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March 5, 2017

Borrowed Culture of Marketing

A missionary acquaintance from Indonesia returns to the states every four to six years. In a recent visit he described how people from the country are being “Americanized” at extreme speeds. Instead of a normal cultural cycle of slow to moderate learning and unlearning, where errors and victories can be understood, the Indonesian culture has been introduced to hundreds of years of technology and social structure in less than 60 years. Children who use iPhones and video games as a norm are balanced by parents who don’t watch TV or use computers at all. That is to say, not only is there a proverbial firehose of culture hitting them, but more critically, it’s a culture that hasn’t earned its own history in a sense. Instead, the small country has injected the newly introduced ways into a people who didn’t do the hard work to get there. It is, plainly put, a borrowed culture. As a result, the “understanding” that accompanies time in a developing culture is lost. How to manage growth, economy, technology and other byproducts of culture acclimation tend to hit back harder than sometimes expected. Crime, for example, is one way the borrowed culture shows tension. Metropolitan areas such as Jakarta, and other locations like Aceh and Central Sulawesi are often cautionary destinations for westerners due to very high crime rates.

In today’ marketing world there are plenty of ideas to be created, innovations to be discovered, choices to be considered … and by default, plenty to borrow. Google AdWords, social media, web development, reputation management, graphic design and powerful ad development are just a few sources of the over-abundance of marketing decisions that can be made. But when marketing ideas are simply “borrowed” too rapidly for a company to handle, there are inherent dangers, similar to the cultural ones Indonesians feel. The understanding that accompanies marketing paradigms and the expected outcomes become muddled and lost. The byproducts then, of what should be a reliable or perhaps high-performing marketing premise, are potentially destroyed.

You may not get mugged, but it could feel like it. The real danger is a business that doesn’t understand the why behind the marketing choices or decisions it makes – and instead feels they might as well choose a given path since others have done it and succeeded. But, without careful negotiation of the marketing world options, it’s somewhat like negotiating a minefield without a metal detector. The business may hit a landmine and not even realize it because they don’t feel the impact for a few years. And by then significant money, people and other resources have been exhausted, tracking an unfortunate path.

Going back to the example of my missionary acquaintance from Indonesia: the reason he is there is to help people better understand the flood of information coming their way – to help them not only acclimate and avoid potential dangers but illuminate the consequences and expectations of the culture they are taking on. When a small or large business turns to a consultant or marketing professional they too may better understand the environment and results of a marketing firehose.

Borrowed marketing can work just like a borrowed culture. Without someone to guide the business through the potential pitfalls, and help to understand how to make better decisions, the outcomes can be poor. So what does a business do to find help – after all, nearly every marketing resource promises riches and success. An easy way to cull a business partner for the marketing world is to consider and ask the following questions:

1. What marketing specialties do they provide?
• Are they simply a graphics company? Or are they a web design or website company?
• Or, do they focus on something more comprehensive like business development?
By understanding the emphasis of the company you can find out what they are interested in and able to help you with.

2. Do they want your money or do they want your relationship?
Every company wants your money. Determine if that’s where the interest stops by determining if the relationship is more important. A company that is interested in negotiating for a longer term is interested in long-term success rather than making a quick buck.

3. Do they have the experience they say they have?
Many business consultants promote themselves as wizards and gurus at the drop of a hat.
• What sort of references does the company come with?
• Do they work with companies like yours or just any company that will give them the time of day – or open up a wallet?

Ask the consulting company if they have real world examples on hand that show experience and that they aren’t imply borrowing their marketing from someone else too.

As you navigate a bountiful yet often cluttered marketing world, you can certainly “borrow” the marketing culture by mimicking or echoing other successful business. The pain point; however, may come when you find the decisions coming too fast and too hard, and you’re so busy running the business that you don’t know the why behind the marketing of the business. At times like that you may consider your own marketing missionary and make sure your borrowed culture can be a good one for you and your company goals.

Martin Perez
President and CEO, Merge Left Marketing

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