vital for a brand.

5. Using Mass Messaging for a Niche Audience

Finally and most importantly, using a one-message-fits-all approach is bound to impact your brand negatively.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” holds good for global businesses as well. Tailor your messaging, whether on social or in print media, to cater specifically to your niche audience.

Pay close attention to the elements we’ve discussed above to ensure that your product, packaging, service and experience fit the respective country and it’s culture like a glove.

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