Business journalist, international TV anchor, and event moderator Martina Fuchs spoke to CNC students about the importance of being well-versed in a world of cross-cultural communication. As we inch towards an increasingly globalised world – Martina emphasised how respecting different cultural artefacts while consuming them is becoming more and more crucial…
CNC’s MA Fashion Communication student Reilly Liotta reports..
What is Cross-Cultural Communication?
Martina defines “cross-cultural communication” as the attempt to exchange, negotiate and mediate cultural differences through language, gestures, and body language.
Martina has lived in an array of different countries – from Egypt to Switzerland and the UAE to China – and has acquired fashion pieces from around the world. While showing a beautiful pair of Pakistani earrings, she explains the importance of cultural awareness and cross-cultural etiquette, both fundamental when exploring new cultures. Understanding these theories is pivotal for brands that are looking to expand internationally.
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Drawing a parallel between the fashion industry and Martina’s vast experience in journalism, exploring new cultures is a common theme. Martina, who speaks nine languages including Chinese, Spanish, German, French, Arabic, English, Portuguese, Italian and Swahili, learned these languages and utilised her impressive skills to understand local cultures and people.
However, when understanding different cultures Martina knew that verbal languages aren’t the only pathway for communication. For example, the Middle East is a “high context culture” where the emphasis is placed on non-verbal communication to exchange information. She said in this instance the situation, people and non-verbal elements are more important than actual words.
When travelling, being culturally aware is increasingly important. Martina advises a few questions to ask yourself when venturing into a different country:
– What do I wear, and how should I act?
– How to reflect cultural diversification in your designs, fashion, and media coverage?
– How to better represent diversity in the fashion industry?
Martina gives excellent advice on raising awareness of diversity in the fashion industry. The questions to ask yourself include: How many “diverse” people are behind the scenes? Is there a makeup artist that has experience with darker skin tones or a hairstylist that can work with afro hair? And does the photographer understand the lightning needed to properly capture a different skin tone?
These questions could help brands avoid the concept of ‘faux-pas’, which is an embarrassing or tasteless comment in a social situation. There are numerous examples of this in the fashion industry as companies attempt to pay homage or show appreciation for culture, but do it incorrectly.
These examples are deemed as cultural appropriation as products are disassociated from their source community and as a result disrespect a community’s cultural identity. An interesting factor to consider when ‘celebrating’ a foreign culture is the monetary gain of these items, as it may be portrayed as a transparent way to profit. Martina accentuates the fine line between celebrating a minority’s culture and appropriating it.
Understanding China and the “Guochao” Phenomenon
Martina lived in China for five years and currently works as a Business Correspondent for the Chinese state agency, Xinhua, as a commentator for China Radio International (CRI); as an International Consultant for the Lang Lang International Music Foundation and the St. Gallen Symposium. Understanding China and its communication channels are her forte.
The “Guochao” translates to “national tide” as this phenomenon defines a rise in national pride and growth in Chinese brands. We see Chinese brands overtaking international brands in market share – shifting China’s industries from manufacturer to consumer. So when an international brand is looking to break into the Chinese market, they should consider the following three shopping trends in China: one China’s GenZ are optimistic, impulsive, and tend to outspend their budget. Two, a desire for ‘unique’ products and services and three China’s GenZ are relatively more loyal to brands.
Martina shines a light on social media marketing strategies that are adapted by Chinese brands – and how they vary from those strategies we see in the West.
China has completely different social media platforms. Rather than TikTok and Instagram, the Chinese social media platforms are Douyin and Weibo. To expand in China, brands must consider adapting their message to a country’s language and culture. These strategies are called localisation strategies.
“Luxury brands need to find a localised voice and content to fit the format of these platforms while retaining their international brand image at the same time.”
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Examples of localisation strategies in the Chinese market include; live streaming, drone advertising, shopping festivals and co-branded campaigns.
These strategies give us insight into how China’s consumers operate and the best way to reach them. For example, getting a product in a Chinese shopping festival is an excellent way for a brand to gain exposure and allows the brand to see what other products exist and compete against. In 2021, one shopping festival generated a value of $140 billion for online transactions, further emphasising the opportunities of breaking barriers in China’s market.
Yet, the Middle East remains the intersection between the Asian, African, and European continents. China’s flourishing consumer market will have a large impact on the competition between these regions, shifting the world’s geopolitical balance and specifically impacting the broader Middle East. In addition, we recognise the large influence the Chinese government has on China’s society.
Similarly, people of the Middle East and North Africa face immediate pressure between the people of their region and their governments. The Middle East is a “rich ethnic mosaic” of different cultures and people with many different belief systems and traditions. It is important to be aware of the cultural, political, and religious factors; as these external factors act as sensitivities and considerations when moving into different markets.
Overall, there are many things to consider when thinking about China’s consumer industry. With the difference in social media platforms and strategies, it is critical to understand a culture when breaking barriers and embracing cross-cultural communication.
– Understanding a foreign country’s customs in dress and etiquette is crucial when exploring different communication channels
– In the fashion industry, there is a fine line between appropriating a minority’s culture and celebrating it
– China’s industry is growing fast, so being aware of its commonly used strategies will help brands expand in the east