Cultural considerations in marketing

Paul Boag

If you are looking to promote your web site through email or other online campaigns you will find no shortage of advice on how best to go about it. However one word of warning, if your target audience isn’t American it might be worth taking the advice with a pinch of salt!

Generally I try and discourage my clients from doing unsolicited email campaigns however occasionally it is appropriate when they want to reach a very specific target market for the first time.

When I do run email campaigns for clients I tend to prepare several different approaches and test them out on a small sample of the entire email list. This helps me to gauge which email will get the highest response rate and therefore use that on the rest of the list.

Now as I don’t specialise (or even entirely approve) of unsolicited email campaigns I felt I should do a bit of reading on the subject before I sent out a campaign for a client who was aiming at a niche U.K. audience. Unsurprisingly I found huge amounts of advice on the subject. Most of the articles I read seemed to agree on a very specific approach to email campaigns involving "benefit selling, " calls to action" and numerous other catch phrases.

Uncomfortable with the hard sell

I have to say I felt somewhat uncomfortable with the whole thing. It all felt very heavy handed to me as if I was forcing my clients product down the reader’s throat. However who was I to argue with the experts and so I dutifully followed all the guidelines the various articles laid out. Nevertheless I couldn’t shake my apprehension so decided that I would write just one of the sample emails in a style I felt comfortable with. The results were extraordinary! The formula based emails failed dismally while the email I wrote myself received a very impressive click through rate. So was this due to some natural genius on my part? Unfortunately not.

A difference of culture

I concluded that the problem with the formula based emails was that they were based on advice taken from an American model of selling. I am convinced that my British audience found the emails I sent too "in your face" for their tastes. Instead of being inspired to respond they found the emails intrusive and heavy handed.

In contrast the email I wrote from scratch took a much more gentle approach. I apologised for writing an unsolicited email, introduced myself and explained why I felt they might be interested in the web site I was promoting for my client. The tone was almost apologetic and yet still communicated the key messages. However most importantly it was personal. I gave the impression that the email was sent directly from me and specifically to that individual. It didn’t appear to be a mass email and in fact I had several people write back thanking me for taking the time to tell them about the site!


Because of the nature of the internet it is easy to forget that it is made up of many cultures. It is so important to be sensitive to these cultures and ensure that your communications, whether they are on your web site, via email, or through direct advertising, take into account the target audience you are trying to reach.