Alper Eroglu - Marketing Director, Personal Care, Turkey
Cross-cultural differences have always intrigued me; I enjoy observing differences between cultures and trying to understanding what makes them tick. Every culture has their way of doing things, which I find fascinating; it is also enriching when I learn their perspectives on life.
Going on a university exchange programme to the United States, at the age of 20 really opened my eyes to cultural variations and was a life-defining experience. This motivated me to pursue a career that would give me international exposure; this was key to my decision to work for Unilever.
I am now the Marketing Director of Personal Care at Unilever in Turkey, responsible for driving the overall business agenda and marketing programme for the category.
Prior to this role, I have been on various global and regional assignments for seven years. Over the years I have learnt how to execute marketing campaigns in foreign countries, as well as successfully work with people from all over the world. In this article I combine considerations taken in international marketing and apply them to conducting business with people across different cultures.
This entails collaborating with intended markets and business contacts to understand them not only intellectually, but also emotionally. This adds credibility to campaigns or proposals.
Understanding cultural differences
My marketing role requires me to discover consumer insights – the trends in human behaviour that help increase the effectiveness of products for consumers, and also boost their sales. I need to ensure that these insights travel across borders; finding an idea, or campaign that resonates globally is always my main aim.
To tell someone something about your product or business, you need to understand the people: their worries; hopes; concerns; and sensitivities.
A quote I love, from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says it all: ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’
Equally in international business, when you work in a multi-cultural environment with colleagues across the world, or communicate over email, you need to find out what resonates with them – what it is that will ensure understanding to bring about mutual benefits.
Choose the right medium
When you have found a key insight or commonality that speaks to your audience, you need to find the right platform to convey your message.
When choosing the social media platform, you need to analyse the position of each platform across different geographies – selecting the right one has the potential to spread an idea like wildfire.
In some parts of the world, we take advantage of consumer insight into the use of technology, allowing us to share rich media through sources such as YouTube. However, in others, the focus may be more aligned with keeping in touch with friends, as well as colleagues past and present via social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
Finding the right medium also applies to business. Most colleagues prefer face-to-face meetings, but where this is not possible, we now have the opportunity to video conference which helps to humanise relationships. We are now in a digital era and this is quickly becoming the norm.
Learn about the different models of culture and their rules of etiquette
Being able to accurately predict how a market will react to a campaign will inevitably keep your company ahead of the game.
Gaining foresight in unfamiliar territories comes through observing the markets you want to enter, or in some cases studying models that identify different aspects of culture i.e., their way of thinking, different beliefs, and values.
The application of such models helps identify a culture that is, for example, more focused on universalism – a culture that puts rules above relationships, versus particularism – a culture that puts relationships above rules.
In business, if you know a culture leans more towards universalism, then paying particular attention to procedures, clear instructions, consistency and objective decision-making processes will more likely be well-received.
Similarly, if you know a culture is more particularistic, they are probably governed more by the logic of the heart and respond better to flexibility –especially where contracts are concerned. In these cases, build up relationships with business partners and leave negotiations until the end of meetings.
At Unilever we work closely with local markets during the early stages of translating campaigns so that expressions and ideas come across accurately.
The work is translated into a given language and then have another translator translate back into the original, to see if the intended meaning comes across.
During this process, ‘decentering’ is an important method to ensure that campaigns, business letters or proposals have the same meaning. Translation is an art and needs to be done right from the start to avoid confusion, or worse – causing offence.
The language of innovation
Great innovative ideas translate easily across any culture, which is why Unilever pioneers it into every aspect of its business.
I have had the privilege of being on some great innovative projects that have been rolled out globally within The Unilever Foundry initiative.
A great example that comes to mind is the Magnum Mpulse project. My team has worked alongside our UK teams to create a mobile application that sends consumers relevant messages to their mobiles based on their proximity about offers on Magnum ice creams and also tells them if their friends are nearby to share an ice cream with.
A global project that I led was another innovative idea called the Magnum Pleasure Hunt game, where you fly across the internet in hunt for chocolate bonbons that give you points. We teamed up with other global brands to create unique scenarios on each site that also appeal to individuals’ nostalgia, as it is reminiscent of classic computer games. Our game was a success in some 150 countries and the most tweeted URL in the world at one point!
Innovation is a currency that will work in every culture, and every area of business, so be sure to utilise it!
Unilever – the arena for international exposure
Unilever embraces diversity; I have had the unique opportunity to work with a wide range of highly-skilled professionals from across the globe in different capacities that have the collective ambition to create a brighter future for the world we live in.