Understanding Local AND Global Differences
Cob, bap, muffin, barm cake… what do you call it? Chances are it depends on your social background, where you were brought up, and a myriad of other influences over the past years. If you haven’t got a clue what I am talking about by the way they are all terms for things you might stick some cheese or a sausage in to make a snack. Other terms include ‘bread rolls’ or ‘buns’ and there are about 30 or so others in common use in the UK.
If something as innocent as baker’s doughy product has the potential for confusion, misinterpretation, class associations and heated argument (yes disputes are rife – raise the issue with your colleagues and wait for the fallback) then imagine the potential for chaos and bewilderment when communicating more complex propositions across national and international markets…. …this is where good customer research with a reach beyond the confines of London can help
Bunnyfoot has been performing customer research and customer usability testing for the last 10 years. We noticed very early on that there were distinct UK regional differences (over and above other demographic influencers) in people’s responses to the same website – and these differences have profound consequences on the websites’ ability to communicate, persuade and convert. Knowing and acting upon the geographical differences (cultural, social, language, attitudinal etc.) dramatically increases the effectiveness of the end result. This is one of the reasons why we set up 5 offices with usability labs running the length of the UK and why we encourage our clients to look beyond the myopia of London when researching with their customers (it works better if you do – simple as that).
But you don’t have to be locked to physical labs, getting out there in the field and observing what real people do in their own environments is a valuable thing to be doing that can reveal key insights. One problem with this is that it can be expensive. One way of getting there without so much cost is to perform ‘remote usability testing’. This typically relies on screen-sharing over the internet, and with recent advances in broadband penetration it is now possible to run usability tests and observe people in their own homes or places of work (with consent!!) from practically anywhere.
Beyond the UK
When your product or service reaches beyond national boundaries then geographical and cultural differences become even more pronounced. HSBC clearly know this and you will know doubt have seen some of their adverts revealing the different cultural, geographical and socio-economic meanings associated with things like colour, gestures, symbols and language.
It goes beyond this too – we have recently been working extensively across Europe, the Middle East and Asia (and a little bit in Africa) we have uncovered challenges associated with extending online communications across these regions. This includes:
- the need for flexible or even completely different interfaces to cope with different languages (e.g. German = long words and phrases, Arabic and Chinese = right to left)
- the fact that in some regions the preferred or only way people engage online is via mobile (Africa and Japan in particular)
- display advertising and contextual advertising is far more effective than search engine marketing in some regions (e.g. Middle East) because of not just language differences but also cultural differences
- ‘western style’ minimalist aesthetic design doesn’t work well in China – and again this is cultural and not just because of the character sets used
We, as an agency, need to take our own advice on board to adopt local knowledge to get the best results. Bunnyfoot employs consultants from across cultures and have recently opened an office in Hong Kong to get closer to international differences. When we test abroad we use a network of quality agencies, it just brings that edge of local knowledge that makes the testing run much smoother.