Culture Community Ideology Society Principle Concept

I have noticed that quite a bit of energy is expended on creating personas. And it makes sense. If we create a model of our content consumer, we are more likely to provide information that is relative to that person. Personalization is a good thing.

Unfortunately, as I’ve written about previously, personas are not universal. For example, the “typical” 30 year old who lives in Venice Beach, California, spends his free time surfing, works at a local Best Buy, and earns $50,000/year is likely not going to be the same as the “typical” 30 year old who lives in Japan or Egypt or Columbia. If you want to include global markets in your customer base, then you need to do one of three things:

  • Create a persona for each target consumer in each culture in each marketplace
  • Neutralize personas so that they can be applied more universally
  • Use a different paradigm that is less individually targeted and more culturally targeted

Create Lots of Personas

If you have the time and resources to create a persona for each target customer in each culture, that’s terrific. You can even stop reading now, because you don’t have a problem. Most companies, however, have limited time, people, budget to create 6 personas for 8 target markets (that’s 48 personas), keep them up to date, and add more as new markets are added. Individual persona building is just not scalable.

Neutralize Personas

Another choice is to neutralize personas so that they can be used more globally. Of course, neutralizing personas removes the relationship-building aspect of them. You might as well not bother to create them to begin with. However, neutralization is better than the possibility of offending customers in cultures where the persona is not a fit.

Use a Different Framework

A third choice is to use a paradigm that is not as narrow as an individual persona. One paradigm is the Hofstede’s Dimensions of National Culture. Created by Geert Hofstede in the 1980’s, the cultural dimensions show how culture and values of a particular society affect behavior. Hofstede’s research scores a large number of countries on each of the dimensions.

The cultural dimensions include:

  • Power Distance
  • Uncertainty Avoidance
  • Individualism vs. Collectivism
  • Masculinity vs. Femininity
  • Long Term Orientation
  • Indulgence

Each dimension has a scale from “high” to “low” and each included country is scored on the scale. By using the findings, we can write our content to be more appealing to a particular culture.

For example, a culture that has a high rating for uncertainty avoidance likes things to be predictable and has a low-tolerance for ambiguity. Japan is a country that has a high uncertainty avoidance rating.

Here is an example of a webpage from Japan Airlines:

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 10.03.11 AM

This page provides a great deal of information on what to expect if you are a passenger with a variety of disabilities. It is very clear, welcoming and easy to use. It puts the traveler at ease.

By contrast, here is similar information from United Airlines:

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 10.08.27 AM

While it contains a lot of information, it doesn’t exactly make me feel at ease about it. It is not simple or welcoming. If I am from a culture with a high uncertainty avoidance rating, I might be running for the Xanax right about now.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: If you cannot create personas for each target person in each target culture, use a different paradigm. Do not use your U.S.-based persona for people outside of the U.S. You will fail. Instead, try using a framework, like Hofstede’s Dimensions, to create content that is more suited to each culture. While not as individual, it is more scalable and will keep you out of trouble.

In future posts, I will describe each of the dimensions and provide content examples to show you how to apply them.

If you are attending Content Marketing World, come to my presentation on this topic. Wednesday, September 9, 2015 a5 2:30PM. Hope to see you there!

Val Swisher
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