By

Freek Janssen

Published on

January 12, 2016

Tags

advertising, agency, agency life, digital, digital marketing, Marketing, public relations


Globalization is a tricky trap. It’s hard to find a big city anywhere in the world where you can’t eat McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Most of the globe is connected via Facebook. We all use Google to look up information.

One could easily assume that we are all becoming more alike. In a way, we are. But just because we eat the same food and utilize the same online platforms, doesn’t mean that we share the same cultures or beliefs.

In fact, we don’t.

Here’s the trap: when it comes to online content, we often use a global, top-down approach. Blog posts, whitepapers, videos or reference stories are drafted by a global coordination hub and then shared with local teams to translate and publish.

Since most global campaigns are US-led this often means that blog posts are published in German, Chinese or Spanish, while the reader will readily notice that they are consuming American content.

Really, they do; the same actually goes for social media content, as I have discussed earlier.

How do cultures differ?

If we want to execute a truly global content marketing campaign, we need to look at and respect cultural differences. The first question to answer is how cultures differ in the first place.

That is a tough nut to crack. Many scholars have tried to answer that question. Probably the most popular framework was developed by Geert Hofstede. After research among IBM employees he identified four dimensions in which cultures differ. Let’s have a look at them and how they might affect content culture.

1. Power Distance, or the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.

In other words: in cultures with high power distance (including China, Singapore and France), people are expected to show a high level of respect towards their superiors. Low power distance cultures, like the Nordics, are more likely to accept informal contact between leaders and followers and tend to have a more equal income distribution. There is a general belief in the Netherlands (low on the Power Distance Index) that managers like to brag at a party that they are actually not the once in charge at the office, instead their team members are.

How would this affect content culture? We could assume that in countries that score low on power distance, everyone has the opportunity to become a self-proclaimed expert. It’s not just the leaders that share their vision via blogs, everyone is entitled to.

2. Individualism, or the degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.

The single question that defines the level of individualism is ‘how important are the needs of the individual versus that of the group (be it a family, company or village)? Geographically most Western-European and Commonwealth societies are individualists, while African, South-American and Asian countries tend to be collectivists.

How would this affect content culture? Since especially blogging is an individual type of online content, it can be expected that individual societies have a stronger tendency towards publishing and reading blogs. Also, the more individualists the society, the less the need for individual bloggers to exactly represent the thoughts of the organization. Also, individualist societies tend to communicate very directly, or ‘say what they mean’. In collectivist societies it’s more important to ‘read between the lines’ in order to get the actual point.

3. Uncertainty Avoidance, or a society’s tolerance for ambiguity.

Societies that score high on this index (Portugal, Belgium, Poland) tend to opt for strict rules and regulations, guidelines, and laws. They just don’t like uncertain outcomes. Singapore, the UK and India are much more tolerant for ambiguity.

How would this affect content culture? The most uncertain aspect of online content is opinionated content. After all, you never know how readers will react to your opinion. Do you feel comfortable with people disagreeing with your view of the world, or even posting negative comments, or do you accept that as a fact of life and the essence of effective content?

4. Masculinity versus Femininity, a preference for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.

What do you value most in life: a high salary and a big car or is it happiness and caring for loved ones? Masculine societies include Japan, Hungary and Italy, the most feminine cultures are the Nordics and the Netherlands.

How would this affect content culture? Besides the opinionated approach, we can also publish blog posts, whitepapers or videos to help our target audience with day-to-day issues, like how-to blog posts, instruction videos or tips-and-tricks infographics.

5. Long-term Versus Short-term Orientation, or the degree to which traditions and honors are kept.

This especially especially separates the East from the West. It is particularly interesting to analyze this dimension from a business perspective; long-term oriented societies like China and Hong Kong tend to display a strong work ethic where long-term rewards can be expected from today’s hard work. In short-term cultures like the UK and US change can occur more rapidly, as long-term traditions and commitments do impede change.

How would this affect content culture? It can be expected that societies with long-term orientation are more successful when it comes to content marketing, as it often requires a long-term dedication before results kick in. In other words: if you decide to start blogging today and quit after two weeks because it hasn’t generated any leads, you are likely to live in a short-term oriented society.

6. Indulgence Versus Restraint, the tendency to fulfil simple joys versus controlling gratification of needs.

Indulgent societies (mostly South-American, Anglo-Saxon and Nordics) believe themselves to be in control of their own life and emotions. Restrained societies (Russian and South-East Asia) believe other factors dictate their life and emotions. It is argued that indulgent cultures place more importance on freedom of speech, which is likely to have an impact on how willing employees are to voice opinions and give feedback.

Summarizing, national culture is expected to impact the following aspect of content marketing:

·      The degree to which people dare to express their opinion

·      The willingness to freely give away valuable information to help the target audience

·      The long-term commitment to content marketing versus a focus on short-term results

·      The degree to which content is mostly bylined to business leaders versus ‘everyone can be an expert’

·      The tone-of-voice: direct (say what you mean) versus indirect (read between the lines)

What would be interesting, is to develop a research framework to measure the scores of countries on these expected cultural content indicators. First let’s have a look at the current practice. We asked some specialists in various LEWIS regions to comment on how they think their society differs from others when it comes to online content.

Germany

Andres Wittermann, Executive Vice President EMEA: ‘Interestingly, there are not that many leading blogs around in Germany. When asking people from the media industry about leading bloggers there are basically always just two names being mentioned: Sascha Lobo (a guy with a pink irokese haircut, who often speaks about the internet on TV and has a column on Spiegel Online, Germany’s largest online news site) and Stefan Niggemeier, founder of BildBlog.

he reason for that may be that generally there are not and have not been many leading journalists or I should better say columnists in Germany – ever. Germany certainly has a much less opinion- or columnists based journalistic culture than let’s say the UK. It seems in Germany there still lis the idea that journalists have to focus on facts and less about their own individual views.’

Finally, Germany scores low on Indulgence. Societies with a low score in this dimension have a tendency to cynicism and pessimism. They have the perception that their actions are restrained by social norms and feel that indulging themselves is somewhat wrong. So, you have to give the impression that you work hard, are serious. Blogging might not give that impression.’

Dietmar Spehr, Creative Director: ‘When it comes to business blogs I think decision makers are often too focused on their core business and lack the vision to position themselves as opinion leaders. Another important aspect is that multinationals often are under tight supervision of the (US) headquarter and are not interested in any ‘experiments’ – however only half of the DAX listed companies have a blog…

Then there is the age factor: digital natives are not (yet) in positions to start bigger blogging initiatives.

There are of course big exceptions and some small and medium as well as a few large sized companies have amazing blogs. Another good one is the the Daimler Blog, critically acclaimed and generally mentioned as the best German corporate blog.’

UK

Rachel Rayner, Content Manager: ‘Long form blogging in the UK is widely used by both individuals and businesses. Many organisations include blogs in their arsenal of assets, but their roles will differ from company to company. Corporate blogs will often play a key role in providing content for corporate social media channels as well as helping to add SEO value.

Personal blogging in the UK can alter in tone depending on the topic, for example blogs on crafting or gaming tend to be more informal, while blogs on politics or technology are understandably more formal. In either approach, bloggers strive for a sense of professionalism or authority on their chosen topic. Many bloggers have quickly gone from being unknown, to being recognised as thought leaders. Popular bloggers have been able to monetise their sites through a variety of options such as display ads and advertorial content. Several bloggers have even launched successful careers in other sectors e.g. journalism, TV presenting. Blogger relationships are prominent in many industries; ‘Mummy Bloggers’ have a very tight knit community and have even won industry awards.

Freek Janssen

Published on January 12, 2016
By Freek Janssen

Globalization is a tricky trap. It’s hard to find a big city anywhere in the world where you can’t eat McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Most of the globe is connected via Facebook. We all use Google to look up information.

One could easily assume that we are all becoming more alike. In a way, we are. But just because we eat the same food and utilize the same online platforms, doesn’t mean that we share the same cultures or beliefs.

In fact, we don’t.

Here’s the trap: when it comes to online content, we often use a global, top-down approach. Blog posts, whitepapers, videos or reference stories are drafted by a global coordination hub and then shared with local teams to translate and publish.

Since most global campaigns are US-led this often means that blog posts are published in German, Chinese or Spanish, while the reader will readily notice that they are consuming American content.

Really, they do; the same actually goes for social media content, as I have discussed earlier.

How do cultures differ?

If we want to execute a truly global content marketing campaign, we need to look at and respect cultural differences. The first question to answer is how cultures differ in the first place.

Geert Hofstede
That is a tough nut to crack. Many scholars have tried to answer that question. Probably the most popular framework was developed by Geert Hofstede. After research among IBM employees he identified four dimensions in which cultures differ. Let’s have a look at them and how they might affect content culture.

1. Power Distance, or the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.

Power distance Hofstede

In other words: in cultures with high power distance (including China, Singapore and France), people are expected to show a high level of respect towards their superiors. Low power distance cultures, like the Nordics, are more likely to accept informal contact between leaders and followers and tend to have a more equal income distribution. There is a general belief in the Netherlands (low on the Power Distance Index) that managers like to brag at a party that they are actually not the once in charge at the office, instead their team members are.

How would this affect content culture? We could assume that in countries that score low on power distance, everyone has the opportunity to become a self-proclaimed expert. It’s not just the leaders that share their vision via blogs, everyone is entitled to.

2. Individualism, or the degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.

Individualism Hofstede
The single question that defines the level of individualism is ‘how important are the needs of the individual versus that of the group (be it a family, company or village)? Geographically most Western-European and Commonwealth societies are individualists, while African, South-American and Asian countries tend to be collectivists.

How would this affect content culture? Since especially blogging is an individual type of online content, it can be expected that individual societies have a stronger tendency towards publishing and reading blogs. Also, the more individualists the society, the less the need for individual bloggers to exactly represent the thoughts of the organization. Also, individualist societies tend to communicate very directly, or ‘say what they mean’. In collectivist societies it’s more important to ‘read between the lines’ in order to get the actual point.

3. Uncertainty Avoidance, or a society’s tolerance for ambiguity.

Uncertainty Avoidance Hofstede
Societies that score high on this index (Portugal, Belgium, Poland) tend to opt for strict rules and regulations, guidelines, and laws. They just don’t like uncertain outcomes. Singapore, the UK and India are much more tolerant for ambiguity.

How would this affect content culture? The most uncertain aspect of online content is opinionated content. After all, you never know how readers will react to your opinion. Do you feel comfortable with people disagreeing with your view of the world, or even posting negative comments, or do you accept that as a fact of life and the essence of effective content?

4. Masculinity versus Femininity, a preference for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.

Masculinity Femininity Hofstede
What do you value most in life: a high salary and a big car or is it happiness and caring for loved ones? Masculine societies include Japan, Hungary and Italy, the most feminine cultures are the Nordics and the Netherlands.

How would this affect content culture? Besides the opinionated approach, we can also publish blog posts, whitepapers or videos to help our target audience with day-to-day issues, like how-to blog posts, instruction videos or tips-and-tricks infographics.

5. Long-term Versus Short-term Orientation, or the degree to which traditions and honors are kept.

Long Short Term Orientation Hofstede

This especially especially separates the East from the West. It is particularly interesting to analyze this dimension from a business perspective; long-term oriented societies like China and Hong Kong tend to display a strong work ethic where long-term rewards can be expected from today’s hard work. In short-term cultures like the UK and US change can occur more rapidly, as long-term traditions and commitments do impede change.

How would this affect content culture? It can be expected that societies with long-term orientation are more successful when it comes to content marketing, as it often requires a long-term dedication before results kick in. In other words: if you decide to start blogging today and quit after two weeks because it hasn’t generated any leads, you are likely to live in a short-term oriented society.

6. Indulgence Versus Restraint, the tendency to fulfil simple joys versus controlling gratification of needs.

Indulgence Restraint Hofstede

Indulgent societies (mostly South-American, Anglo-Saxon and Nordics) believe themselves to be in control of their own life and emotions. Restrained societies (Russian and South-East Asia) believe other factors dictate their life and emotions. It is argued that indulgent cultures place more importance on freedom of speech, which is likely to have an impact on how willing employees are to voice opinions and give feedback.

Summarizing, national culture is expected to impact the following aspect of content marketing:

·      The degree to which people dare to express their opinion

·      The willingness to freely give away valuable information to help the target audience

·      The long-term commitment to content marketing versus a focus on short-term results

·      The degree to which content is mostly bylined to business leaders versus ‘everyone can be an expert’

·      The tone-of-voice: direct (say what you mean) versus indirect (read between the lines)

What would be interesting, is to develop a research framework to measure the scores of countries on these expected cultural content indicators. First let’s have a look at the current practice. We asked some specialists in various LEWIS regions to comment on how they think their society differs from others when it comes to online content.

Germany

Andres WittermannAndres Wittermann, Executive Vice President EMEA: ‘Interestingly, there are not that many leading blogs around in Germany. When asking people from the media industry about leading bloggers there are basically always just two names being mentioned: Sascha Lobo (a guy with a pink irokese haircut, who often speaks about the internet on TV and has a column on Spiegel Online, Germany’s largest online news site) and Stefan Niggemeier, founder of BildBlog.

Sascha LoboSascha Lobo

The reason for that may be that generally there are not and have not been many leading journalists or I should better say columnists in Germany – ever. Germany certainly has a much less opinion- or columnists based journalistic culture than let’s say the UK. It seems in Germany there still lis the idea that journalists have to focus on facts and less about their own individual views.’

Finally, Germany scores low on Indulgence. Societies with a low score in this dimension have a tendency to cynicism and pessimism. They have the perception that their actions are restrained by social norms and feel that indulging themselves is somewhat wrong. So, you have to give the impression that you work hard, are serious. Blogging might not give that impression.’

Dietmar SpehrDietmar Spehr, Creative Director: ‘When it comes to business blogs I think decision makers are often too focused on their core business and lack the vision to position themselves as opinion leaders. Another important aspect is that multinationals often are under tight supervision of the (US) headquarter and are not interested in any ‘experiments’ – however only half of the DAX listed companies have a blog…

Then there is the age factor: digital natives are not (yet) in positions to start bigger blogging initiatives.

There are of course big exceptions and some small and medium as well as a few large sized companies have amazing blogs. Another good one is the the Daimler Blog, critically acclaimed and generally mentioned as the best German corporate blog.’

UK

Rachel RaynerRachel Rayner, Content Manager: ‘Long form blogging in the UK is widely used by both individuals and businesses. Many organisations include blogs in their arsenal of assets, but their roles will differ from company to company. Corporate blogs will often play a key role in providing content for corporate social media channels as well as helping to add SEO value.

Personal blogging in the UK can alter in tone depending on the topic, for example blogs on crafting or gaming tend to be more informal, while blogs on politics or technology are understandably more formal. In either approach, bloggers strive for a sense of professionalism or authority on their chosen topic. Many bloggers have quickly gone from being unknown, to being recognised as thought leaders. Popular bloggers have been able to monetise their sites through a variety of options such as display ads and advertorial content. Several bloggers have even launched successful careers in other sectors e.g. journalism, TV presenting. Blogger relationships are prominent in many industries; ‘Mummy Bloggers’ have a very tight knit community and have even won industry awards.

Spain

Juan Feal, Digital Marketing Manager: ‘Spain was one of the European countries were the development of the blog community was early adopted. We saw a massive evolution during the second part of the zeroes (2005-2010). Now the blogosphere in Spain is more matured and professionalized, some surveys indicate that as much as 80 per cent of Spaniards read blogs.

With this in mind, the blogs that survived since those days, mainly in technology, fashion, travel and gastronomy, now have a long tradition with strong opinion content.

During last years, politics have also been getting a lot of attention moving from traditional blogs to video blogs on YouTube channels that are promoted via social networks (this is also very popular in the gaming industry). Similar to the rest of world, video content in Spain has evolved a lot during recent years, mainly for consumer topics such as gaming and fashion; vlogs are now one of the preferred platforms for younger users to get informed about new products, trends and entertainment.

Concluding blogging is going through a transformation because of the success of faster platforms that are easier to consume and have a greater potential to go viral (video, images). Hence, more users are trying to be become ‘influencers’ on social networks.’

Poland

Joanna Berger, Senior Account Manager: ‘Poland is an individualist society, which might explain why 2 million people (6%) write their own blog with culinary, lifestyle and fashion being the most popular categories. Poles consider blogging as the best tool to make an appearance in the internet, share personal opinions and self-present. Recently, there has been a tendency for blogs to become more and more professional resulting in the emergence of full-time bloggers who have won trust and built a strong community of followers. However, Poles who are a bit cynical and distrustful by nature, make difficult readers and are willing to quit following a blog should dishonest intentions of a given blogger be exposed.

In addition, for less popular politicians blogging is the only way to question established hierarchy and status quo. They usually use scandal as a last resort and publish controversial blog posts or videos to cause a stir and have their 5 minutes of fame. In the same fashion, blogs and YouTube have become a platform where politically incorrect journalists express their views and comment current affairs building their audience online rather than in traditional media.

Finally, last two years saw a rapid development of vlogging in Poland with SA Wardęga’s short horror film featuring his pet dog in a tarantula costume becoming the biggest ‘trending’ video on YouTube in 2014.

This, however, shouldn’t come as a surprise if we’re looking at a highly Masculine society that is driven by competition, achievement and success.

France

Lucie Robet, Head of Content: ‘As always, France is an exception, otherwise it would not be France. One of the specifics of the French market when it comes to content is that we tend to reject the inverted pyramid. In other words: readers expect a blogger not to share their conclusion right away in the introduction – this is something that we save for last. Also, it is important stick to one specific topic per post, keep your text short and to the point, not to listen to the sirens of auto-promotion and use a hook that is news-related, preferably French news-related.’

The Netherlands

We have a strong opinionated culture, which means that people generally like to voice their opinion in blog posts. Virtually anyone is allowed to work their way up from being an unknown blogger to a thought leader without readers questioning their authority – probably because we have a low power distance culture. Also, social media penetration is relatively high in the Netherlands, which adds some extra fuel to the aspiration of potential bloggers.

There are some verticals in which blogs are steadily out-performing traditional media. This is especially true in consulting industries like marketing and IT – there are several popular blog platforms that allow third-party contributions. It is often easier to secure a blog post than interviews nowadays.

Australia / New Zealand

Rachel Rayner, Content Manager: Australia and New Zealand share a similar heritage, and their blogs have similar traits. Blogs tend to be chatty and gently self-deprecating, to avoid ‘tall poppy syndrome‘ attacks.

Media giant Fairfax promotes ‘blogs’ rather than ‘columns’ online across Australia and New Zealand, often from everyday people rather than media voices. However, businesses are turning away from traditional blogs, choosing instead to focus on their social media presence.

The Kiwi Blogosphere was rocked prior to the 2014 general election with the release of Dirty Politics, a book revealing how the government uses popular bloggers to influence public opinion, and smear their opponents. While the book has been called ‘New Zealand’s Watergate,’ and caused a handful of resignations, it did not change the outcome of the election.

DIY and property are national obsessions in both Australia and New Zealand, and there are a great many blogs devoted to the subjects. Bloggers make up a strong community, and have meetups and collectives where they discuss their craft, form connections, and monetize their blogs.

That’s a lot to (dis)agree with…

If you live in a short-term oriented society, you may not even have made it to this paragraph.

For those who score low on uncertainty avoidance; you probably disagree with our findings. That’s perfectly fine, because that’s what I like being a Dutch blogger. It only helps to further develop this framework.

So, by all means, do disagree with me in the comments or help suggest next steps (members of feminine societies)!

Do get in touch