ULG's Language Services Blog

How Cultural Intelligence Drives Relevant, Engaged Experiences

Creating culturally relevant experiences is essential for businesses that are trying to engage with multicultural audiences. In a recent blog post, we described how cultural irrelevance can hurt your business in a number of ways. If sales, customer engagement and customer loyalty are dropping and complaints are rising among your target audience, your business might need to take a hard look at whether or not the experiences you’re providing customers in that market are relevant to them.  

But what does it really mean to create and provide culturally relevant experiences? And what does it look like when a business gets it right, turning cultural relevance into a competitive advantage 

Culturally relevant experiences are touchpoints that are appropriate for and specific to one culture. To engage effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds your business needs cultural intelligence (CI), knowledge of the Cultural Drivers of Engagement (CDE) and the ability to understand the influence of culture on behavior.   

To demonstrate how cultural intelligence drives relevance, here are five curated examples of adapted content and experiences to inspire your own efforts.  

Create culturally adapted blog posts like HubSpot 

You may have perfected your blog post in English, but for it to have the same resonance across cultures, you’ll have to do more than just directly translate it. You also need to customize the content, use culturally appropriate images, slang, idioms and references.  

To see this in action, here’s an example from HubSpot: a post on Instagram marketing that appears on both their English-language blog and their German-language blog. Although the topic is the same, the title is different, the imagery is different, and the Instagram marketing apps recommended in the post are different. This aligns the post with the preferred terms, images and available apps in the German market.  

Customize your brand messaging like Apple 

If you don’t want your brand to get lost in translation, you probably need to adapt your brand messaging to create a similar connection with the people in the culture you’re addressing. This can include:  

  • Adjusting imagery used in marketing and advertising to make it more culturally appropriate  
  • Adapting slogans so that they resonate with the target culture just as they do the original  
  • Transcreation, which goes beyond translation by adapting the message, emotion and meaning behind the words to appeal to a specific culture 

As Nataly Kelly describes in her book Found in Translation, when Apple began marketing the iPod Shuffle, they used the English slogan “Small Talk.” Direct translation was not appropriate for this short, idiomatic English phrase. So, they had to get creative to carry the meaning across into other languages.  

Here’s how that looked in four different target markets:  

  • Latin American Spanish: “Mira quién habla,” or “Look who’s talking.”  
  • European Spanish: “Ya sabe hablar,” or “already knows how to talk.” 
  • French: “Donnez-liu de la voix,” or “Let him speak.” 
  • Canadian French (Québécois): “Petit parleur, grand faiseur,” or “Says little, does much.” 

While not a direct translation of the English slogan, these inspire the same emotions that the original did.  

Offer culturally relevant interpretation options like the City of Philadelphia 

The way you design interpretation experiences is important. In sensitive situations, it’s important to have interpreters who can make the speakers feel comfortable by connecting on a cultural level. For example, when Philadelphia welcomed refugees from Afghanistan in 2021, they needed interpreters with the emotional IQ, soft skills and cultural connections to help frightened people through the medical screening process. Our team engaged specialists from as far away as Virginia to meet those needs.  

Localize your website like Nike  

When it comes to localizing websites or software, details matter. Nike has dozens of versions of their website, localized in different languages and designed to appeal to different cultures. For example, they don’t just have a website in Latin American Spanish; they also have websites for Uruguay, Peru, Mexico, Chile and Argentina because each of these countries has its own dialect of Spanish, plus different preferences and buying behaviors.  

Almost all of these websites feature unique content in local languages or even dialects. They emphasize relevant upcoming holidays or popular sports, often with customized color schemes to appeal to local preferences. The Indian site, for example, features subtle saffron and green details to mimic the Indian flag.  

Nike understands what matters to customers in these different regions and uses that knowledge to tailor its website to them. No matter where you’re from or what language you speak, there’s a good chance you’ll find a culturally relevant experience on the Nike website.  

Design culturally relevant call center experiences like Booking.com  

A culturally relevant call center experience means that callers receive in-language support from representatives who connect with them both linguistically and culturally. Booking.com's customer service representatives are bilingual, offering in-language support for reservation inquiries. The company also considers cultural aspects in their staffing, such as: 

  • High call volume from emerging markets like Brazil and China  
  • South Americans' preference for longer phone conversations 
  • Customers' preference for representatives with familiar accents  

These considerations have contributed to Booking.com becoming the world's largest online accommodations platform with the highest conversion rates in the industry. 

Next, crafting culturally appropriate scripts for your call center employees to use can improve engagement and satisfaction. To assist a health insurer that wanted to improve Health Risk Assessment (HRA) completion rates in diverse populations, our team adapted this content in English and other applicable languages.  

The process involved A/B testing of messaging and scripting in each language to improve engagement with live agents, voicemail and IVR. The effort was a huge success, resulting in a 23% increase in HRA completion rates over the course of a single month.  

Moving Towards Cultural Relevance 

A culturally relevant experience means that consumers feel comfortable with your business. They feel understood, respected, and that helps them feel connected to your brand. To get there, it helps to understand the Cultural Drivers of Engagement (CDE). These are the factors within a culture that affect how a customer engages with a company, such as their demographics, their belief system, and the way they research, shop and purchase. 

By understanding and applying the CDE framework, organizations can gain a deeper understanding of their customers and move toward relevance.  

Our team has created a guide to help you understand the cultural drivers of engagement and use them to create your own culturally relevant experiences. Download it for free here. For additional assistance, we’re here to help. Book a free consultation today!