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Avoiding Cultural Blunders

History is ripe with stories of cultural mistakes by companies. Key aspects of culture have been misunderstood, overlooked, or in many cases, even ignored. And surprisingly enough, others have repeated these mistakes. It seems as though business is destined to repeat history until the underlying lesson is finally learned.

Going international for a company does not mean simply extending to other countries what is done at home. Instead, cultural adaptations must be made. You can readily see this with the Walt Disney Company.

After decades of overwhelming success in the theme park industry, they began operating internationally. When they opened EuroDisney outside Paris, France, they failed to understand the impact of cultural differences. The French culture did not lend itself to the Disney formula for operating theme parks. Even Disney's informality in greetings and use of name badges with first names was counter to the formality of the French culture. Dogs are prohibited in Disney parks. Disney failed to recognize that the French are used to taking their beloved dogs everywhere with them—including restaurants.

Some companies have encountered problems in the international arena with language. As companies market their products overseas, the language should be considered. Chevrolet marketed their Nova in South America. After a poor launch, the company discovered that there was a problem with the name. A literal translation of Nova meant "no go." Not many people were willing to run out and buy a car named "no go."

The maiden flight of an Asian route for an airline created quite a panic. As passengers from the new Asian departure point boarded the plane they were presented with white flowers. Unfortunately, these white flowers were associated with funerals in that culture.

These examples are just a few of the thousands of international blunders committed. It is essential that you consider culture and make the necessary adjustments as you operate in other countries or markets.

Just a Minute

Marketers are even using segmentation to identify different cultural groups in America. The Hispanic community is recognized as one of the fastest growing segments in the United States. The awareness of cultural differences has been important in these marketing efforts.

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