‘Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.’

—  Jesse Jackson, Politician and Civil Rights Activist 

In this article (clickable links below):

When Jesse Jackson said this, he was talking about society, but it applies to business too.  

One of the biggest mistakes a modern business can make is to build its brand with cultural blinkers on. To not consider how its images and messages might be viewed outside of its immediate cultural lens. At best, this runs the risk of excluding valuable sections of your potential market. At worst, it can cause offence, embarrassment, and huge reputational damage.  

You won’t need to search too far for savage examples about how a lack of cultural understanding has damaged a brand’s sales or reputation, and in doing so it quickly becomes clear how important it is to know your audience.  

There is Parker Pen’s mistranslation of the Mexican word “embarazar” to “embarrass” when it actually means “impregnate”.  

Nike once had to withdraw thousands of products after a doodle they’d used to represent fire was noted to look like the Arabic word for “Allah”.  

In 2019, Gucci launched a $790 hat made to look like a traditional Sikh turban. The backlash was immediate as the turban is not a fashion item for Sikhs. It is of deep cultural and religious significance and Gucci’s launch was seen as a culturally blind attempt to turn it into a commercial item for profit.  

Another brand giant, Procter & Gamble, once failed to take into account the differing attitudes between Europe and Japan when an ad showed a husband entering the bathroom and placing a hand on his wife as she bathed. European customers had few issues with the scene, but Japanese viewers declared it an inappropriate invasion of privacy and found the ad in poor taste.  


Cultural understanding and appreciation

All of these mistakes could have been avoided had the brands involved taken time to properly understand the cultures of their audiences, whether that be the specific culture they were marketing to or the diverse cultures which exist in their general marketplace.  

Understanding every part of a business’ audience, and bringing cultural awareness to each brand we help build, is ingrained in what my team and I do every day at Creative ID, and a big part of the services we offer 

Having been born into a multicultural household – my mother is Indian and my father has roots in both Kenya and India – the importance of understanding diverse cultures comes naturally to me. 

In my youth, our family preferred to take holidays where we would be exposed to new and different cultures. My education at the International School of Paris brought me into daily contact with peers from more than 30 nationalities. I have been fortunate to have such experiences, and this has helped me gain an extensive grounding in cultural awareness and diversity, but I also know how important it is to continue learning as an adult.   


Cultural training

It’s not only huge global brands who need to know their audience. My family’s business, Minerva, for which I eventually became Group Head of Marketing, employed 180 staff across eight international offices. We implemented cultural training for every member of staff across the whole business. This ranged from avoiding major cultural misunderstandings, like those in the examples above, to the minutiae of manners, cultural expectations, and how to greet people from different nations and cultures. This company-wide understanding and awareness played a major role in our business outperforming much larger operations because we had taken the care to understand our customers, and to communicate with them the way they wanted to be communicated with. We succeeded because we saw our customers not as demographics, but as people.  

The success of this programme was such that cultural training has now become part of Minerva’s onboarding process.  

At Creative ID we take the lessons learned from experience, research, and education and apply them to every piece of design, brand, and marketing consultancy we undertake, for every one of our customers, but it doesn’t stop there.

‘Diversity, or the state of being different, isn’t the same as inclusion. One is a description of what is, while the other describes a style of interaction essential to effective teams and organisations.’  

—  Bill Crawford, Psychologist 


A culturally-inclusive world

As our world, particularly the world of business, continues to become closer through communication and transport innovations, the importance of understanding and including a culturally diverse marketplace will only grow. Today, it is more vital than ever to know your audience. Tomorrow, it will be even more so again. So, whether you develop your own strategies or take consultancy from somebody like Creative ID, a genuine programme for understanding cultural diversity and inclusion is a must for any brand, large or small, seeking to succeed in 2023 and beyond.  

I hope this blog has been useful. If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in more detail or any other matters related to branding and marketing for your business, or if you want to find out how we can help you create a beautiful, effective, and culturally aware logo that will stand the test of time, or develop culturally inclusive marketing from an international perspective, please contact us at info@creative-id.com   

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Until next time,