Salami, Siu Mei and Social Marketing

Different SalamisBBC’s “From our own Correspondent” program featured impressions of a Chinese gourmet when sampling Italian cuisine in a recent episode (read about it here). The gist of the story was that, in the view of the Chinese “foodie” Italian cuisine was very repetitive and didn’t offer much variety – while his European counter actor, in the form of slow food aficionado Monica, was excited by the pure quality of the ingredients and the variety within one product group (e.g. hundreds of different salamis). A subtle point the program was making was that for the Chinese visitor the variety of many dishes was the most important aspect that defined a good meal, whereas for the European it was the simplicity and quality of the perfect ingredient.

How is this be related to (Social) Marketing? Well apart from the scary bit about high-fat, high salt content, what differentiated both viewpoints was the different  view about what made a good “product”. Far too often in marketing (and social marketing in particular), we tend to take the product for granted and don’t really worry which aspect – or aspects of the product signal to our customers that this is “the product” they actually want. For example, for years, the EU happily printed “Smoking may kill you” messages on cigarette packs – something that everyone knew, and that really very few people who smoked cared about (and probably even less teenagers who were about to start smoking). Only in recent years have the messages changed to something that is actually relevant to young smokers.
Similarly, when Tower Hamlets (an ethnically very diverse area of London) had a problem with too many Emergency Room visits, they found that many individuals there culturally associated “a doctor” with someone who is wearing a white coat. As family doctors were usually not dressed like that, people preferred to be seen by what they perceived was a “real doctor” in ER. Something that was quite baffling to local health care providers at the time.

The point I’m trying to make is that working  (and marketing) within a culturally diverse environment unexpected product attributes can suddenly become main drivers for behaviour. Often these drivers are actually based on assumptions that are rarely articulated, and therefore hard to identify. It’s therefore really important to get the ground work right before embarking on what could be a very costly marketing campaign and identify what is attractive to the target group.

Do you have any examples of this? Why not share them via the comment function?

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