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Each country has its own cultural norms and traditions, so to succeed commercially, brands, products and communications all need to be adapted to fit what’s expected by the market.
You’d have to work pretty hard to pitch the concept of a ‘family motorbike’ in the UK. Anyone buying a motorbike in this market isn’t looking for one they can fit their kids on.
But head to the Thai market and you’ll find it common to describe a motorbike as a มอเตอร์ไซค์ครอบครัว, which means exactly that. In this market, the vehicle is seen as a valid solution for transporting multiple family members about the place.
Persuading new audiences that your offering is relevant to their needs isn’t as simple as translating your content into the language of your target market. You’ve also got to find a way to make your brand relevant to local needs and expectations. That means understanding how many people they expect to fit on a bike, as well as the language that’s most effective in selling that bike.
In an individualistic culture such as the US, motorbikes are sold on the promise of freedom. Asian countries often have a more collectivist mindset – meaning your value to a group or community is seen as being more important than your freedom and personal fulfilment as an individual. That’s why in Asian cultures you’ll hear motorbike brands championing how ownership fits in with family life rather than how it serves an individual’s interests.
Your brand’s tone of voice doesn’t just help you stand out from the competition, it also helps your audience know what you stand for and how you can meet their expectations. It needs to be tailored to the environment you’re in and that really depends on local culture. That’s why really successful international brands tailor not only their products but also their tone of voice to each new market they enter.
Honda – the king of reinvention
Honda is one of the most adaptable global brands when it comes to reinventing itself. The Japanese automotive brand is almost unrecognisable in each of the different markets it inhabits. It alters its tone of voice to present itself most effectively in each one.
In collectivist Asian markets Honda makes a point of positioning the brand at the heart of the community. In Thailand it boasts that it is การเป็นบริษัทที่ทุกสังคมต้องการให้ดำรงอยู่ (‘striving to be the company that society wants to exist’). The Thai tone of voice is more involved, sociable and community-focused. This would probably come across as paternalistic in the West.
There’s far greater tolerance for quirkiness in markets such as Japan and Thailand. Honda uses cute cartoons to get its points across in Thailand; in its Japanese home market cats feature in the marketing materials. It would be inconceivable to do this in a market such as the US, where ‘cuteness’ and ‘motorbike’ are seen as mutually exclusive concepts.