Thursday, April 26, 2007

Diversity in communication: an anecdote

My boyfriend has lived in the Caribbean for several years now. He is a good sailor who has sailed the Caribbean Sea extensively. He is also an accountant who works in the international financial sector. A native Dutch speaker, he speaks good English.

I am a local Caribbean woman who had a proper undergraduate and graduate U.S. education in the North East. I too have travelled extensively in what I call "my Caribbean" for my roots lie in the Dutch as well as in the Spanish and English Caribbean. I am a marketer. A native Papiamentu speaker, I speak good English and Dutch. Spanish also, but that's not relevant now.

We are going on a sailing holiday with some friends: Canadians, New Yorkers and Californians.

The - admittedly not so original - idea of making caps for everybody befell us. So, for the past week the two of us have been thinking of a slogan that fits the following requirements. Probably also in this irrational order:

  • The captain (my boyfriend) should like it well enough to accept on his boat. Ahoy, captain!
  • I should like it well enough to arrange the production. A little sabotage goes a long way
  • The guests should find it appropriate both on vacation in the British Caribbean and when they return home, so that they will continue to wear it. At least, the two of us should think that they will
  • Our Anglo-Saxon friends and their friends should understand the humor, a humor that does not have Anglo-Saxon roots. Again, so that they will continue to wear it. Again, at least the two of us should think that they will

This all given:

  • our different ethnic and professional backgrounds
  • the hierarchy and our position in it
  • that it should remain a surprise for our friends. So, we cannot consult them. No, we are clairvoyant enough

In many ways it reminds me of the times that I have thought up or contributed to marketing communication efforts. Or of some of the efforts I see and hear today.

I have accepted that everything we think of with the caps will be "a bit off". But, on vacation, it doesn't matter. We will all still enjoy the experience.

But, what if it were important, as it usually is in a marketer's professional life? What if we didn't know if it is important? Or how important it is?

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • How well does your organization handle internal diversity?
  • How well does it handle diversity as it relates to the customer? Do you just translate to different languages?
  • How do you ensure that you make and execute the right decisions, i.e. those that appeal to the customers and not necessarily to yourself? Or the boss? Or her husband?
  • Do you localize global campaigns? How? Based on what?
  • How do you convince headquarters that something won't work locally?

Yes, maybe your market is small. But, how much can you afford to get it wrong when you could and should have gotten it right?

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