With Chinese New Year just around the corner, there’s something that many of us are looking forward to. Well, Ang Bao is one, but we will be talking about the Reunion Dinner.

The Reunion Dinner is the heart of the Chinese New Year celebration as this is supposed to be the one event in the year that all the family members gather around and reconnect. This fact is so pronounced, that companies always launch ad campaigns that tug at your heartstrings around this time of the year.

Be Aware of Your Audience

Starhub Singapore is currently running a TV ad where a young couple is showing their new home to their parents, accompanied by sombre music. You can see the pain and sense of betrayal on the mother’s expression, while the son is clearly trying to impress them. He reminiscences about the fish that he bought from the local market but it just made the mother even sadder.

As the parents were leaving, the son gave a red packet and he says it’s just a traditional gesture. But later when the mother opens it, she found a surprise inside this envelope. It’s the key to the house. And then there’s a note saying “Do come anytime you want” because “Family is the greatest prosperity”.

Excuse me, I think there’s something in my eye…

Such sensitivity to cultural events is a common practice for corporations, especially for those who deal with the general public; for example retailers, telcos, e-commerce and consumer finance. They need to go local and be relevant to their customer’s daily life. It is always a good business sense to understand what’s important to your customers. By being relevant, you’ll have a better chance of retaining customers, building a relationship and maybe convert them to your brand advocates.

It’s a Whole New World

It is also crucial to understand the culture of your business partners and stakeholders. I came from a corporate culture where the workflow is well defined. The company is well established and there are clearly defined roles and procedures for each personnel.

This is not the case for some of our partners. For a young company, resource is scarce and you are bootstrapping pretty much everything. You must be ready to handle pretty much anything. What you lack in resource, must be met by enthusiasm, energy and flexibility.

I have also learned about the differences in industries when it comes to entertainment. In my previous company, it was generally accepted that dinner with clients would usually involve a considerable amount of alcohol consumption. There are as many explanations to why people do this as there are types of liquor. It can be about showing respect and appreciation of the partner, a show of power, or establishing a relationship. But the bottom line is that you want to get to know them better – and vice versa.

In one of my meetings recently, I was pleasantly surprised that at least for one company, the culture is different. Due to the health-conscious culture of this company, they prefer not to consume alcohol during the dinner. Instead, our host invited me to join him for his morning swimming routine the next day, to which I duly obliged.

Assume Nothing

Sometimes, problems with cultural differences can be easily lead to a misunderstanding. Many times, I find that the assumptions I made may not be immediately apparent to the other party. What I perceive as common sense, may not be so common for others. In order to deliver the product that the customer wants, you really need to experience the different culture, in order to sense all these unspoken words. You need to be aware of this difference and always seek to clarify and eliminate your assumptions.

On one of my trips, I was travelling with people who are vegetarians. The problem is, vegetarian diets are not common at all where we were visiting. Finding a vegetarian restaurant was quite challenging and eventually, we settled on a place that seems to serve plenty of vegetables. However, we found that even with a native speaker, it is really difficult to explain that we want a vegetarian dish. All the vegetable dish would have bits of meat or cooked with lard or meat stock. The vegetable soup was also cooked in a bone broth. Disappointed, we left the restaurant and eventually had instant noodles for dinner.

The problem here is that the restaurant failed to understand the guests. They understand the word vegetables, but not the concept of vegetarian. For them, the soup is a vegetable soup, although it was cooked with pork bone broth.

Lotus Root Soup

Vegetables, but not vegetarian

Conclusion

Getting to know the customer has always been a goal for every business. But to resonate with them and deliver a great product, you must go beyond the superficial things like holidays and cultural events. You need to get deep into their culture and background in order to sense the unspoken words and verify all your assumptions.

Cultural sensitivity is also important when dealing with business partners and stakeholders. Understanding their habit, constraint, and capabilities will allow you to communicate better, especially when things are moving at 100 km/h.

To be aware of all these factors, you must always keep an open mind, get exposed to new experiences, ask questions and challenge your assumptions. This is what we believe in and this is how we do things in Momentum Works.

Thanks for reading The Low Down, insight and inside knowledge from the team at Momentum Works. If you’d like to get in touch with us about any issues discussed in our blog, please drop us an email at hello@mworks.asia and let us know how we can help.

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