In the second part of our series on international marketing we consider the impact of religion and culture—taking a look at the challenges and opportunities they bring to global marketing.

When it comes to nationality it’s more than language that defines us.

Our national identity is shaped by the culture of our country: the values we hold dear, the festivities and traditions we celebrate, and often the dominant religions.

All these things influence our behaviour when it comes to products and services—how, what, and when we consume.

And whether we’re religious ourselves or not, it’s essential we respect the beliefs of others in order to communicate effectively and respectfully, bonding with our intended audience.

Respecting religious or cultural beliefs can mean a brand operating internationally can appear very differently in one country from another, changing its appearance to fit the local attitudes.

For example, Marks & Spencer in Oxford Street looks very different from the branch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia religious beliefs mean shop mannequins must be headless and some departments must only be staffed by females (Wall Street Journal, 2015).

Trading in a country that operates under Sharia law often impacts a brand’s entire marketing strategy—not just the look and feel of their outlets.

During the holy month of Ramadan, it’s often not acceptable to market food. This leads to many restaurants covering their windows and even resulted in McDonald’s Wrapped Ramadan campaign. Here, they promoted their burgers in an ad with the wrapper still on, never revealing the image of the food during fasting (Marketing Interactive, 2016).

But you don’t have to go as far as the Middle East to realise that countries have their own cultural sensitivities—there can be a difference in opinion between countries that are your neighbours.

For example, mobile operators Orange ran an amazingly successful campaign in England with ‘The Future’s Bright—the Future’s Orange’. However, Orange had to alter its slogan for a politically divided Northern Ireland where the colour is associated with the Protestant Orange Order (Deseret News, 2001). It’s a subtle but important difference which left unchanged could have caused major offence to the Catholic population of the country.

In a world divided by religion and culture, it’s often tempting to only see the restrictions, but there are also plenty of opportunities. It goes without saying that the mass consumerism of Christmas proves to be one of the largest marketing opportunities of the year.

Each year, Christmas acts as an economic stimulus for nations around the world resulting in retail sales increasing by nearly 20% (Statista, 2013).

Similarly, while Ramadan is a season where observers refrain from physical intake such as eating, drinking and smoking, it’s also a month linked with increased consumerism (Jakarta Post, 2010). Brands across the world increase marketing spend by up to 20% to take advantage of this. Many create Ramadan campaigns complete with symbolic crescent, lantern and teapot symbols to celebrate the festival (Istizada).

The same opportunities also exist for Chinese New Year where retailers can offer bespoke promotions and products to celebrate the festivities (The Independent, 2017).

So next time you think about your opportunities for international expansion remember to consider the religious and cultural norms that need to be respected. They’ll influence not only your consumers but also your marketing strategy, providing you with a new way of thinking in a new market.

In the final part of our series on international marketing, we take a look at the impact of infrastructure and differing international attitudes to marketing channels. We’ll advise on what you can do to offer the best service and what you need to modify in order to stay legal and competitive when it comes to international marketing.

Keen to plan how you’ll take advantage of those increased sales over Christmas? Download The Pure360 Guide to Christmas Email Strategy below!

Download the Pure360 Guide to Christmas Email Strategy