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How’s the craic? 10 Tips for Cross Cultural Marketing and Networking

Have you ever been caught out saying the wrong thing at a business meeting abroad? You wouldn’t be the only one.  We are so wedded to our native cultures that sometimes we just don’t think. Cultural references, something as simple as “How’s the craic” can leave our listeners with a blank stare.  For the non Irish craic (pronounced, crack) is Irish for fun and a colloquialism that trips off our tongues.

I remember working in Amsterdam many years ago, barely out of college and Ireland.   The discussion was on first names.  In mixed company, one who was an Arab and Muslim, I made reference to Christian name – which for me meant first name.  No sooner was it out of my mouth than I realized the literal translation, followed by a bright red blush.  It just never occurred to me! Needless to say, that was the last time I ever used the term.  Since returning to Ireland, I’ve noticed people still say Christian name.

Nobody is going to shoot you for saying the wrong thing but with a little more care we can spare our blushes and make it easer on ourselves, our prospects and clients.  Cross cultural marketing and networking does require more attention to the detail.  In a conversation with one of my business associates, Kari Heistad Culture Coach,  during her recent trip to Dublin we talked about the subject and  how easy it is to come away from a meeting in exasperation or bewilderment: you just don’t understand me.

Below is our list of 10 Top Tips for Cross Cultural Networking.  It’s not definitive.  I’d love to hear your opinions – any funny stories (or even embarrassing ones that you’re willing to share) and any variation you have on the Top Tips.

1. Be more formal than you might normally.  Be a reserved version of yourself.  And smile and keep smiling. You’d be surprised how a nice smile and open disposition can break down formality.

2. Do your research ahead of time to know how the local culture feels about greetings among men and women and what is an appropriate greeting (bow, handshake, Names etc.).  As a woman, I do not advocate subservience to blend with the local culture: take lessons from President Mary McAleese.

President Mary McAleese and the Turkish President: Reuters Photos

Marketing Cross Culturally

3. Presume an open mind. Be curious. The more open you are to others, the more you will learn.

4. Bring lots and lots of business cards.  In some cultures, you give a card to everyone you meet, not just people you want to follow up with. If possible, have them translated.

5. Be observant. Watch what others are doing, discern what seems to be the “norm” and then follow suit.

Marketing Cross Culturally

6. Wait to be seated if you are sitting down. You don’t want to sit in the most important seat if you are not the most important person.

7. Slow down the pace of your dialogue. Don’t use idioms, slang and acronyms without explaining them. Don’t assume industry specific vocabulary is understood.

8. Investigate what local cultural values are for specific colours. Choose suits, ties and dresses appropriately.

9. Learn what are “safe” questions to ask in that culture: ie many cultures don’t get into really personal questions when they first meet. If networking with Americans don’t be put off by personal questions.

10. Watch the alcohol intake. When people are nervous they often drink too much. Be careful so that you won’t make the wrong first impression.

And the 11th tip, enjoy and learn.

Please do share any other tips you feel I’ve left out and, if you’re brave enough, your own personal gaffs.  Many thanks to Kari Heistad for her contribution.

I am an International Strategy and Marketing Consultant with over 20 years experience in marketing and strategy and international operations both in the US and Europe. Broad functional experience in: Marketing and Communications Strategic and Financial analytics including Business Case Development Consulting and Operational management Client Relationship Management Deep financial services sector knowledge. Worked in organisations ranging from technology start-ups, fast-paced direct marketing agency to large corporates. Member of Enterprise Ireland Mentor Panel Member of IIA (Irish Internet Association) International Strategy Working Group Committee member of the MBA Association of Ireland:

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  • Aaron

    Hi Paul, so are you going to do some networking with us this Friday in the Dublin Job Club? Last meeting of the year

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Paul, very good article, as far as I can see the only way to get a job in this market is to look for the hidden opportunities as the advertised ones aren’t working so far!! Thanks again.


  • Great post Paul.
    Networking is not as tangible as actively applying for a job, but is non the less just as important. Perseverance is key here, we need to invest the time and effort. It also gives us the chance to give something back to others in our networks also. I agree that meeting as many people offline is very important and a great way to quickly grow one’s professional network.
    In terms of job-seeking, networking is a chance to tell people who you are and what you do, as well as making new connections and actively interacting with the professional world. Job hunting can be a very lonely way of life, so it’s important to get out there, invest the time (which there is more of if unemployed) and continue speaking with other professionals. It should be regarded as a long term strategy 🙂

  • Anonymous

    @Niall – very true Niall. I too am guilty of this sometimes myself and need to continually push myself.

    @Aaron – thanks for the comments – I will make it my New Year resolution to visit you in 2010. Let me know when you guys get going again. By the way Aaron’s Club is a good networking opportunity for jobseekers – heard some positive feedback!!

    @Wendy – I agree with you BUT don’t turn off from the advertised jobs completely. Combination approach but I certainly would put a bit more focus on proactive strategies.

    @Elaine – some very good points. Networking does give you the opportunity to get yourself out there and tell others who you are and what you do. It is an important point to remember that hiring decisions are made on more than just ability to the job and networking allows you to show the other important stuff.

  • Anonymous

    These points may seem simple or obvious to some. Unfortunately too many people ignore the simple/obvious and try to over complicate things. This is good sound advice Niall. I would add #6 “be prepared to work even harder than before”

    As far as my New Year resolution – “to spend more time enjoying the journey in 2010 and to celebrate “the now”, achievements and the good people in my life (family/friends)”

    Happy Xmas to you, BT team (Fred/Facundo) and all the readers!!


  • Anonymous

    Thanks Niall – some reflection at the end of one year and the beginning of another is always good: put a brake on the madness (or spinning wheels) and look at the road we’re travelling.

  • Hi Niall. Some good one’s here. I’d add not dwelling on past problems – in reality they no longer exist! Today and tomorrow is what counts. There is no doubt in my mind that open participation and communication as you have listed here will be at the forefront of helping businesses develop. This has been a tough year, next year will be challenging – but with challenge comes opportunity and we all need to just keep our eyes open to make sure that opportunity is taken.

  • Thanks Paul, The problem with common sense eh 🙂 Many Happy returns.

  • Hi Una, and what a road we have travelled this year. What doesn’t kill you 🙂 Thanks for your wonderful posts and inspiring support. Have a great Xmas. Regards, Niall

  • Barney, so so true!! Learn from the past and then move on and yes I think that collaboration is the new word for competition. Thanks for your patience, insight and support. Here’s to a big one next year. Wishing you a Happy Xmas. Cheers, Niall

  • Great post Niall and well sound advice.
    Anyone who began their business in the past 18 months, and is feeling the strain, would do well to imagin their business to be like a big concrete wheel, 8 feet in diameter.
    Imagine rolling this concrete wheel, and how difficult it is to just get it moving at all. Then, with each efort, the wheel moves a little more freely and finally gains momentum to free wheel, only needing a little push now and then. Starting a business is difficult at the best of times, but perseverance and dedication WILL prevail, and we will all get there 🙂

  • As we move from one year to the next, it’s good to stop and assess the basics. Are we connecting with others as we intend? Are the few seconds it takes to listen to someone worth it to us? Could sharing our questions, successes, and failures with someone else bring clarity to our thought process as we go forward to the next stage of our business?

    Niall, your last tip reminded me of something recent I read. There are many small business owners celebrating that they have survived so far. They have been good enough to stay in business despite the difficult economic conditions. And that’s great but…what does it take to thrive? It’s time to define what is beyond “good enough.”

  • Hi Elaine, I like the image! Someone said about starting a biz that it will cost twice as much and take twice as long as you first think 🙂 I agree that perseverance and dedication are definitely needed. Continued Success for 2010, Thanks, Niall

  • Hi Elli, great comments as always. I take your points about defining what is beyond “good enough.” I will say that many business people and SMEs had to re-invent themselves this year, it’s a painful process that often requires significant change. I use an example of one of my clients here that lost 70-80 of its turnover in less than 12 months. To succeed they first had to learn how to survive and then reposition the biz. Repositioning took time and did not give back straight away but ultimately its what will provide the opportunity to grow and thrive next year. Elli It’s been lovely to get know you and thanks so much for your super contributions to the Bloggertone community . Can I wish you a healthy and successful 2010 and I look forward to getting you over to Ireland in the near future 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Hi Niall, I’ve been thinking over the last few days about your point about how painful 2009 has been for quite a number of SME’s. It hasn’t mattered where you are, it was ugly! Repositioning is tough because you have to evaluate your basic premise and vision and see if they still hold. It cuts right to the small business owner’s core. And yet, it doesn’t have to be done overnight. It’s one step at a time, always building. I’m honoured to be part of the Bloggertone community and look forward to getting over to Ireland soon! I wish you a wonderful, healthy, and successful 2010!

  • Great post Una!
    When I was working in the States, once we were brainstorming ideas for prizes for a group of 100 people (10 teams) I suggested beer kegs and the entire room looked at me like I had just suggested the worst drug. My boss told me that was very inappropriate.
    In 2006 I came to Ireland and landed at Irish Broadband. The first sales contest we had… gave away BEER!
    I took about 10 pictures of that contest and the bottles and made sure to email them to my ex boss. I guess I was not the only mad person after all…

  • Thanks Fred. The aim is to break down any barriers to doing business as opposed to sticking obstacles in our way. I’m sure, however, all of us who’ve stepped away from our native shores have some interesting stories to share!

  • Nice list, Una; short and sweet. The only change I would make would be to move tip #5 to the top of the list . . . and highlight it!

  • Groetjes Leo. I notice you are A’dam based. I spent over a decade in Amsterdam working for a direct marekting insurance management agency. It’s nice to make connections with the locals.

  • Anonymous

    Nice post Una. I had big problems with this when I first joined Oracle. My Northern Ireland accent was quite strong, and on conference calls people just couldn’t understand me. With time and plenty of prodding from my Dutch boss, I eventually slowed down, and things became easier.

  • Hello Una,

    Great post and very useful for global business.

    Many stories to tell……please excuse the few foul words!
    My partner was recently at a training session with the LG-Nortel team from Korea and the first thing they all did was swap business cards – all of their ones with both Korean and English translation. Its commonplace there.
    While in discussion, and after many Sujus (Korean drink), one asked my partner ‘Did he b u m ?’ Obviously he was shocked. Apparently its a drinking game where you float one drink in a beer… (?)
    You can guess what he thought…

    Hailing from the southerly end of the UK and quite close to London, I happen to speak a great deal of slang. Those familiar with cockney might recognise ‘It’s the dogs’ , as in – It’s the dogs privates. Translated, it means ‘The best’.
    When we first moved to Cork, the chap next door shouted ‘Anything strange’. I gave him a bemused look and answered ‘Apart from me?’. Needless to say, I know all the main Cork sayings now.
    Up Cork!

  • Liam Lenehan

    Hi Una, Had planned to be on the call but urgent call came in so missed it. Like these tips. Operating in Paris, as you know I do, means being very concsious of formalities. There are endless “tu toi” debates as well as the right way to “bizou” or kiss/exchange greetings. Of course the funniest things happen when you speak the language and assume that an English word, spoken with a French accent, will get your message across but sometimes this can go horribly wrong. For example, recently I asked a French man for his “surname” which in French means nickname (surnom). I should have asked for his “nom de famille”. But as per one of your tips, a smile or sheepish grin will usually rescue the situation. Liam

  • Hi Frank, I lost my Cork accent along my journey. While we don’t want to lose what makes us different or unique, in a business context we need to make it easy for people to do business with us.

  • Thanks Christina. The one that got me initially when I movd to London was the greeting “You ok?”. ‘Two nations separated by a common language.’

  • Hi Liam, thanks for sharing your experiences. France is always seen as one of the harder European markets to crack. It would be great to hear your top tips for cross cultural marketing into the French market – things you have picked up over the last couple of years through your business

  • Yes, the kissing gets me every time!
    Great post Una, lots of food for thought – or words for thought.

    maybe in the near future we will see a universal language take hold, as business is conducted more all over the world. Alas, maybe then we will need to withdraw emotion, facial expression and body language just so we can be PC.

    Ah the life of business, don’t you just love it? C’est la vie

  • Anonymous

    it happened to me today. I was talking to a colleague today from Romania about a project task, and asked him to “run it by me before the end of the day”. He didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.

  • Anonymous


    I’m a bit slow to commenting on this post but it is so important as small businesses all over the world discover that they can have customers anywhere. And Irish slang can be pretty funny. One of my favorite phrases is “your man/woman.” I was completely puzzled by that one the first time I heard it. Like Leo Salazar, I’d move #5 up to the top too. Between when and how to kiss, what to wear, and what to say, finding out what to do by observation can prevent a lot of mistakes. Reminds me of the saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

  • Una, this is actually a very important topic you bring up. And I think it goes much beyond just language. Cultural differences can be quite stark–everything from body language to the observance of certain holidays. For example, one must take care to avoid scheduling calls on holidays of other cultures. There are so many nuances that are easy to overlook–or simply not know. But we’re in a time of international business, and we increasingly mix with people from a variety of cultures.

    I try hard to avoid colloquialisms when communicating with people from other cultures. This can be a challenge, and is to some degree unfortunate because idioms can add so much color and expressiveness to speech.

    But they can be very much understood, and in the worst cases, offensive. So it’s best to err on the safe side.

  • I agree Eddie, we don’t want our communication to become bland. To use a hotel analogy, one can stay in the Mariott all over the world and be assured of a similar level of service but we all like the boutique hotels as well. The differences make the experience richer and it is marrying that with respect and awareness.

  • Thanks Elli & Elaine. The kissing greeting gets everyone. In the Netherlands, where I lived for many years, the usual was 3 kisses and some quirky habits such as on birthdays kissing the partner of the birthday person as well the birthday person! More is more I think!
    The point is we can all be a bit more prepared and there is no shortage of information easily available to us. We should see it part of our presentation and pre-meeting preparation: what are the key rules of etquitte in the local country and approach with a little more reserve than you would when on familiar territory. And, something we often forget: while we have a very strong affinity and cultural familiary with the British, Britain is different to Ireland.

  • Thanks Elli & Elaine. The kissing greeting gets everyone. In the Netherlands, where I lived for many years, the usual was 3 kisses and some quirky habits such as on birthdays kissing the partner of the birthday person as well the birthday person! More is more I think!
    The point is we can all be a bit more prepared and there is no shortage of information easily available to us. We should see it part of our presentation and pre-meeting preparation: what are the key rules of etquitte in the local country and approach with a little more reserve than you would when on familiar territory. And, something we often forget: while we have a very strong affinity and cultural familiary with the British, Britain is different to Ireland.

  • Anonymous

    Thankfully, my years at Oracle, SAP, Palm Computing and many large corporate environments where I worked in sales, marketing and training, I learned quickly how to interact with people from many cultures. The common sense of observing others first, smiling, and acting reserved saved me many times. I’m also first generation American, so having a Portuguese, Italian/Brazilian background helped too!
    Great article/reminders/tips!

  • Hi Ana Lucia, many thanks for your comments. I’m always interested to know how you came across bloggertone and my post

  • Hi Una, my own experience with international business meetings is that both parties are aware of cultural differences and willing to bridge the gap. Of course this is in a situation where both parties have an interest. If you want to push your business abroad the need for adaptation will probably lie more on your side.

    I think today there is something like an international business culture: people living in hotel rooms, working on laptops while waiting in an airport terminal for boarding, knowing exactly how to pack their bags in order to fit within hand-luggage regulations. They have their own codes for communicating with each other and their environment. They have money and are a target for commercial marketing as well so you see a lot of adaptation to this new culture that has no geographical bounds but is vibrant nonetheless.

  • Hi Una, excellent article on a very important subject.
    This is an area we come across very often in the translation services business. As we deal with clients all over the world you need to be aware of the cultural differences. How you ask for something here in Ireland is not the same way you might ask in Italy. Each culture has its own nuances.

    I remember being trained in Japanese culture for Business Cards. We tend to treat cards lightly – we take the card and put it in our pocket or folder to read later on. However this is a big no-no in Japan.

    Firstly the person has earned their title and position – so giving you their card is giving you a piece of themselves. I would always accept a card with both hand and carefully read the persons name and title – to show respect for the information they have given me.

    Secondly always keep the card in your hand or visible. One of the classic mistakes is putting a business card in your back pocket. You will then sit on the card – and that persons reputation – which is seen as an insult.

    A little trick we used was when we had a number of people in the room we would accept their cards and when I sat down would place the cards in front of me in a position opposite where that person sat. So I had a mini map of who was who. This way to ensure I had a person name right just before I addressed them I would look down to my notebook and read the card in front of that person. I could check their name and as I raised my head I would be immediately facing them and would know their name. Its very simple but shows courtesy and professionalism. You also get everyones name right.

    Damian Scattergood
    STAR Translation Services:
    Confidence in a Translated World.

  • This Mashable post may be of interest to readers here:

    8 Social Media Strategies to Engage Multicultural Consumers

  • Justyd2004

    Great layout Gus. All those questions that do pop into your head when your considering LC v’s Sole Trader. KHL, Justine

  • Torihawthorne

    Hi Niall, nThanks for the comment, its true they can be two different things. Sometimes what they want isn’t what they need and vise-versa but a good salesperson will find out and let the customer know without offending them and ultimately sell them the product they want and need. (if they have it) A good sales person shouldn’t be affraid of losing a sale if they don’t have the right product/service. The fact that they have put the customer in the right direction will bring the customer back to them or recommend them…

  • Customers always wonders to themselves – WIIFM (what’s in it for me?)nVender should ALWAYS ask themselves WIIFT (what’s in it for them?)nnBy knowing what a client/customer wants to buy, we know the right product/service to sell.nA sales person in 2011 needs to be much more than a seller of things, they need to be a SME (subject matter expert), a confidante, a coach, an advisor. It should get to the stage where the client involves the sales person in their decision making, referring back before any decisions are made.nnA match made in Heaven one may wonder, but I believe it works.nnGreat post, nothing like a Monday morning discussion about customers :)n

  • Torihawthorne

    Thats SO true Elaine, we are so many things to our customers. A good Team/Sales Leader is all those things to their team too, if a sales person feels support in all those areas from above, they will in turn have the confidence to be what the customer needs…nnPeople think to be a great sales person you have to be able to talk.. You do, but you have to be a better listenernWe could chat about this forever ;)nnThanks for your comment Elaine

  • I know this mightn’t be as relevant in B2C but I now don’t attempt to sell unless the prospect has a good grasp of what they need, if they are in denial or are unprepared to invest in the right way, I send them elsewhere, there are plenty of other companies that will take their money. I found that I was spending too much time with companies who were not yet ready to buy what they needed. In my opinion, the key in B2B sales at the mo is to ensure that you spend your time talking to prospects that are in a position to buy.

  • Hi Tori,nnI agree with you and i do like the way you said that they are the ones with the money. Even if they are wrong in their mind they will always perceive they are right especially when businesses try and convince them otherwise.

  • Hi Tori. For me the only way to develop a truly focused and relevant sale for the customer is to understand how your product or service will help them overcome their problem or make their lives easier. Without a solid understanding of the customers business or need, it is almost impossible to make your offering relevant to them and the sale won’t happen.nThanks for sharing

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