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The internet is an incredible invention that has effectively facilitated the global connectedness of cultures and countries around the world. It’s nearly impossible to have an online presence that is not encountered by someone from another culture.
With this deeper worldwide connection comes complications. People want to consume your content and interact with your brand, but they may speak other languages or not understand the nuances of your brand.
Figuring out how to interact with people from other cultures has a lot of implications, and having a plan for how you can accommodate other cultures might be exactly what your brand needs.
In this episode, we discuss the responsibility that the modern-day brand has to figure out where it fits in the ever-connected world.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- The internet changed everything about what it means for a brand to connect with its audience.
- Think through how your brand can be more multiculturally minded.
- As your brand grows, it can accommodate more cultures.
- You don’t have to lose your values for your brand to accommodate other cultures.
- Some cultures are divided by the myth of a common language.
- You can’t be everything to all people, but you can be some things to a lot of people.
- Communicate correctly to your target audience.
- Expand your range of normalcy to reach the people you want to reach.
- Be transparent about your level of competency in other languages if you do try to use them.
- 02:31 Cory: Today’s topic is very relevant for me right now, because I just traveled across the world and I’m living in a different time zone. Now that I’ve moved to Ireland, it has become so clear how different everything is between cultures, the different ways that businesses do business and the different ways that brands interact with people. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I’ve traveled out of the United States every year since 2007, and the more I travel, the more I realize how small minded most brands are as it pertains to their global presence.
- Community”>03:23 I’m thinking about how, on this podcast, we talk to you as the listener about how to be a successful brand and things like that. We have to take this outside of the earth a little bit and talk about what it means to have a brand today. We can be doing a podcast right now while I’m in another country that’s literally a little island. It’s mind blowing to me that I can be halfway across the world and still be doing this. We’re broadcasting to a live audience in the seanwes Community, and there are people from all over the world listening in—from the East coast of the United States, the West coast, Israel, the UK, everywhere.
- 04:27 We’ve got people from all over the globe, and as you think about what your brand is and what you want to build to, remember that the internet changed everything about what it means for a brand to connect with its audience. Before the internet was around, brands connected to people in their local communities. If you were a bigger company, you might have worldwide connections. It wasn’t really until the internet started connecting people in our lifetime that we started being able to talk and connect with people all the way round the world. That matters for the kind of brand we have and the brand perception we want to develop.
- 05:23 Kyle: I remember when I first talked to people at the last job I was at about stepping out and pursuing my own thing, and they asked, “Have you built up a good client base here in town?” They were talking to me about how they weren’t sure how many people would be interested in what I had to offer, and it took me back a little bit. My brand is all online, so I’ve never had a client here in San Antonio. I did some work for seanwes, where we now both work, but other than that, I hadn’t done anything locally. All of my work had been elsewhere, maybe not even in Texas.
When it comes to their brand, so many people are stuck in the past—even if they’re online.
- 06:28 There are plenty of people who are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, so everybody can find them. There are certain things that may pertain to local people only, like if you own a physical store where people have to come to you. In some ways, that’s more local. Even with that, stretch your mind a little bit. I know of plenty of coffee shops that I follow on Instagram, and they’re in other cities in the US. They’re still in the US, but they’re not near me. They’re local to their area. If I was in that town, I would go visit that one, because they speak to more than just the local community.
- 07:20 It’s something to be aware of and understand. People from all over the world are going to be interested in what you’re doing, and that’s something people aren’t usually aware of.
- 07:32 Cory: Something that’s really difficult with all of that is figuring out how you strike the balance between being a brand in the way that you know vs. reaching out and being something that people in your target audience from different cultures can still connect with. Kyle is an icon designer, and he has a very unique position in the online world for two reasons. First, there are icon designers all over the world. There are people who live in Japan, Germany, Canada, and Brazil who are interested in designing icons. Kyle lives in Texas.
- 08:26 Kyle is coming at icon design, business, and communication in a different way than all of these other people. They’re all still interested in icon design. You have two audiences—the people who want to hire you and the people you want to teach. Icon design itself is really incredible, because icons are, in a way, a cross cultural language. I’ve traveled a lot, and I love being in airports. The Zurich airport is my favorite one, and the best part about the Zurich airport is that there’s intricate iconography everywhere. I’m an American and I don’t speak German.
- 09:23 My wife speaks German. If you go to that airport, or any other airport, and you’re trying to find the bathroom, check in, or the baggage claim, if it’s all written out in that language, you’re not going to be able to find it. If you have an icon or an illustration, that’s going to help you get where you need to go. That’s something I love about icon design.
Icons give you a platform to cross over language barriers.
- 10:02 Cory: As you’re a global brand and you’re connecting with people all around the world, everyone’s got different values, and not just personal values—cultural values. Those things are ingrained into people. If it’s your culture, it becomes part of who you are. I have a clear example of that. I lived in California for just over a decade, which is where I moved from to Ireland. There’s a very different perspective on how to treat people, waiting times, and customer service. It’s very different than it is for the Irish culture.
- 10:48 For instance, if I’m trying to get something set up, like if I’m at my house and I have a problem with my internet, I call the internet company. In California, and this is true in the rest of America as well, we use direct communication. I have a problem, I need you to fix it, what are you going to do about it? Here, it’s different. It’s not direct. In some cultures, direct communication is very offensive.
As you explore and try to reach different people, don’t lose who you are because you’re reaching people around the world.
- 11:34 You have to make a decision. If you’re trying to grow your brand and reach people who have a different set of values than you do, but you’re interested in the same thing, how do you adjust your own brand to address the cultural norms and values of the people you’re trying to reach?
- 11:56 Kyle: Cory and I were talking about this yesterday when we were talking about the topic for this show, and it’s really interesting. As I started thinking about that, I started realizing that even within your own country, there could be different cultures and different ways that people approach things. That’s especially true in the US. The US is huge. To put it perspective, all of France can fit into Texas, and that’s just a small piece of the US. There are all these different cultures in all these different places.
- 12:44 My father was the first male figure in our family to ever not be from the Northeast of the US. Things are handled differently there. It’s more acceptable to be straightforward about things and say what you think, to say it like it is. Massachusetts is where most of my family is from. My dad grew up with his dad, who’s from Massachusetts, so he had that passed on to him a bit. I do as well. I’ve noticed certain things that I don’t fit in with culturally because of how my family is structured. There are certain things I want to say or do that aren’t necessarily the norm in the Southwest of the US. It’s different.
- 13:39 You’re not quite as straightforward. You’re a little more passive about things. You wave at everybody. It’s a different way of life. There are people on the other side of the world from you that are far different than next door in your own country. Once you do zoom out, I like how Cory said that we should go beyond the world—zoom out and look at it as a whole. It’s crazy to think about how many different types of people are out there and how many things are acceptable in some countries and not in others or even in different parts of one country and not in others.
Having a Globally-Minded Brand
- 14:29 Cory: We can get so caught up in thinking that our way is normal. I can think that the way I communicate with people is the right way. We’re on this podcast, and if I say, “Listen, everybody uses Google,” that’s not true. I was talking with a friend of mine who has lived in China for the past few years when she was back in California visiting us, and she was talking about how nobody uses Google or certain social media platforms in China. They have their own social media platforms and their own search engines. They have their own Amazon, Alibaba.
- 15:32 For me to say, “Google is the thing that everyone in the world uses,” is a lie. It’s not true. It’s misinformed. As an American, it can be easy for me to say that the way we do things is the way it needs to be done. Eric Lin in the chat says that they locked Google, Facebook, and YouTube. They use something called Youku. He’s talking about China. Keeping that in mind, as I’m writing a blog post, if I’m trying to reach brands in China, I shouldn’t write, “Then go to Google and do this.” Instead, I can say, “As you use your favorite search engine,” or something like that.
Think through how, as you grow, you can be more multiculturally minded.
- 16:51 Yesterday, Kyle said, “As you grow, you can accommodate more.” As we talk about multiculturalism in brands, it can start to feel very overwhelming. How am I supposed to keep in mind all of the countries, languages, and cultures that may or may not interact with my brand or my website? It’s overwhelming. If I’m a one person show, I may be limited in what I’m able to do. If you take on more employees or you grow as a company or as a nonprofit brand, as you grow, you can accommodate more.
- 17:47 Kyle: As we were talking about this, I thought, “Where do you draw the line? Where do you determine this?” It’s not that you don’t want to be encompassing, but there are so many things. One thing I wonder is this. There are likely some people that follow your brand or keep up with it because it is from the culture you’re in. They don’t want you to accommodate them. There are some things I listen to or follow where I would be kind of disappointed if they didn’t stay true to their culture. I would be disappointed by that because it’s interesting to me to learn about somewhere else. I don’t necessarily need somebody to accommodate me, even though that’s not typically the US approach.
- 18:54 Everybody wants everyone else to accommodate them instead of being their own thing. There is a sense that where you come from and the culture you were brought up in could start to disintegrate if there’s too much accommodation for being global. Cory, I’m curious how you feel about that balance.
Consider Your Goals When Accommodating for Other Cultures
- 19:17 Cory: It depends on your goals. Take a very hard look at who you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to accomplish. Kyle and I work for seanwes, and we have a Community, and it’s full of people from all around the world. There are people talking in the chat right now from different time zones. We speak in English here, but I love it when two people realize that they both speak another language, and they start going back and forth in their own language. It’s so good. We have a global reach at seanwes. We have physical products, and we’re shipping all over the world.
- seanwes conference”>20:05 I got an email recently from a guy in the Community, a friend of mine named Rafael. He lives in Brazil. We sent out an email for the seanwes conference that’s happening in October saying, “There are shirts that are going to be included in your conference registration, so select which size.” The first email I sent didn’t include any sizing information. It was just Small, Medium, Large, XL, and XXL. Of course, I got so many emails back. People were confused about the sizing. Small is so relative.
- 21:02 I sent out another email clarifying what I thought was clear. I also provided some people who asked with a sizing sheet. On this sizing sheet, it just had numbers. It didn’t say inches or centimeters. To me, it was obvious that it meant inches. I didn’t even think twice about it. It was a natural thing for me. Rafael wrote back and said, “Just so you know, the only reason I knew that this was not in centimeters was because there’s no way a Small would be 29cm. That’s tiny. In the future, it would be helpful if you could make sure to clarify what the measurement is.” Hardly anybody in the world uses imperial anymore. Most people use metric or a conglomeration of the two.
- 22:00 I sat there thinking, “How do we have a global customer base and we haven’t thought through the fact that, in the world, most people don’t use inches? They use centimeters.” I know that for a small, US based business, it might be too much to try and accommodate all of the cultures and measurements. As we grow, that’s something we should take into consideration, because I want to provide a good customer experience for the people who are interacting with seanwes. That’s important to me. It was one of those things that woke me up to realize that we should have sizing in metric and imperial, because we have a large, international customer base.
You don’t have to lose your values for your brand to accommodate other cultures.
- 22:59 You don’t have to write a certain way and be indirect just because one culture is indirect. If you want to be indirect and you want to write like that, then write like that. That’s part of your own culture, and other people need to embrace you as well. Too little thought is put into the multicultural aspect of your brand if you’re online, because anybody can watch your YouTube videos. Anybody can watch your new video on Instagram Stories. Anybody in the world. I say “anybody in the world,” but not in China.
You may need to make some adjustments or accommodations for other cultures if it contributes to your brand goals.
- 24:13 Kyle: We’re focused on premium brands, brands that go above and beyond normal brands, that have actual connections to their audience, that care for the people they serve. Think about going into a really nice hotel. If you stay somewhere really nice, you pay an extra fee for that, sure. The prices are higher, but they also accommodate you in many ways. Maybe they bring towels to your room. They offer in-room meals. Maybe it’s a larger room. Maybe it has a view of the ocean.
- 25:07 The point is, they go the extra mile in these little places, too. It’s not just the big things. It’s also the little things. For example, with the sizing sheet, how long does it take for Cory to take on the work he doesn’t want his audience to take on? Typically, someone would come across that and they would have to search out the conversion of inches to centimeters. Maybe that doesn’t take very long to convert, but Cory could take that extra time to provide a link that lets them see the conversion. It’s not that hard to implement. These are low barrier things.
- 26:05 I see a little bit of discussion in the chat during this episode about how you can’t please everybody, and it’s true. You can’t please everyone, but you can do little things to help that happen. That’s our point here. Do small things to take work off of the people you’re serving and put it onto yourself. It also saves you time. If Cory had accommodated measurements for everyone he was sending emails to, he wouldn’t have had to go through all of those emails and replied to everybody and try to work it out.
- 26:59 Cory: Keren, who lives in Israel, was saying, “It would be very weird for me if an American company would try to accommodate me. What Cory is saying is true, inches and pounds and miles and things like that, but I’m so used to it. I just translate using Google.” Renata said, “At the same time, you can’t appeal to everyone. You have to understand your target audience, especially for your business.” Martine said, “Quite agree. You cannot be all things to all people.” I love this by Keren. She said, “Yes, you also have to embrace your own culture. I don’t like it when people try to be something that they’re not.”
- 27:37 Renata closed it up with this great quote, “Accept yourself, and that is the thing that will make you unique, those weird little things that make you different in a special way.” That’s important as well. What is your own culture? How are you interacting with that? If you’re a new and growing brand, it’s about the small things. There are things you can do to move the needle a little bit.
- 28:19 Cory: There are companies that change their logo into the language that they’re in. I saw recently that if you look at the FedEx logo, it’s great in general, because there’s a hidden arrow pointing to the right. As we read, in the Western culture, we look from left to right. It gives the feeling of motion within the logo, because FedEx is all about moving forward, transportation, and things like that. I saw a picture this week of the FedEx logo in Arabic, and in Arabic, you read from right to left. That’s how people who have learned to read in Arabic scan things. They don’t go left to right.
- 29:25 That’s just not how they read. The Arabic logo goes from right to left, and you can see the arrow hidden in there from right to left instead of left to right. I love that. FedEx is a global brand. They’re huge, enormous, and they have the capacity to do that, but I love that they were so focused on reaching each country and language that they do those things, because it makes it more personal for those people. Imagine being somebody who spoke another language and didn’t read English but used FedEx. That word would not mean as much to them in some other language. I saw that this week, and I thought that was pretty cool.
- 30:17 Kyle: Lately, I’ve been doing a lot with Instagram Stories and Snapchat. When people reply, I’ve done my best to reply to everybody with video. I reply back using a video, talking to them. In some ways, what’s the harm of using terms that the other person understands, if you know them? If you know that someone is in another country and they don’t use the same terminology you do, what’s the harm in using that terminology? Here in the US, the front of a car has a windshield. In European countries, it’s called a windscreen. There’s that little difference.
- 31:12 What’s the harm in me saying “windscreen” to somebody instead of “windshield” and them not having to process that I mean something else? Maybe someone reaches out to you and says, “I didn’t know what that meant, so I looked it up. This is what we call it.” You can’t do it for everybody. You can’t do it all the time, but it’s something to keep in mind and try. That’s an extra level of care.
- 31:56 Cory: There are cultural insider terms. The other day, I said to somebody, “Buckle up.” We were talking in the Community and I said, “Oh, you didn’t know about this thing? Well, buckle up, because you’re about to find out.” This person didn’t know what I was talking about. It’s called an “idiom,” and the idea is that I know a phrase and what it means, this term, but other people around the world may not know that it means. You know that thing where you hang out with a group of people and someone tells a joke and they all laugh, or they were all there for the event and they tell you the story and laugh, and you don’t get it?
- 32:55 It’s kind of like that when you’re on the outside. If you’re trying to write to a local audience, you can’t think through all that stuff all the time. Absolutely. It may be okay to pause as you’re writing those insider idioms to think, “Is everyone in my target audience who actually reads this going to understand what I’m trying to communicate?”
Being the best brand you can be means that you communicate correctly to your target audience.
- 33:34 That’s what it’s all about. Having a brand means that people have a certain perception towards you. That’s what a brand is. Having clarity is what you need to be able to connect with the right people. If your writing, your videos, or your content is not reaching the right people in the right way, you may need to step back a little bit and think, “How can I package this correctly to reach my audience?” If it’s fine to use all of your cultural inside terms and jokes, use those. Don’t cut all of those out just because. People can use their favorite search engine.
- 34:24 I’ve just been thinking about this a lot because we moved to another country. We’re divided by the myth of a common language between California and Ireland because we speak “English.” There are all these different terms, these different things. If you were to say to an Irish person, “I like your pants,” that doesn’t mean the same thing. Trousers are your jeans. In the States, your pants are your jeans. Here, your pants are what’s underneath your jeans. It’s your underwear. You have to learn those things. If I’m writing to a global audience, it pays to think about those things sometimes.
Expand Your Perception of Normalcy
- 35:20 Kyle: The spirit of this show is to think about those differences, to acknowledge them. In the US, we’re often closed-minded, sometimes unintentionally, about what happens in the rest of the world because we’re in such a large country. We don’t experience a lot of the world. Americans don’t travel internationally that often, the majority. There are definitely a lot that do.
- 36:00 Cory: I think it’s changing, too. I think our generation is traveling more.
- 36:05 Kyle: We’re a little more connected. Because of the internet, we understand that there are other things out there. It’s become more obvious, and that’s something we still have to wrap our minds around. There are other places and people that do and say things differently, and I know that, here, that’s a big issue. You hear people all the time being upset about things that come from other cultures. It’s just part of how the world is.
- 36:40 Cory: The most important thing, and they were talking about this in the chat, is that you can’t be everything to all people, but you can be some things to a lot of people—while maintaining your personal values and your own personal culture and personality. It’s about being aware.
As we go forward, we’re only going to get more connected and increase the amount that we see and talk with people.
- 37:17 The internet is great, because it’s this bridge between people that would never have met before. We can learn things from other people and other cultures. There is so much value outside of our norm. My sister, who actually lives in Texas, is trying to start up a podcast for families with kids with special needs. She’s very passionate about that subculture, globally—kids with special needs, with autism or who are on the spectrum. She shares videos constantly on Facebook, and I was watching one of these videos. This guy goes around and befriends people with autism and he speaks for them and helps them find their voice, to be heard, and to be known. It’s really beautiful.
- 38:27 I was watching this one video, and he was talking about how it’s so easy for us to establish what we call “normal.” We have this range, and I’m holding my hands out right now about 15 inches apart, which is about the width of my laptop—we have this range of normalcy, and anything outside of that range we consider “weird.” If there’s anybody or anything that doesn’t fit within what we would call “normal,” we say that it’s weird. When something is weird, it creates a barrier, this disconnect. He said, “We don’t necessarily need to connect with the ‘weird’ people, but we need to expand what we consider normal so we can emphasize the ways that we’re similar.”
- 39:25 I thought that was so great, because so often, our differences are so apparent to us, but that’s because all we’re looking at is our range of “normal.” Even in the US and western culture, the way we do business is very different from how it’s done in other cultures. I could sit here and say, “This is how you have to do business. This is the way, the only way,” but in some places, it doesn’t work that way. In the US, it’s very contractual and direct. It’s all about what’s written down. In another country or culture, business might be more about relationship and conversation and how it’s going to flow. It’s very different.
We don’t need to give up our values, but we need to slightly expand our range of normalcy so we can reach the people we want to reach.
- 40:23 It’s not about reaching everybody. It’s about reaching our target audience that is around the world. It’s just about getting people to think.
- 40:41 Kyle: That thought process is going to put you ahead in a lot of ways, especially if you are just now building a brand, if you’re starting a brand. I remember really starting to build a brand online and realizing that there are so many countries just subscribed to my newsletter. I’m not even that big of a brand, and there are already all of these countries and cultures interested in what I’m doing. It was a wake up call. This is not just something that people in the US are interested in, but I’m online. I have a responsibility to talk to people from other cultures. Get on the path where you think about that and you realize it. Not everybody speaks the same language.
- 41:57 As obvious as that seems, it’s something I see people overlook all the time. They say, “I got this confusing email from someone. It looks like they don’t know how to write.” Maybe they’re not from your country and they don’t speak your language. They’re trying, but have some understanding for where people are coming from.
- 42:24 Cory: You may not be able to do everything. I bought this mic because all of my podcasting stuff is still somewhere over the Atlantic, being shipped, and I just looked down at this mic I purchased for the show in the meantime, and on the front, it has the name of it and a description below it in seven different languages. If you look at the warranty information inside and the help manuel to use the mic, it’s in different languages. RODE, this company that does sound equipment, microphones, and everything, has the scale to do that, to get translation and make that happen. As a result, they can reach more people who are interested in their products.
Using Different Languages
- BehindtheBrand.com”>43:35 Cory:Imagine this for the future at seanwes. Right now, you can go to BehindtheBrand.com and see the episodes and read the show notes for the latest podcast. It’s all written out in clear format. It’s all there, the whole show. If you don’t want to listen to it or you can’t, you can read through the show notes and get the message. Imagine if we decided that we wanted to convert and translate the show notes into German, French, or Spanish. All of a sudden, we can reach people who want to build and grow a sustainable business, which is what we’re all about here at seanwes, who don’t speak English. Our target, which is the same, has now expanded a little bit, or a lot.
- 44:34 I’m not saying that’s something we’re doing right now, but it’s something to think about. As you grow, you have that option. What if you wrote a book and you wanted to get it translated so as many people as possible could read your message? That’s powerful, and it’s something to consider as you move forward and you grow. Start with the small things, and figure out at what global level your brand is going to engage.
If you’re online, anyone can see your content.
How are you going to accommodate that?
- 45:17 Kyle: If you are accommodating, like in Cory’s example, another language, that’s great. It would be great if things were translated that way, but the brand also has a responsibility to interact with people if they do that. If you translate the site into Spanish and someone replies to you in Spanish and you can’t communicate with them, there’s a real barrier there. A brand should at least have provisions to respond to people and connect with their audience.
- 45:55 Cory: Do you think it’s different for online companies vs. printed materials, for instance—like translating a book into multiple languages?
- 46:04 Kyle: In some ways, yes. Most of the time, I assume that if I read a book in English and I want to respond to the author, maybe they’ve been very influential and I want to continue learning from them, if they have some presence online but they don’t even speak the language I read the book in, there’s some authenticity lost to me. If they advertised that they spoke that language, there’s a disconnect for me. That doesn’t mean that you need to go into years of learning whatever language you’re using, but that’s why I think it’s a scale thing. As your company grows larger, you’re probably going to hire several people on communication teams that are multilingual. They can respond to people, and that’s a really good thing.
- 47:24 I’m just warning against being too caught up in doing that and not able to respond. I have an example of this. In no way am I excellent at it, by any means, but I’ve tried to learn Spanish. I really want to learn Spanish. I’m in Texas, and there’s a large Hispanic community here. It would be great to actually be able to interact with certain people. I run into this language more often than anything else that I’m not native to. I’ve wanted to learn it, and I’m trying. Occasionally on Instagram or somewhere else, I’ll get a comment in Spanish. I can do my best to reply, but I always try to preface it by saying that this is not my native language, so I’m trying as best as I can. I’m not native to Spanish, so if I get things wrong, I’m sorry. I don’t know that we’re going to be able to have an in-depth conversation.
Be transparent about your level of competency in other languages if you do try and start using them.