Overcoming Cultural Differences In Emerging Markets

In an increasingly global world, businesses must adapt their strategy to whichever market they are looking to enter. Emerging markets with large populations like China (1.4 B), India (1.3 B), and Brazil (210 M) are popular targets for foreign businesses to enter due to their large populations, growing economies, and increasingly business-friendly infrastructure. Long-term organizational success in new and foreign markets depends on understanding and embracing the world’s cultural differences.

The Brazilians have Jeitinho Brasileiro, Chinese have 关系 (Guānxì), and Indians have जुगाड़ (Jugaad); unique cultural aspects that permeate each country’s zeitgeist. Jeitinho Brasileiro, 关系, and जुगाड़ are examples of life perspectives that are critical to a country or culture’s collective, something that, consciously or subconsciously, affects every person in some manner within that group. Cultural differences can be found around the world and organizations that want to expand internationally must understand that these cultural aspects have overlaps with business practices. What can you do to understand these differences?

  • Partner with or hire a local of the country you want to expand into. What better way to learn a country’s unique cultural aspects than to have someone that understands what will and won’t work when entering a new market? As an example, Jeitinho Brasileiro translates to the “Brazilian way of doing things”. Many take this in the context of bending the rules in order to achieve what you want to do. In a business sense, it can mean knowing how to navigate the stated constraints, whether operational, financial, etc., and act in a creative way within those constraints to achieve what you want to accomplish. Having someone that can help you navigate Jeitinho Brasileiro could prove to be invaluable.
  • Travel to the country you want to set up operations in, interact with locals, and attempt to learn the language, nuances, and colloquialisms in an appropriate business manner. Language is the foundation for any relationship, personal or business, and many times meaning can be lost in translation. To really understand a country’s specific version of 关系, जुगाड़, or Jeitinho Brasileiro, having personal experience with the language and the people can be invaluable. As an example,关系 (Guānxì) describes a personal network and influences that a person has. When expanding into China, many take this to mean as building a professional network that you only use in a business setting, when in reality, it is based more on meaningful relationships. Grabbing a drink and understanding a person outside of the office is far more important than most superficial professional relationships in China. Once someone truly knows you, they are more likely to work with you.
  • If the other options are unattainable and you still want to expand into an emerging market, read and stay up to date on current geopolitical events. Understanding the history of a certain area is immensely helpful in understanding why people are the way they are. For example, the Indian word जुगाड़ (Jugaad) roughly translates to “finding a frugal solution to a problem in a smart way” or more colloquially, “life hack”. This word likely rose in popularity due to the constraints on finite natural and financial resources that a country of 1.3 billion faces and the need for practical solutions to a bevy of problems.

Expanding into new markets is an expensive investment that many organizations simply fail to do successfully. While many companies will try to apply their business model and organizational culture to different areas of the world, they often overlook one of the most important steps during planning: understanding culture. Understanding culture allows you to connect with your customer and establish successful and profitable relationships in an ever-changing global world.

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