There is no greater example of the difference between localised and international marketing than Christmas. The web, wide and worldly as it is, has enabled everyone to treat the entire connected world population as one big market - but only at the expense of local relevance. Determining whether an international or a more localised strategy is appropriate can be crucial to determining success.
The reason why Christmas makes this issue all the more visible is that it differs so much around the globe. While Europe and the US look forward to a white Christmas of mittens, snowballs and sleigh bells, here in Australia and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, we're firing up the barbie, throwing the prawns on ice and heading down to the beach. Those climactic differences alone mean that an Aussie website Christmas sale on sunscreen and budgie smugglers just isn't going to be attractive to an international audience.
But seasonal differences aside, Christmas comes loaded with so many variations of tradition, imagery and belief that someone is almost bound to feel left out - or potentially even offended - with whatever you come up with. In the US, a website might use Santa prominently within its promotions. In the UK, he might be called Father Christmas - even though he still looks similar. However, travel to Germany and your customers would be expecting Das Christkind - a young girl decked out in gold and a crown - to come bearing gifts. In the Czech Republic, the children eagerly await Ježíšek. Travel to Sweden and Santa is replaced by The Julbok - a Christmas goat! Sure, imagery of Santa is so common now that people from these countries would definitely recognise him, but only as relevant to someone else's interpretation of Christmas, not theirs!
It is pretty fair to say that there isn't a piece of clip art you can add to your website that is going to represent Christmas accurately to all of your international customers.
Yet, beyond the varying traditions (of which there are many, many more) what about those customers for whom Christmas is forbidden? Send out a Christmas email promotion to your worldwide customer base and some of your recipients may not react the way you hope. What about customers of different faiths? What about those celebrating Hanukkah instead, or Yule, or have recently completed Ramadan? Where's their email and why should they care about your Christmas gimmicks?
Let me just reassure you that I'm not about to start advocating political correctness of the kind that forces some shopping centres and town councils to offer up the homogenised 'Season's Greetings'. I'm certainly not about to suggest avoiding the obvious benefits of tying a marketing strategy into a particular holiday noted for big spending. After all, with Christmas being the biggest consumer event of the year, you definitely should have some of that phenomenal turnover. However, it may help the success of your campaigns if you understand your differing customer profiles and can segment accordingly to create better relevance.
Yup, international marketing can be fraught with problems when trying to remain relevant. This is why many online businesses are smarter about how they target segments of their customer base. Being able to separate out the US customers from everyone else means you can target them with Thanksgiving promotions. Your leftover winter stock in Australia can be promoted to eager customers in Europe instead of dscounting the price to get rid of it.
This may also mean that the Christmas campaign you run for local Aussie customers may be different to that you send to international customers.
So as I wrap up this attempt to shoehorn the Christmas holiday into my last post here for 2009, it only remains for me to wish you - wherever you are - a happy Hanukkah, cool Yule, sensational Saturnalia, merry Christmas... or an enjoyable if ordinary December 25th.