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Former American President George Bush once presented Li Peng, the then Chinese Premier, a gift of cowboy boots embroidered with the American and Chinese flags. Unfortunately for the American President, in China, feet are considered the least sacred parts of the body. A gift of shoes embossed with their nation’s flag was a disastrous cultural blunder and a huge oversight by the President’s office.

To become an expert in every culture around the world is not viable for any SME.  However, in order to build longstanding successful relationships with overseas clients, it is important that businesses take the time to consider the customs and traditions of their export markets.

Culture establishes the norms of social behaviour in a country and therefore determines the way a business should handle negotiations and customer interaction, which products and services are suitable and how to approach marketing.

Here are a few of the key cultural considerations to take into account before exporting to a new country:


Social and Cultural Traditions:

Ensuring social and cultural traditions are researched will prevent a new market flop. This covers an extensive list of possibilities from acceptable behaviour and whether a population is inclined to follow the latest fashions to what and how often the inhabitants eat. Some of these may seem obvious, for example, an advertising campaign in Islamic countries with models revealing too much skin would be wholly inappropriate. Other things are less obvious and require careful research, for instance, colours are extremely symbolic in China. Avoid using the colour white on branding or marketing as the Chinese associate it with funerals.


Educational Standards:

Educational standards are evidently important for assessing the spending power of a country. However, it will also determine other areas such as how to address the tone of a marketing campaign. In the case of countries with high illiteracy rates it will shape the type of marketing employed. In these countries, adverts with large amount of text would be ineffective.



Businesses must appreciate the importance of religion in many export markets.  Sharia law, for example, is incorporated into many Muslim countries and influences not only politics and economics but personal matters such as hygiene and diet. For example, many personal care products, cosmetics and medicines would be considered illegal under sharia law as they contain alcohol and are therefore not considered Halal.



Some cultures still have very defined gender roles. Businesses need to be cautious of this when outlining their target audience and marketing a product or service. Marketing that may appear unisex in the UK could alienate an entire gender in other countries.




Market research studies are a useful approach for understanding culture in new markets and developing export strategies. Through acquiring a thorough understanding of a country’s culture, businesses can determine if there will be potential demand for their product or service.

The other key consideration that sits alongside culture is language. Language and culture are intertwined and both need to be employed to create an effective export strategy. Translating marketing material, packaging and instructions into a target market’s key language is the first logical step. Ensuring that text isn’t just simply translated, but also written in a style and manner appropriate for the culture of the export market is vital too.

At Total Linguistics, our native translators are not only experts in marketing and localisation, but they are also the target demographic of many of our exporters. This allows us to develop effective and successful international marketing campaigns alongside our clients.

For more information about our translation services please contact us:


Tel: 0114 213 4646