For companies with an international presence – or expansion plans – conducting qualitative and quantitative research that can help them understand if perceptions of foreign audiences and stakeholders differ significantly from market to market is essential to sound and effective communications planning. If they know their audiences, they will be closer to achieve their global ventures’ goals.
Organizations often rely on communications to act as a magic wand that allows them to obtain immediate and unconditional endorsement by audiences in different places. To avoid disappointments, institutions need to consider that, at the international level, their interactions involve audiences with diverse interests, expectations, priorities and experiences. These disparities are responsible, for example, for the uneven levels of awareness, recognition, acceptance and preference received by organizations or brands in different markets.
Private or public sector institutions should not aim for full consistency in image and reputation in multiple territories.
Realistically, institutions can aspire to get as close as possible to a common general pattern in image and international reputation, including acceptable levels of variation between markets. To achieve this, the recommendation is to focus on:
- The identification and understanding of their audiences.
- Planning based on an informed and accurate situation analysis.
- Committing to act and communicate with transparency.
- Developing consistent messages and communication processes that include mechanisms for dialogue.
The Road to Success
If institutions understand that the perceptions of their foreign audiences differ significantly from market to market, the decision-making of international communications requires qualitative and quantitative research. This is essential for organizations to identify the peculiarities of the expectations and perceptions of different audiences. As the communications develop, research continuity will be needed to track how audiences receive, understand and evaluate the organizations, their mission, solutions, messages and brands.
Other ingredients to ponder: the image effect of the organizations’ country of origin; cultural habits; languages – and their many variations; the political, economic and social contexts of each market. These variables can result in different connotations to messages, affecting the understanding and effectiveness of communications.
In addition to counting on valuable research, every company or institution needs to be responsible and careful in defining what it is, what it wants to achieve, what priorities it has and how it behaves in its international operations. It’s imperative to maintain consistency in actions, messages and communications. Although it adapts to different environments, the organization’s core values and principles must always guide both its decisions and institutional practices, such as interactions with employees, customers, consumers, regulators and opinion leaders in every place of the world where it operates.
What is the role of communicators in this model? Committed to transparency and credibility, they should be involved as early as possible in the organizational planning process to help their institutions, in a strategic and informed way, define and share their behavior with the public opinion – and build lasting relationships. Thus, they will contribute to the magic of communication, which does not depend on a wand, but in achieving fruitful dialogues with the various stakeholders, based on coherent actions, to bring perceptions closer to expectations.