It took a bilingual employee to explain to the execs at GM Canada that the Buick LaCrosse was failing in the quarter of the Canadian market that speaks French, as in the local Quebec patois the name refers to a bizarre (and very naughty) act. It doesn’t take a linguistic misunderstanding to sink a brand, as even the most minute insensibility to cultural or behavioral norms can torpedo your entire online promotional strategy. In the email and social media marketing world where the customer calls the shots and the brands have to bend over backwards to accommodate them, establishing and maintaining relevance has not just become an important factor, it may be the most important factor. Marketing 78 Rpms to Gen Y You wouldn’t market 78 rpm vinyl of Enrico Caruso crooning Neapolitan love songs to Generation Yers, so why approach any of your customers with products, services or a marketing strategy that is essentially just as irrelevant? The primary identifying characteristics of each customer segment need to be taken into careful consideration and the promotional blueprint drafted to suit in order to successfully achieve your online marketing goals: Income – One of the primary characteristics is how much disposable income is available within the segment. If your customers are among the millions hard-hit by the economic slump and foreclosure crisis, your brand can show itself to be relevant by offering affordable, white label versions of more expensive products, and focusing on the necessary staples rather than the luxo-bling line-up. Age – Identifying your customers by age is indispensable to crafting a relevant strategy. A young customer will be able to identify with your musical reference to T-Pain while a middle aged customer might think it’s a brand of ibuprofen. Gender – It may be fashionable in our enlightened age to want to believe that the differences between the genders have been erased as a messy remnant of an expired chauvinistic era, but market research invariably concludes that men react in very different ways to promotional messaging than women. Geography – Variances in culture are not limited to international or inter-linguistic categories, as there are ample differences within the United States based on geography. The prototypical Los Angeleno is fundamentally different from a New Yorker, while a resident of Baton Rouge is another breed altogether. Surnames Are Not a Cultural Determinant A warning to marketers: America is the world’s greatest melting pot of cultures therefore no certain determinations may be made based on the racial or national background of your customers based upon their surnames. It would be completely erroneous to believe that a Rosenberg will not eat pork; a Lakhanpal will shun beef; or an Al-Temiyat won’t quaff a beer. There are millions of Americans who carry their heritage surnames several generations removed from emigration, thus may have no real grasp of their traditional culture. Listen to the Cyberchatter Your quest to have your brand be as relevant as possible has to center on feedback. What are your customers telling you through your customer service communications, social network comments, and email marketing responses? If you’re not listening to the problems and praises consumers are discussing about your brand, you’re on the fast-track to irrelevance. There are ample online services that allow you to easily monitor the cyberchatter about your company that is going on outside of your own communications channels and that input can be just as valuable to fine tuning your relevance marketing strategy as the customer who fills in a complaint form on your website. PC or Mac? An inherent part of feedback is to analyze and comprehend what a customer’s previous behavior is telling you. If they’ve been buying Mac software for ages you shouldn’t be offering them a discount on Windows programs; if their primary browsing and purchasing centers around baby items, they’re not going to be in the market for singles cruises; and if they’ve been shopping for mobility scooters then they’re not going to be prime skateboarding candidates. Savvy brand marketers understand that the online promotional messaging has to be honest, conversational and trustworthy, as well as completely relevant. Customers are no longer looking for “suppliers” but good friends they can trust.