Yesterday I wrote about my recent culture shocks when comparing the American way of live to what I’m used to in Europe and how this can provide some insights for international marketers. What surprised me was that they are all from a “green” perspective.
There is one other area where cultural differences explain something that had puzzled me previously.
But let me back up first…
A Bit Of Smart Card History
One of my first jobs in Europe was to do international market research in the banking sector. At the time France had “smart cards” and the United States didn’t. But what the American banking professionals were really fascinated by at the time was how all of the French banks worked together to provide the best user experience.
Any bank telling machine in France would accept the bank cards from any other bank, and at the time this was not possible in the United States. Americans had to find cash distributors from a branch of their own bank.
This communication between banks in France opened the doors for other ways to use credit cards which hadn’t started in the United States at that time.
To put it simply this cooperation between the French banks was essentially made possible because there is a central governing body that took decisions and made laws to make this all work and bring all of the banks together.
And I should have realized that “governing bodies” were also in play in another sector later on.
Phones And Mobile Phone Operators
I used to find it a little bit odd that there was so much talk about the different mobile phone operators in the American news I read. Although the readers seemed to be interested enough, it seemed a little boring to me. I couldn’t understand why until I accompanied a friend moving to the US.
He wanted to buy an iPhone. He really wanted a iPhone. Unfortunately because of the area where he lives and also where he works now, if he bought one he wouldn’t be able to use it. He doesn’t live in an area where iPhones work.
This was totally foreign to me. Until I realized why, and then this story reminded me of the story of the French banks above when you look at it from a users perspective.
In France I can choose my phone service provider based on the service offer, and then buy any phone I want from the service provider I choose. And my phone will work pretty much the same no matter where I am in France and which service provider I choose.
The situation’s not the same in the US.
In the US, the phone manufacturers hook up with specific mobile operators and the users don’t get to choose which one. It’s a big country, so none of the mobile phone operators covers the entire territory. This means you’re lucky if you happen to live in an area covered by the service provider who signed the contract with the manufacturer of the phone you want to buy.
In France, there’s obviously some legislation in place to provide a better user experience. Someone got all of the mobile operators together and worked out a way for everyone to share each others infrastructure. It definitely makes life easier. You can simply find the operator with the best mobile package for your needs and then choose the phone you want. And you’re sure it’ll work. Users should be thankful!
Why didn’t the American companies get together to provide a better user experience for everyone? I don’t know. It may be because of the size of the country, or how the different states operate, or cultural differences in how people do business, or a combination of these.
But this explains why there’s so much coverage in the US about the different services providers and cell phone manufacturers: because it impacts the users on more levels than what I’m used to.
International Business Insights
So, why am I sharing this story? Well, I think it highlights how:
- It’s not always easy to anticipate all of the differences in ways of life
- You might need an extended visit to fully understand your international market
- When something puzzles you there may be factors involved that you are not aware of
Now it’s your turn:
- How do the mobile phone operators work in your country?
- What different business practices did you notice after visiting a foreign country?
- Is there anything puzzling you about your international target market?
What do you think? Please share your thoughts and comments below.
Photos from Shutterstock.
Filed under: International Business
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