10 Rules of Marketing To Low-Context Cultures

Yesterday I wrote about reaching customers from high-context cultures, where meaning is transmitted implicitly. But what if your audience is low-context? What does that mean, anyway?
  • High-context means they have a strong shared understanding in terms of values and the meaning behind communication. Examples include culturally homogeneous immigrant groups and also specialized work groups who speak in terms nobody else understands.
  • Low-context means they have less shared understanding and diverse identities and need to have things articulated clearly in ways that span cultures. A prime example is the United States of America as a mass audience, as the identities of its citizens varies dramatically from place to place.
When you are marketing to a low-context culture:

1) Emphasize one primary language. The global language of business is still English.

2) Put diverse-looking people in your marketing copy. It's about appealing to a broad base and showing how anyone can fit in.

3) Focus on mass advertising, not word-of-mouth as for high-context cultures (should have included this in the last post).

4) Artificially create a new community out of whole cloth. Do not apologize for this, just do it boldly. When you join the Army, buy a Harley, or visit Disneyland you join a created community. 

5) Use a lot of words. What's the storyline? Explain it, tell it as if it were real. Think narrative - like American Girl dolls.

6) Think about shiny, glossy, artificial textures. High-context cultures want authenticity (for example, marble and wood). Low-context cultures want the sense of starting something new and clean (e.g. plastic).

7) Emphasize consistency rather than excellence, because normally low-context cultures have to accommodate a high volume of potential members. McDonald's french fries might or might not be the best in the world, but you know that no matter who you are, you'll get the same ones every time. 

8) Focus on speed, innovation, imagination, breaking the rules. Low-context cultures are not bound by convention and seek products and services that reinforce that identity.

9) Talk to newcomers. Low-context cultures are very much about recruitment and welcoming people into the fold without question. If you watch Joel Osteen's show every week, for example, he tells the viewer to visit Lakewood Church, where they will be made to feel "right at home." There is a reason for this - low-context cultures thrive on diversity and newness.

10) Emphasize equal opportunity rather than being a "status brand." Low-context cultures are populated by people who seek a different kind of community with invented rules. Normally they are very into equality rather than declarations of status, because that is how heterogeneous communities stay harmonious despite a high volume of people each seeking their own interests.