Top 4 Soft Skills for Cross-Cultural Marketing
Today there is much talk about the importance of soft skills. Be it at the start of one’s career or in a position of leadership, soft skills are necessary to succeed. In fact, in the Bloomberg 2016 Skills Report, recruiters were asked which skills they wanted most and an overwhelming focus was put on soft skills!
What are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are simply the less tangible qualities people possess. This includes one’s strengths and weaknesses, one’s personality traits and characteristics and one’s attitude. Typically, soft skills are learned through experiences and interaction as opposed to technical knowledge that is often gained through direct teaching. There’s no doubt that soft skills play a very important role in career matters. Even as the world becomes more digitised with face-to-face interaction cut to the minimum due to developments such as email, social media etc., basic soft skills are necessary to succeed in any job. In a field like global marketing that involves everything from meeting people from various backgrounds, travelling to new countries, to being truly immersed in a culture at its base level, having a set of certain soft skills at one’s disposal is especially handy. Here are the four top cross-cultural soft skills that a global marketer should aim to perfect.
Stellar communication skills are critical so as to interact professionally with people from different cultures and backgrounds. This doesn’t mean being an accomplished writer or a brilliant orator. Having good communication skills consists of being able to coherently express oneself, from writing a memo to giving a persuasive presentation. The role of communication is exponentially important in a cross-cultural setting where there may be innate language barriers already in place. In this way, one should be able to communicate effectively and efficiently so that all parties are on the same page, regardless of cultural differences. Since people from different cultures have very different communication styles, it is important to quickly pick up on said style so as to gain an appreciative audience. In an article on the BBC, Erin Meyer, a professor at INSEAD business school in Fontainbleau, France, who specialises in cross-cultural management, tells the story of a French employee who was recently relocated to the US. “Her boss informed her that her performance needed to change. But because he delivered the negative feedback by expounding first on what he appreciated about her work – and she was generally unaccustomed to receiving positive feedback – she floated out of the meeting thinking it had gone well,” said Meyer. This is an example of failed cross-cultural communication, where the objective wasn’t conveyed or understood well, highlighting the importance of better communication skills.
Being adaptable is a key soft skill in the realm of global marketing. According to Lynne Sarikas, MBA Career Center Director at Northeastern University, “To succeed in most organisations, you need to have a passion for learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch your skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organisation.” In a field like marketing, this is even truer. Marketing campaigns are constantly changing and evolving, even more so when marketing moves to a global scale. Due to the everyday dynamism of cultures, anyone engaged in cross-cultural marketing must be adaptable and open-minded to succeed. Furthermore, being adaptable to any sort of environment is extremely useful when having to deal with culture shocks that arise from moving to a new country for work. Consider this example given by Gayle Cotton, now president of Circles Of Excellence Inc, from when she first started working at the United Nations in Geneva in the early 90s. Cotton answered a phone call with a regular “Hello, how are you?” Her seemingly normal greeting was met with a curt response, “That’s none of your business. Now what I want to talk about is…” As Cotton recalls, “it wasn’t personal, the caller, a Swiss German, wanted to get down to business, and the personal element was irrelevant.” This sort of minor culture shock was handled easily by Cotton, who simply adapted to the Swiss norms of phone protocol – she began answering her phone with just her last name, emulating her colleagues in Geneva.
3. Listening and Awareness
Even though listening may not seem like much of a “skill”, it is something surprisingly few people actually excel at. Listening as a cross-cultural soft skill doesn’t entail just hearing people talk. Rather, it consists of hearing, understanding and processing so that one is able to make informed decisions. Paired with listening is the ability to be constantly aware of one’s surroundings. Within the spectrum of cross-cultural marketing, it is vital to listen so as to understand the intricacies of different cultures. An added bonus comes in the form of language gains – by listening intently and being observant, local jargon as well as non-verbal cues are learnt. Similarly, being aware of the surrounding environment can give insights into cultures that mere indirect research might not. Consider the example of Airbnb’s global campaign that continues to shine. By actively paying attention to colloquial ways of speaking, Airbnb was able to incorporate their findings into localised websites. Today, Airbnb has websites that cater to specific forms of the same language. Depending on the language of preference, Airbnb translates spellings (for example, American English versus British English) and colloquial terms and usages (changing, say, “vacation” to “holiday”) depending on the country version of the site. Airbnb’s success is a great example to show how attention to detail does indeed pay off.
Urban studies theorist Richard Florida wrote in his book ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’, “What powers economic growth? It’s not technology – technology is a raw material. What makes human beings unique is one thing – creativity. are subsets.” These words bear testament to the power of creativity as a soft skill. Creativity encapsulates many forms – from creative thinking in a more traditional and artistic manner to creative problem solving. Cross-cultural campaigns come with their fair share of challenges, and more often than not, traditional thinking doesn’t lead to the solution. Rather, thinking outside the box, or tackling a task from a different perspective yields much better results – and this is where the ability to be creative in any situation that requires it, is a great cross-cultural soft skill to hone.
While having knowledge of international marketing is of immense importance, honing the above cross-cultural soft skills is also essential to succeed as a global marketing maverick. Technical know-how will get one far, but it is great communication, an ability to quickly adapt, listen, pay attention to detail as well as be holistically creative that leads to true success!