An item in this morning’s USA Today sports section caught my eye. It tells the story of Yoenis Cespedes’ first home run and how he stood at the plate and admired it, only to get drilled (hit by a pitch for you non-sports fans) for showing up the pitcher in his next at bat. Why?
And that’s today’s business point. Most of us learn, over time, to speak the language of our customers. As with the Cuban ball players learning English, it’s only part of the battle. Of course, the marketing world is littered with companies not even advancing that far. There are marketing tales that he symbols in Chinese that sound like “Coca Cola” mean “bite the wax tadpole” and we’ve all heard the story of the Chevy Nova being marketed under that name when in Spanish, “No Va” means “doesn’t go.” Exaggerations or not, these examples make the point.
Assuming you have competent linguists someplace on the staff, learning the culture is a challenge. While it’s most apparent when marketing internationally (and one might ask what in digital isn’t marketing internationally), a brand can trip over itself even at home. Language is in part generational – very few under 30 have ever experienced a “broken record” so how do they know if they’re going on like one? Somehow calling my 86-year-old father “dude” doesn’t quite work. The cultural gap is deeper than just that word. Frankly, I’m offended by ads showing people emailing or texting during meetings – a cultural thing, I know. You consider that a product feature – I consider it rude.
We all get our turns at the plate and once in a while we hit one out of the park. Cespedes’ experience is a good reminder that for every happy batter there is a miserable pitcher and we need to be sensitive to the unwritten rules of business to avoid a bad experience the next time around.
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