What Makes a World-Class Global Marketing Professional?

What Makes a World-Class Global Marketing Professional?
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September 28, 2016
Renato and Michael with Dr. Nitish Singh
What does it take to be a truly effective global marketer? Dr. Nitish Singh discusses the educational divide between digital marketing and localization--and what LSPs can do to bridge the gap. Is certification the solution or is real-world experience enough? Join us as we take a closer look at this important issue.
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Speaker Transcript
Michael I’m Michael Stevens.
Renato And I’m Renato Beninatto.
Michael And this is Globally Speaking and, today, we have an interview, we’re going to be talking about global digital marketing.
Renato And our guest is Nitish Singh but, let him introduce himself.
Nitish I am Professor Nitish Singh. I am a professor of international business. I also teach global digital marketing and localization at the Boeing Institute of International Business, St Louis University. Most of my research consulting and work has been primarily in the area of digital marketing and localization.
Renato So, Nitish, how did you end up in the localization and globalization area; what attracted you to this area of knowledge?
Nitish I stumbled into localization because as a PhD student I was doing research in localizing websites for different countries and my dissertation was to actually create an empirically validated, theoretically derived framework to help companies localize and culturally customize their websites for different countries. So, that’s how I got interested. Then, I got connected with various localization companies from some clients.
Michael So, this thesis is fascinating. You were selling was it a template that companies could use to cover 13 regions, 16 regions, what was it that was actually part of your research, there, what came out of that?
Nitish What came out of that was a framework based on certain cultural symbols, semiotics, parameters which a company has to address when they are localizing their content for different countries and that was a broad framework. So, it could be used, technically, for any country in the world. Most recently I actually got a grant from Qatar Foundation and we actually developed an automated Arabic localization tool which, basically, scans the whole website of any company in German, English, etc., and then tells you from the cultural perspective, language perspective, symbols perspective, values, as to what you need to do to actually localize the digital content for Arabic- speaking locales.
Renato So, what you are saying is that if there is a picture of a woman showing her elbow you would say “please replace”.
Nitish Yes, we look into very specific practices. I’ll give you an example. This is a little bit sideways for a different group which is the Hispanic Latino community. Let’s suppose you are actually a food company advertising your products, showing a dinner table. The way the family would sit in a specific Hispanic Latino culture will be quite different from other cultures. So, where the dad sits, where the mom sits, the grandmother, etc., so there are a lot of those nuances. When we talk about culture we talk about the tip of the iceberg which we see but that there is a whole lot underneath and that’s what my research emphasis has been, to actually uncover the iceberg which we don’t see that easily.
Renato Don’t keep that secret from us. What is the difference?
Michael Yes, what’s the difference in the seating arrangements?
Nitish The seating arrangements depends on… so, first of all, I’m not stereotyping, this is just generalizing. Whenever I talk about culture I talk in terms of a bell-shaped curve. We’re talking about the middle bulge of the bell-shaped curve. We were doing focus groups with various Hispanic Latino users; so they will be like Central Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, etc. And you get all these nuanced differences. I don’t recall which group it was but it was a part of the Hispanic group. There is the father which will be sitting at the top of the table and then mom’s little helper would be facing the kitchen side and mom would also sit on the kitchen side; and then there is the whole hierarchy also with regard to grandparents. So, grandparents also get a prominent position.

But, other things which were really interesting, which came out of the research was a lot of companies try to develop trust online; trust is a big issue online. But, other things which we came across which is really important for developing trust is grandparents. So, if companies showcase grandparents, especially grandma, in the advertising they are actually that trust-generating figure. That actually really connects. But, you know, you can’t just take these suggestions and just apply it mindlessly, it has to be properly laid out in a specific context and properly researched and implemented.
Michael Yes, you’re not selling the new roller blades with grandma on them, necessarily, where trust is a big issue on it.
Renato I was going to ask, you just wrote an article called The Making of a World Class Global Marketing Professional. You talk very often about global marketing being organized in silos. Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about this part of your studies.
Nitish This was just a kind of a thought-piece. And, based on my own experience and based on my past research. What I have seen is from the organizational perspective there has been a tendency to have these silos which are in almost every department, whether you are talking about accounting, marketing, etc. Also, what has happened is that the reason why there are these kinds of silos in organizations is because, traditionally, universities have trained people in those silos, right?

So, we have the accounting student who never gets any idea of what ecology is but when this accounting student gets into the job and with these 21st Century globalization demands and the skills which are needed, this accounting professional will be reporting on sustainability, environmental, social governance metrics to companies but this person doesn’t even know what ecology is, environment, etc.

So, the demands of globalization and the network economy are such that they are demanding organizations to break the silos and demanding educational institutions to train an individual in an interdisciplinary fashion because the skills, accounting skills are not to be siloed. Similarly, global marketing. Global marketing is such a unique and interdisciplinary skill. For an effective global marketer it’s not just that you take a few classes in global marketing. You have to have some background in languages; Renato, you probably will agree with that, the linguistics aspects; but, then, also an understanding of intercultural aspects of communication, cross-cultural aspects of communication, technology aspects of translation technology and localization technology.

So, it’s not something which just is part of a business school. There is a role here for the humanities, the arts and sciences, to bring in their inputs and help create a professional which can actually balance between technology, culture and the demands of globalization. That is a true global marketer.
Renato But, Nitish, is this something that you learn in school? Or is this something that you learn in the field as you develop? And let me tie in that question to this certification program that you have developed. In a world where the reality is changing all the time is marketing the type of profession that requires certification?
Nitish You know, that’s a really good question. And the answer is your first part of your question. The amount of training time which companies are spending on individuals has been shrinking, non-stop, from past years.

Another interesting thing which we’re seeing is that companies are actually complaining and telling us, the educational institutions, that “hey, you are not preparing a world class professional for us; the students you are sending don’t have the skills we need”. There is a skills gap. So, a traditional marketing degree they will talk about the ‘four Ps’ and all that ‘seven Ps’, maybe, basics of branding, etc. But, they’re not prepared in terms of specific social media content marketing, etc., skills, which are more being used by companies.

Tell me, Renato, how many companies are spending heavy amounts of money on television and newspaper advertising versus social media? It’s a rhetorical question, Renato!
Renato The budget has shifted completely in the last 10 years.
Nitish And that’s why you need people who know how to work around that budget and, effectively, create campaigns. But, the educational institutions are lacking. It takes a long time for courses to get approved. So, that is why there is a need and that need is coming from the companies. And we have had such a great response for our Certificate in Global Digital Marketing and Localization because it combines global digital marketing skills with localization skills and I have not come across any other program which gives these kinds of skills.
Michael What are some ways that the certification keeps up with the rapid rate of change?
Nitish It’s doing exactly what you are doing; it’s creating these excellent podcasts with industry professionals, with academics and other think tanks and bringing in these cutting edge ideas together and constantly scaling your content and your course materials to reflect the changing reality of globalization.
Michael Is there a more project-based curriculum that comes through on these certifications?
Nitish Yes, there are many certifications out there and there are different levels of skills. So, there are aspects which can be done without specific projects but, then, I feel having that experiential aspect is really crucial. I’ll tell you an example of that.

At our university, for example, I teach international e-business, global digital marketing. So, what I do, I leverage online course materials to actually have students do the lectures and stuff online. The class time is primarily reserved for actually gaining experiences and doing hands-on projects and presentations, etc.
Renato That’s very interesting that the university is adapting to the new learning environment because, traditionally, by the time you leave university all you’ve learned is obsolete; and what I’ve seen and I imagine your program is that way is that every semester you have a different curriculum. It’s just not the same content that you are rehashing for years, and years, and years, like it used to be.
Nitish You might be wrong in that!
Renato Wishful thinking?
Nitish Yeah, could be, but don’t… I mean, academics wouldn’t be happy if I said that is true but that is mildly true because a lot of times the content does get rehashed. As I mentioned, academia is a little slow in terms of adapting to change. Think about academia, jobs are so secure, the environment is so secure, but now there are pressures of that globalization and the millennials and the way they learn is actually putting pressures on professors to actually try to think about creating experiences and connect with them. I’ll give you another example of a class.

This is about a class I did on ethics of wrongdoing and financial fraud. I leveraged online content wherein they learn about fraud and fraud triangles, crime, etc. Class time, they actually went to probation hearings, they went to the court case hearings, then they went to the prison and talked to the offenders and their victims. Then, they went to half-way houses and understand. And that not only tells them, it’s not book learning, it’s like getting an experience and developing an empathy.

After that course, people were not seeing them as criminals, they were like “oh, they are offenders and everybody makes mistakes; maybe they made a mistake and maybe…” and seeing them as humans. So, that is a change in perspective which happens when you are giving these kinds of experiences to students.
Renato So, were you successful in training good people on how to do fraud well without being caught? I want to do that course.
Michael You want that course, okay!
Nitish The place we were successful is to actually have empathy for people who are offenders because that was a bad judgment on their part and everybody makes judgments, big or small.
Michael And understanding everyone who’s involved with something like that. I heard John Cena speak, the professional wrestler, he’s also on Good Morning America. He was talking about talking to the guy who cleans the rings at the events they have, talking to the cameraman, beginning to understand and have empathy for everything they’re trying to do well in their job so that he can do his better. And whether it’s fraud, whether it’s digital marketing, whatever it is, the more understanding we have of the whole process, the better we’re able to excel. And that’s a big task when we’re talking about global marketing.
Nitish Exactly. And global marketing is also about empathy. One thing which I see people lacking as a global marketing professional is how to step out of their self-reference criteria. And when people have this kind of self-reference criteria, what you have is big-time marketing blunders because they think “oh, I think it is right so everybody else thinks it’s right” so that’s called self-reference criteria, you are referencing the world based on your ego, based on your mind-set. But, by stepping outside your mind-set and putting yourself in the shoes of your customer actually allows you to see things differently and, probably, helps companies to avoid all these marketing blunders. You and Renato probably know hundreds of them, and so do I.
Renato We had a very interesting podcast with Canva and she shared with us a story about one of these learning opportunities through a minor blunder in Poland where there was an email that was sent and they learned from that process. And it’s exactly what you have described, this element of being able to be humble, to understand that you will make mistakes and you can learn from them.
Nitish Right, exactly.
Renato Is there anything that you were prepared to tell us that we didn’t ask you?
Nitish Yes. My advice to the localization industry; and that is do not compete for the same old pie. Bake a bigger pie. Don’t become a generic industry around translation, translation technologies and translation and translation. Think of the role more upstream and downstream from a client-need perspective; why is the client wanting translation? What is the need? What is the need behind translation?

Once we as an industry understand the need we’ll be able to effectively deliver solutions. And the solution is not just translation. The solution is to help your customers connect effectively and hit the sweet spot of their end users in different languages, different cultures, different regions, locales, etc. I have been always a little bit dismayed that our industry has been so much focused around translation.
Michael What is one example of this being done well that you can name when you think of it, who has been successful?
Nitish Here is an example—an agency which wants to help a client and its goal is not to see how much they can make by translating stuff, more and more of their translation; but, their goal should be to actually optimize their localization budgets. One of the tools I have which I have researched, etc., is called the global online user segmentation tool. By that tool companies can understand to what extent their end users would like to see the content localized in their language and culture. Because, a lot of times, it’s not necessary to go gung-ho about localization. Sometimes customers might not need, there are segments called the inter-market segments and they are very much the same in the US versus Israel, versus Turkey, versus Japan.

We need to understand the end user and then, accordingly, optimize the localization budget for the companies, for the clients. Then, if you have an accurate way or more accurate way to help companies understand, “okay, your end uses need this and this is how you can fulfil it” and, based on that if you can actually work around and create a solution for your client, I think that will work much better than just selling a translation word-count, etc.
Renato And we agree with you!
Michael We do. Think deeply about the business. We have a unique opportunity to connect with people globally and it’s not just about changing words.
Renato You are also co-organizer of Brand2Global, this new event that focuses on exactly the topics that you are sharing with us here today. What is the main value if one of our listeners is thinking about “oh, I need to find a cool event to go to.” Why would they go to Brand 2Global?
Nitish You see, the reason why we started Brand2Global is there is hardly any avenue for people, professionals, to actually share their experiences from the perspective of global branding, global digital media, global content management. There are many conferences, many avenues where content management and they will add global here and there; or there might be a conference on localization; or there might be a conference on social media marketing and they might add a little bit “put these search keywords” etc.

But, Brand2Global is a conference where you actually have a unique focus. All our presentations are vetted and presenters are vetted to actually present on topics which truly have a unique and intrinsic global theme.
Michael That’s great. Sounds like people could learn a lot from that.
Renato Thank you so much, Nitish; we had fun with this interview and I wish you all the success with Brand2Global and let’s keep in touch—and don’t forget recommending this to your students!
Nitish Absolutely. Thank you Michael and thank you Renato. I hope to see you at Brand2Global.

End of conversation

Dr. Nitish Singh

An associate professor at St. Louis University, Dr. Singh explains the educational divide between digital marketing and localization. He also discusses whether certification is necessary or real-world experience is enough to bridge the gap between global marketers and LSPs.


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