Common Mistakes Made by International Exhibitors: Communication (Part 3 of 4)

Are your booth staffers greeting French-speaking attendees in English at a show in Paris? Does your English marketing tagline make sense when translated into Portuguese? Are you asking for hundreds of thousands of marketing dollars, but have no way to prove your ROI because you are not evaluating your program? Many companies who exhibit at international trade shows make these COMMUNICATION MISTAKES, which fall into two main areas: Messaging and Engagement.

In this 4-part series: Common Mistakes Made by International Exhibitors, we are identifying these mistakes and suggesting tactics to avoid them in the future. You can read Part One, AWARENESS, here and Part Two, PREPARATION, here.


Marketing messages (or stories) are typically communicated from the context of our own culture. Most companies take these messages and simply translate them into the local language when attending a trade show overseas. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work, as some stories simply don’t translate well.

Your audience will be listening from their cultural context and may hear something quite different than what you intended. They may miss the main point, some of the nuances, or just not get it. They are looking at life through a different set of lenses, and will see and hear things differently due to their cultural context.

If you want to communicate effectively with them, you will need to craft a message which is unique and speaks directly to them.

Marketers typically create personas for their target demographics, which is an ideal approach for this situation. In this case, you would create personas with the cultural profile of your target audience. You can solicit help from your local office marketing experts, or you can rely upon cultural marketing experts. Regardless of your direction, it is important to consult locals before finalizing your message.


How will you engage with your target audience at a trade show in Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi or some other international location? Will you give them a firm handshake? Invite them to participate in a contest? Drop their business card in the bowl for the daily grand prize drawing, after receiving it with both hands? Will you greet them in English or in their native language? Many companies try the same approach that they use in their home country, which illustrates their ethnocentric bias.

Many other national cultures lean towards building relationships and determining if there is alignment before getting into too many business details. Some use multiple meetings to accomplish this, or extended conversations, or sharing snacks and drinks.

Many American companies tend to be transactional, getting down to business immediately. They exchange pleasantries and business cards, ask what products you might be interested in, and then ask if they can swipe your badge send a follow-up email. But, your international prospect might want to sit down, have a cup of coffee and learn about what kind of company you have and what your people are like before discussing a business deal.

Ready to expand your business internationally? It’s crucial to understand the cultural differences in those countries before you make this step. Download our Cultural Compass Infographics HERE. This set of eleven (11) infographics will give you important pointers on how to work within these unique cultures and ultimately create a path for success.

Cultures vary widely on how they want to engage – and what kinds of things they want to discuss. It is imperative to develop a culturally relevant approach for each audience. This is why understanding cultural differences is so important when doing business internationally.

Want to learn the must know tips for international exhibiting? Download our eBook to learn all the aspects of business to consider when exhibiting internationally!

This is part 3 of a 4 part series on common mistakes made by international exhibitors. Click here for part 4.

Picture of Jeff Hannah

Jeff Hannah

Vice President of Strategy

As a strategist, teacher, and writer at heart, Jeff has a penchant for sharing his insights with our team, clients, and the industry as a whole through blogging, podcasting, and speaking. He is a forward-thinker and is constantly charting a course to navigate the waters of change. He is also our resident student of the world, a veritable endless wealth of knowledge about cross-cultural interactions, international business, and travel. An award-winning designer and serial entrepreneur, he founded companies in several countries, gaining powerful insights throughout his career working with global organizations.
As VP of Strategy, Jeff is focused on developing visions and strategic plans to expand ECI’s current offerings, develop new ones, and refine our organizational infrastructure, culture, and processes. He also helps clients develop a comprehensive, integrated, and strategic approach to their programs. Jeff is the executive sponsor of ECI University, where he develops content and teaches our growing global team. He is also a recognized expert in the global trade show industry, and is a faculty member of the CTSM (Certified Trade Show Marketer) Program.


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