“So, how did you find it?” – A reminder of how culture defines communication

About eight months ago when I was job hunting, I interviewed with two lovely women at a public relations agency. I was explaining that I had previously interned at an agency when one of them asked me:

“So, how did you find it?” and I naturally began describing how I came across the internship.

“Oh no sorry, I meant how was your experience at the agency?”

“Oh…sorry,” I said.

After five seconds of exchanging sorries, I told her about what she had asked for in the first place – my experience. Although we both spoke the same language, I understood the question differently because sometimes a shared language doesn’t always equal a shared understanding.

While the example above explains a cultural difference based on geography, it could apply to a sector. Here’s an example: I set a Google search for the word ‘fibre’ and occasionally it brings me what I want – which is the stuff about broadband network infrastructure – but it also shows me stuff like “why does your body need fibre?”. While I hate seeing mixed results with every fibre of my being (;wink), this always reminds me that humans are much better at identifying culture than machines. So we should act better.

At the risk of sounding too casual, this is not new knowledge; it’s a simple reminder. I think as marcomm professionals, we have a tendency to overlook culture or context (or for those who want to be extra with it, cultural context). I’ll be the first to put the handcuffs on. The first time I wrote advertising copy, I lived by the rule that if it satisfied my creative cravings, it was good to go. Which was a funny concept because in most cases, I’m not my audience. I wrote for alcohol brands long before I knew what alcohol tastes like. So, you get the idea. Many of us are guilty of this as well; stuck in our creative shells. Now because this is continuous learning for me, I understand we need to be reminded of this from time to time or risk getting carried away.

I came across a post some months ago about why ad people should sit up and observe during train rides instead of reading books, staring at a screen or doing whatever else is fancy. Of course, I haven’t been doing this successfully but that’s not the point. I think this post applies to anyone in marcomm. It points us to the truth that culture is around us and it can sometimes be an open book waiting to be read. It invites us to “watch. And listen. And learn”. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.”

For those who speak multiple languages, we know that there are some words you just cannot translate precisely because they lose their original meaning and impact. We need to look at our audiences as multilingual. A good way to speak to them is to use the language they understand and a better way would be to use the language that makes most sense, given the context. Much more could be said on the matter, but I’ll leave you with “A British Original”, a culture-perfect case study from British Airways below.


So…how did you find it?

Written by Eyimofe Okuwoga

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