Marketing is Intercultural Communication…

…and Intercultural Communication is Marketing.

As Intercultural Professionals, my colleagues and I often think of marketing as something outside of our scope of expertise, not to mention our comfort zones. Marketing can seem bit mysterious, difficult, expensive, time-consuming, or even “dirty” or beneath us in some way.

Much of our work comes to us through “word of mouth” referrals from satisfied clients, and we really don’t want to believe that it’s necessary to market ourselves and our services. If we do great work, more work should simply come, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not what happens in the real world, so we’re often caught up in a feast or famine cycle—busy doing the work we love, with no time for marketing, or suddenly facing an empty calendar, with no idea how to fill it with the work that we love (and that someone is willing to pay us to do!).

The more I study marketing principles, the more I’m struck by the similarity between these principles and the concepts that we teach so effectively in our field. I’m realizing that we all have the potential to be more successful marketers if we can simply learn to see some of the core intercultural communication concepts in a different light and apply them to our marketing efforts. Some examples:

Values: to market effectively, we need to understand the values that drive our potential customers, that lie beneath the surface of the water in the larger part of the “iceberg.”

Perspectives: we need to take the perspective of our customers, to see the world through their lenses.

Language: we need to learn, understand, and speak the language of our customers. Our marketing messages and materials need to be in their language, not ours.

Hidden rules: as in any culture, there are certain “rules” that make marketing effective. They seem mysterious, but can easily be learned from “cultural informants” (AKA marketing experts) and then used to navigate successfully.

Storytelling: We need to get better at collecting and telling stories that resonate with our potential clients and illustrate the value of the work that we do.

Relationships: marketing is really all about building and nurturing relationships, establishing credibility, mutual trust and respect and connections. This is what we teach and, on our good days, what we do best.

We already know how to do all of this well, so marketing shouldn’t be such a mystery to us.

Intercultural communication is marketing and marketing is intercultural communication. 

It’s a simple matter of reframing.



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