One of the hottest topics in marketing recently has been content marketing, or presenting information that triggers a conversation with the target audience. Even though these conversations are digital, it is still important to take into account the varying communication styles in different cultures.
Xu (2007) reminds us, using Hofstede‘s cultural dimensions of individualism/collectivism as a base, that conversational styles are distinctly different in the US (individualistic) and China (collectivist). Xu notes that these differences are most apparent in the following two aspects:
Starting a conversation – In the US, it is considered appropriate to show your seriousness about the business at hand by starting with a “get down to business” approach, such as “I came here to talk about….” or “Let’s talk about the benefits of this product…”. Therefore, most of the content marketing generated in the US tends to start with the same sort of “business first” approach. For example, a Twitter campaign would likely be designed to tweet about spotted usage of the product or celebrity mentions. Conversely, in China, there is a stronger need to develop the relationship first. In this case, a Twitter campaign would need to focus on lifestyle issues tangentially related to the product, eventually developing into more product-related mentions.
During the conversation – Xu notes that “Americans concentrate on successful communication while Chinese focus on a good relationship.” This means that in the US, we are apt to interrupt and question, give feedback, and check on information understanding during the course of a conversation, while Chinese will remain quiet and make mental notes to check data afterwards through other means. For example, in the US, if we present a webinar, we include mechanisms for live questions as well as Q&A periods after the presentation. A more effective approach in China would be to present the webinar and then offer credible third-party information sources as further reading.
From a marketer’s standpoint, it is important to remember that marketing is, indeed, a conversation between the product and the consumer; therefore, conversational styles need to be considered when developing that conversation.
Wu, L. (2007) “Cultural dimensions and conversational strategies: conversational strategies adopted in different cultures and the way to bridge the gap”. US-China Foreign Language, 5 (4), pp. 71-76.