By: Andy Levitt
A few weeks ago, we launched our first ex-US word of mouth marketing program for one of our largest clients, empowering women to know more about certain healthcare choices that may be available to them. The entire project has been eye-opening and educational for our entire team as we've been challenged in different ways from our typical US-based projects. We've learned so much about what to do - and what not to do - when architecting and executing a word of mouth movement outside of the United States, and probably under-estimated what it would take to do it right.
We lived through a host of complexities associated with the global program itself, exploring opportunities within different countries and learning about the nuances of various cultures. We also faced a myriad of challenges in helping get our client - and all of the disparate stakeholders - to understand the opportunity, and to find the right structure that would work within the regulatory framework of our industry. To put it mildly, this was no easy task!
If you are considering a project overseas, here is the first of a two-part series with tips to keep in mind to improve your chances of success:
1. Identify the final decision maker in the client organization, and get it in writing. In complex projects, it is so helpful to identify one singular person in the organization who will be responsible for all elements of the project. This responsibility will range from educating the organization on the scope and definition of the project, defending the integrity of what has been decided along the way, and serving as an internal champion among the various stakeholders. In addition, this one person needs to have the final say on the program components - which could be as simple as agreeing with what a partner agency recommends, or making appropriate modifications that are consistent with the organization's goals and objectives. As Shakespear once said, "If the trumpeter sounds an uncertain note, few will heed the call." Having a documented plan of action can serve as a roadmap when times get tough and uncertainties emerge. Bonus points: include in that written document a set of contingencies should personnel change within the organization!
2. Maintain regular and frequent communications along the way. This might be overstating the obvious, but I feel like it really needs to be said. We learned that we couldn't rely on one singular point of contact to carry our message through the organization. It required of us weekly calls at various times of day that catered to the global nature of the project. Without weekly updates on the phone, followed by written summaries of what was discussed, it becomes more and more difficult for new people in the client organization to come up to speed on the project. Frequent discussion ensures ongoing support and buy-in, and leaves little room for interpretation on how the project is evolving.
3. Recognize the subtle cultural differences that exist outside our border. In many of our US-based programs, we have found good success when asking participants to make a pledge for having a minimum number of conversations. That model has worked well as it approximates the feeling people have when pledging to raise money for a charity, stimulating their activity and establishing a goal for involvement. Outside of the Unites States, however, that idea fosters more resentment and creates a negative feeling of obligation that does not resonate. In addition, understanding certain language cues and cultural subtleties for how people communicate has been key to achieving breakthrough success.
4. Global logistics can be extraordinarily complicated! Since the data shows that more than 90% of conversations about healthcare will take place in person, we like to provide a set of offline materials for the participants of our programs. We invested dozens of hours working with a global logistics vendor (provided to us by our client), and tried our best to offer cost-effective solutions for shipping a welcome kit to multiple countries around the world. After exhausting a host of options - from identifying local printers in each country, shipping from one central European location, and working with customs agents to confirm the integrity of what we would ship - we decided that it would be best to keep everything digital and not ship anything overseas. In hindsight, this seems like an obvious solution - but we were trying to fit our US standards into an ex-US program, and only after reviewing all of our choices did we come to this simpler approach.
I hope these first few tips are useful to you. I'll be sharing a few additional insights in Part Two of this blog post a few days from now. Stay tuned!