Cross Border Marketing is Dealing with culture


What does it mean to do cross border marketing? It is certainly much more than to translate a commercial in the right language. When doing business in Sweden, speaking Swedish would  certainly help. However, in Sweden, not to speak in Swedish will not be as much a handicap as not speaking English. That may be slightly different in France or in other south european countries.

Cross Border Marketing is Dealing with Culture

So if this is not language, what is it then? Doing cross border marketing means interactions with people from other culture every single day. And that’s a challenge!

When I started to work after college, I worked in Germany for Bongrain, a big French multinational company, producing and selling cheese. Every year, Bongrain organized a two-day marketing conference. Attendance  was mandatory. So all staff, from assistant to senior manager, came from all over Europe. That was my first great experience in cross border marketing! We have shared so much knowledge during workshops and lunches and dinners. And don’t forget the networking opportunities! In the beginning of the 90s, we had no email, no internet, no Skype and only phones. To meet colleagues from Italy or the Netherlands and to hear about their successes and struggling was really inspiring.

In my cross marketing business with Germans and Americans, it means to say over and over that:

–       Americans are more risk-taking. For an American, there is nothing to be afraid of. And most Americans don’t actually seek out risks, they just don’t waste much time worrying about them. Taking risks means also making mistakes. In an environment where risks are seen as opportunities, it is easier to forgive mistakes. Let’s quote here the American author Ray Bradbury “You fail only if you stop”. Personally I like this part of the American culture.

–       Germans are perfectionists with high expectations toward details. They want to understand and manage details. Therefore they work with exact and detailed plans. They need the precision, the details because they want to minimize errors!

Now just take a second and imagine possible conflicts between German and American business partners. On one hand, risk-taking Americans, on the other hand errors-minimizing Germans. Conflicts are predictable, aren’t they?

Cross Border Marketing – A Challenge for Marketers

Dealing with culture in cross border marketing can be problematic for many managers. Marketing staff is trained on marketing, not on culture. Managers who are working internationally for years certainly have cross cultural experience. But are they aware of it?

Let’s talk about me. I worked for more than 20 years in cross border marketing. I have managed projects with Germans, Italians, Americans, Dutch and French people. At the International Monetary Fund, my colleagues in the IMF Family Association Board are not American. Rabia is from Pakistan, Juan from Argentina, Nama from the Ivory Coast and Suzette from New Zealand. I am certainly the only one at the Board to have worked consciously and for years in cross border business. But spontaneously, I always act as a German person. I am then very direct. Only if I am in a situation to take a step back, I am then a listener and observer.

If somebody asks me today, where I am from, I will answer that I am French. And yes, my accent is more French than German. On the other hand, at work, I am so German! Yes, I am always on time and very well-organized. And I would never start a job without an intense research of facts and figures. I need to know the why, the behind the story, the target, the sales force. Without this knowledge, I feel really very uncomfortable.

To work consciously in a cross border environment can be really exhausting if you are alone. As a manager, you may be able to force a way to direct meetings or to change the writing of a brochure. But are you the one with the knowledge about the DOs and DONTs? And if you are, what do you do in order to share your cross cultural knowledge with your colleagues or co-workers? And how do you do it?

Cross border marketing is, for sure, not only translation. But working with the French can be entertaining. French politicians are best examples for the limited skills in foreign language of the French people.  In January 2010, while standing in the rain somewhere in Paris, the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy said to Hillary Clinton “sorry for the bad time” – a mistranslation of the French ‘temps’, for weather. Not better is the present French president, François Hollande. He signed his congratulating letter to Obama’s reelection with Friendly. The letter, posted on Facebook, was cause of much hilarity in the social media.

Copyright: fotolia by JanMika

Leave a comment with your Facebook account, or use the comment fields below


Tags from the story
Written By
More from Catherine

Die amerikanischen gelben Engel – ADAC made in USA

ADAC gibt es in den USA nicht, dafür aber AAA. Triple A...
Read More


  • And i Love the choices of product names in cross border marketing e.g. Silver mist never sold well in Germany 😉

    • Silver Mist is an excellent example. For the non German native-speakers, it means in German something like silver dung… or silver sh…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *