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The First Step to Exhibiting Internationally: It’s All About Culture

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The First Step to Exhibiting Internationally: It’s All About Culture

If your company is preparing to make the jump from exhibiting at local shows or within North America to exhibiting internationally, there are a number of factors to consider as you begin to plan.  Locally, your concerns may be more focused on creating an amazing trade show booth design and developing a strong message that converts show attendees into new customers. Internationally, however, you’re up against  additional challenges. If you are planning on doing custom trade show exhibits internationally, this is the first in a series of guides to help you and your team avoid some of the more common pitfalls.

Research the Culture of Your Destination

The first step is to research the country you are traveling to and the demographics of the expected attendees, especially if a show will draw from more than one country. Investigate specific cultural differences that could impact how your team interacts with show attendees, and help educate your staff as to the appropriate way to conduct business in that area of the world.

Regional differences can be striking and should be well understood. For example, all of Asia is not the same. Trade shows in Japan are different from those in Korea. In fact, for large countries such as China and India, regional differences within the country need to be researched. Respecting cultural difference on an interpersonal level as well as conducting business according to local customs is fundamental to successful international transactions.

Understand How to Work in a Relationship-Based Culture

In the United States, employees and customers are used to operating in a transactional culture, meaning a company offers a product for a certain price and the decision to buy is primarily based on the anticipated value of the offering. The potential customer does consider other factors as part of the process, including the company’s reputation and the product’s quality, but for the most part the transaction is firmly built around the financial and legal details. Relationships develop between the company and the customer as a result of the transaction as each party learns they can trust the other as credibility is demonstrated.

However, in relationship-based cultures, trust is based on the relationship between the company’s representative and the customer. If a rep does not take the time to establish a personal relationship with a customer, they will not find the company credible, regardless of product quality or price. It is important that the relationship be built on a firm foundation first before moving on to a sales pitch.

For example, any invitation to a meal or drinks should always be accepted, as this is often the first step extended towards building a personal relationship and serve as the foundation for a professional one. On the trade show floor, it is imperative to chat with customers and get to know each other before discussing the customer’s needs or your company’s product offerings.

Know the Culture’s Concept of Personal Space

Another very important cultural piece of information for anyone traveling internationally for exhibition purposes is the need to understand is how cultures view personal space. For some, a physical touch, such as a handshake or hug, is as a sign of friendship and trust, while for others, physical contact is not welcome.  This can vary by individual preference, but cultural cues can help to determine the best route to take when approaching people at-large.

Gender also plays a major factor in personal space considerations. In some cultures, two people of the same gender may stand quite close together when having a conversation, but if they were of opposite genders, they would need to leave much more space between them. Look into the norms for the country and region you’re visiting to avoid an embarrassing violation of privacy.

Research Taboos

There are a number of cultural taboos that companies should avoid to eliminate the risk of offending potential customers. Some of these taboos are quite traditional and easy to learn about for training purposes.

For example, you want to be careful not to promote alcohol or pork products in a predominantly Muslim culture, or avoid writing names in red in many Asian cultures. Other practices, however, may be more recent or have to do with the political climate. Understanding these taboos is vital in order to make a good first impression and build a lasting relationship.

As mentioned, understanding culture on many levels only touches one of the many factors to be addressed when exhibiting internationally. Future publications will cover topics such as venue rules and regulations, taxes that might be levied, how to choose where to exhibit internationally, and shipping considerations.

Work with a Professional

Exhibitus has experience in assisting companies with trade show exhibits around the world. If your company is in need of a new trade show booth design for a specific event in another country, we are here to help. Contact us today to discuss your needs, or learn more about what we can do for your trade show program..