The globalization of business and the expansion of foreign supply nodes, even in domestically-based companies, have long been cited by analysts as an earmark for the greater cultural shift currently happening. Less familiar, but no less true, is the idea that an international presence of any sort isn't a just a matter of good supply chain strategy, but a reality of doing business.
Decision-makers who are staying on the forefront of their industry are the ones who embrace not only the components and trappings of the culture of targeted buyers, but the true spirit and authentic voice found within its members.
Bilingual Doesn't Always Mean Worldly
As the saying goes, intelligence is knowing that a tomato is technically a fruit, but wisdom is knowing it has no place in a fruit salad. Learning the language of your suppliers or your targeted buyers simply isn't enough—just as American colloquialisms instantly convey an "insider's" knowledge of English, so do the turns of phrase, body language and customs of other cultures. If you need to appeal to your audience—be they supply-side vendors or customers—be sure you're not coming across as tone-deaf.
It's important to hire or place individuals who can assist with culture shift within your management, advises Glen Llopis in a piece for Forbes. Gathering information—such as factory-halting holidays in China or the appropriate tone to take with a new, Mexican supplier—can streamline your supply chain in ways you probably haven't even considered yet.
It's Coming, Ready or Not
Here in the US, you may have heard murmurs about a demographic shift that’s currently underway—wherein we’re moving away from a Caucasian majority—but shrugged it off as a problem for the future. The truth is, however, that Hispanic, African-American and Asian Pacific Islander minorities are projected to comprise over half the US population by 2050. If your marketing, product or approach falls flat in these communities, you can expect your profits to be plagued by a similar flatness as your potential customers shift to a more in tune competitor.
It's best to start listening to and meeting these groups' needs now—ethically sourcing from their home countries, as well as advertising with campaigns leveraged for their particular tastes. Focus groups and translated banner ads or marketing will only go so far, so make sure your "destination culture" really understands your message before exposing it to the world at large.
Great Risks, Greater Rewards
In another article for Forbes, Llopis highlights the unusual niche success of basketball player Magic Johnson, who opened a chain of self-named movie theaters in the early 1990s. While movie theaters were nothing new at the time, Johnson consciously and deliberately made the choice to open them in underserved urban areas, ensuring that African Americans—one of the up-and-coming demographics-to-be mentioned earlier—were able to visit and enjoy movies right in their own community.
Was it a risk opening up in brand new areas? Of course, but they also didn't have to duke it out with other movie theaters for their audiences and enjoyed a steady stream of income from more than a million visitors a year in its heyday.
Don't be afraid to take some risks with your supply chain strategies aimed at managing cultural shift—even if an idea or delivery schedule seems a little "out there," don't hesitate to give it a trial run before the final yea or nay.
Staying with the times used to mean ensuring your company had the latest technology. While technology is still, undeniably, important, the tide of people-focused approaches is leapfrogging simple ideas like PC upgrades in the ongoing fight for the hearts and minds of a rapidly-growing "minority majority."
If your supply chain strategy isn't up to some international conversations, there's no time like the present to really read up on the culture you'll be interacting with as your product matures.