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Cultural Competency: Tips and Tricks on Communicating a Shared Message to a Multi-Cultured Audience

‘When in Rome, live as the Romans do; when elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere.’

The idea of conformity might be appealing to some, but it’s not that simple in the diverse, multicultural environment.

Part of the wonders of effective communication is maintaining a diverse audience. Even so, it’s essential to understand and confront our own biases, experiences, and values that shape the lens through which we view our reality. With the aid of cultural competency, you will be able to communicate to your multi-cultured audience with ease.

Cultural Competency: Tips and Tricks on Communicating a Shared Message to a Multi-Cultured Audience

What is Cultural Competency, and Why is it Important?

According to the American Psychological Association, cultural competency allows us to understand and respect values, attitudes, beliefs, and most importantly, to interact with people from cultures or belief systems that differ from our own—and is perhaps the most helpful tool in business and marketing that you can have at your disposal. Having been a key aspect of psychological thinking and in practice for some 50 years, it’s even become listed as one of psychology’s core competencies. In most aspects of life, but especially with marketing and politics, cultural competence in communication could be comparable to the “hitch” that holds you and your target audience together.

Most importantly, when you have an audience of several different cultural backgrounds, handling your cultural competency can differentiate between a well-communicated message and a poorly-communicated one. To have a good sense of multicultural competence, it’s important to have the following competencies:

  • Basic knowledge of your own culture, worldview, and values.
  • A willingness to learn about the cultural practices, worldviews, and values of others.
  • A positive attitude toward cultural differences and a readiness to accept and respect said differences.

In a globalized, increasingly diverse world, with diverse people—refugees, migrants, immigrants, citizens, and so on—anyone can be your audience, and you can gain valuable insight in interacting with a worldly audience. But, how do you communicate with everyone across the board in a leveled, realistic way?

1. Focus on Structure

When it comes to structuring—through presentations, social media, videos, blog posts, or whichever medium you choose—we recommend that you ensure that the message of your medium is understandable and easy to digest. Make it easy for your audience to understand and follow along. Logically structured messages also make it easier for you to relay your message.

When communicating your message, start with the most crucial aspect of it first. Background and detail aren’t as necessary as you would think. Rather than building up to it, order your thoughts by decreasing importance. Readers will have an easier time parsing your message, and you won’t have to waste time to deliver the point. Use bullet points to your advantage whenever there are three or more points you want to make. Use bold print sparingly: it draws your readers’ attention, but too much of it renders the attention moot. Be sure that the bold text is self-contained so that your readers can find it easily.

A consistent, coherent, and light format—consistent fonts, font sizes, spacing, and numbering—keeps the message’s readers’ attention. If you consider capitalizing words or sentences to get your reader’s attention, don’t. Writing in all uppercase hurts more than it helps as it is obnoxious, and your message will be remembered for the wrong reason.

2. Leave the Idioms Out

In marketing, humor and idioms can help get your message across, primarily effective if you and your audience share the same culture, humor, and language. However, if your audience shares varying cultures, leaving the humor out of the picture is most advisable. What is funny in one culture may prove to be confusing, or even offensive, in another, and you don’t want to risk a misfire. 

Avoid jargon and fancy words to help save the reader time and effort. Otherwise, you risk making your audience stop and think about what’s being said to them, breaking the piece’s flow. Writing shorter sentences is an excellent way to ensure that communication between your brand and your audience is easily digestible. Best of all, you won’t have to worry about them possibly missing the point. Because your audience is multicultural—quite broad, generally speaking—the message has a chance of being lost in translation with long, complex sentences. As such, writing at a 10th-grade level is recommended. This isn’t meant to disparage or insult the readers of your text, but instead, this is to help ensure that the message is received with little margin of error.

3. Research, Research, Research

An essential step in this article, research, allows you to do many things: from defining and understanding your audience and their issues to letting you know how best to get the message across. To connect to your audience, you need to understand why your topic is important to them, and in turn, why their attention is vital to you. Why should they care? Why does your topic matter to them? What motivates your audience as a whole?

However, when it comes to research in the vein of cultural competency, you should give as much attention to your audience’s culture as possible, too. These include linguistic preferences, cognition, ethnocentricity, values, and communication styles. Researching the cross-cultural differences of your target audiences is essential, and, whatever you do, don’t put them into one marketing box. Cultural norms and values influence how people think, act, and feel, and the people who identify with them often share both. Once you gain an understanding, implement these cultural standards and values into your messages. Similar to nonverbal signs and their meanings, we need to know and recognize different cultural tendencies. As an example, some cultures use “she” as their primary preferred pronoun. It could be the opposite in other cultures.

Knowing such intricacies could help you have an advantage over other business marketing firms with a multicultural audience. More importantly, though, research can help keep your multicultural audience and minimize linguistic and cultural fumbles.

4. Ask Questions and Rephrase Comments

While this part is a bit on the shorter side, it is nonetheless important. Checking in with audiences is a good habit to form. Better yet, asking questions and rephrasing comments is particularly useful with a diverse audience, as it could give you a chance to go over your message to anyone who might have missed it. Rephrasing a question also allows your audience to get clarification, and it can also help you gain clarification from your audience.

5. Craft Sensitive, Culturally-Relevant Messages

To ensure that your multicultural audience stays as your audience, you have to respect the people who comprise it. Crafting a campaign that respects and reflects their values and beliefs can be the most effective way to earn your audience’s trust. As such, basing your campaign on stereotypes and assumptions is the quickest way to lose said audience. Furthermore, it can damage your organization’s reputation, credibility, and you can lose your audience’s trust in one fell swoop.

Therefore, there are several things you must consider when crafting your content. If there is a demographic shift in your audience, research it and quickly identify their needs. Rather than merely announcing that you “want” to reach your audience, find out who they are through research, as said in an earlier point. If you want to create dedicated communities, you must develop content specific to those targeting groups. A good example of this is creating an online community that allows an organization to understand consumers’ experiences and hear their stories in their own words and culture. This way, they can trust that your organization reflects their values.

5. Be Prepared for Feedback

An often overlooked aspect of communicating with multicultural communities, preparing for your audience’s feedback helps you just as much as it helps them. Audience feedback allows you to avoid costly mistakes, helping generate goodwill in combination with the earlier points in this article. Whether on social media or paper, through surveys, polls, or focus groups, knowing what your audience is saying about your company is crucial for your results. Are they happy with your interaction? Do you engage with them?

Listen to your audience’s mentions. Host focus groups. Hire native speakers of your target market. You can even partner with a reputable translation service with native linguists. Precise expertise, who are best-equipped, can help you in any of the following. They can impart valuable advice for your product or service. They can also help you implement a cultural sensitivity strategy within your broader marketing objectives.

Multiculturalism, however broad it is, is one of the world’s greatest assets and accomplishments. It can fuel innovation and growth. It can foster friendships, business relationships, and more when people are exposed to different cultures. Here at PivotPath, we think this is incredibly valuable for this ever-changing world.

Do you have a multicultural audience, but you just don’t know how to address them? Are you a non-profit organization or agency looking to branch out to stakeholders and residents alike? Contact PivotPath today for a free consultation!

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