The problem with a one-size-fits-all database

This post is sponsored by Selling Simplified. 

Every marketer evangelises the importance of robust, accurate marketing data – yet few succeed at understanding the nuances of a truly global database. 

We were fortunate to learn early on as a global company that there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to addressing, normalising and storing global data. Yet some of the largest marketing databases in the world are organised according to a single standard, which can cause embarrassing mishaps in your marketing communications before you even get your audience to engage.

We’ve made (and learned from) these mistakes ourselves. The following example may illustrate how subtle the difference in database structure can be between making a respectful and effective first impression, and a poor one.

Like any marketing company, we send a lot of emails, and we attempt to make them as personalised and relevant to our audience as possible. That includes tailoring content and messaging to recipients’ job function and industry, providing emails and content in their local language, and including a greeting in many of our emails or subject lines that address the individual by name. 

Many email marketers will be familiar with using a token to personalise an email greeting to read “Hi, Mike” (or the recipient’s first name).

This was a fairly common practice of ours for years in our global email marketing efforts. We would utilise this sort of greeting in our non-English emails as well by retrieving the first name value in our database, and if anything it seemed to improve our response and engagement rates globally. 

We never would have batted an eye at using the token if it weren’t for one of the members of our APAC marketing team speaking up one day, saying: “In many Asian countries, as a first business interaction, it’s sometimes considered impolite to use the person’s first name straightaway.”

Needless to say, we immediately revisited this best practice that we’d adopted and took time to re-examine its cultural implications region by region. 

But rather than dropping it altogether, we adapted our email greetings to best resonate in the specific regions they were intended for. That meant ensuring we had complete salutation values (Mr, Mrs, Ms, etc) for countries where we would need to address someone more formally. It meant creating new tokens that would work with multiple fields simultaneously, and rearranging certain fields to better reflect various business cultures.

In short, it meant acknowledging how and where our database had become our crutch, and acting quickly to restructure it in certain places so that it worked in our favour.

A few other examples that we’ve seen over the years are companies rearranging the order of first and surnames in Latin American countries, or attempting to translate an English nickname that has no respective Asian equivalent. While unintentional, snafus like these are nothing short of cringeworthy in the world of B2B, and they remain all too common in our global world of business.

The mistake being made here is assuming that contact data is generic, and that the standard is Western. This is an oversight that we’ve been guilty of ourselves, and have seen seasoned professionals make time and again, yet the result can be accidental impoliteness and an amateurish appearance that quickly ruins a business relationship.

Apart from leading to embarrassing mistakes, improperly organised global data or cultural/language-related oversights can have you missing out on tons of value in your database.

Take the ubiquitous IT director role, for example, that’s a common target for B2B marketers. While the function of this role exists everywhere, “IT director” is not a universal title. In many parts of Asia, the same authority and responsibility lies with managers, heads, and managing directors in their IT departments. 

Likewise, in German-speaking countries, the term “IT-Leiter”, which translates most closely as “responsible for IT” in English, is where this sort of authority lies. 

To effectively grow an international company, we’ve had to learn the necessity of building a global database that represents what’s being stored. Although differences from one region to the next may seem subtle, adapting our database to accommodate the business needs of each region has been paramount to our success. More than anything, this phenomenon goes to show that your database is truly a representation of your brand. 

So, the next time you go to send that email to your international audience, ask yourself: is my database designed to reflect my intentions and achieve my B2B goals? If you’re not quite sure, the results could be costing you business.


The writer is Michael Whife, CEO and president at Selling Simplified Group, Inc.
For more information, please visit Selling Simplified and follow it on its LinkedIn page.