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Avoiding PR Disaster: Cultural Customisation

Engaging with a worldwide audience

Gary Muddyman | 06th April 2017

Gary examines the importance of cultural customisation in foreign language communication materials, arguing that dealing with this successfully can have a crucial impact on the international rollout of healthcare products.

Language and cultural differences are just two of the pressures facing the pharmaceutical, healthcare and medical device industries in the new global economy, and they are issues that companies cannot afford to fail to address adequately.

These two issues alone can affect the successful international rollout of healthcare products. To obtain international compliance, packaging and supporting documentation have to be translated and culturally customised accurately across a range of languages.

By 2020, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the global pharmaceutical industry will be worth $1.3 trillion. This increase will be due to rising global demand for medicines as the population increases, ages and faces more disease.

In order to take advantage of future growth opportunities, pharmaceutical companies must ensure that they successfully penetrate global markets by culturally customising all collateral related to their product.

Global challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry

The challenges for pharmaceutical companies in a global, continuously expanding market are intense. There is pressure to increase revenue whilst ensuring compliance in each target market. Communication, information and understanding are the keys to success.

Reaching and engaging an increasingly sophisticated audience worldwide is a crucial challenge. Accuracy and timeliness are essential when documenting clinical trials, compiling internal and external communications and marketing collateral. The challenge of producing these materials is greatly increased when it is necessary to create them in multiple languages.

The product and its marketing must be presented to the buyer in a manner that shows a clear understanding of the market in which it is to be sold. It is imperative that all legal and regulatory requirements are followed as the consequences of a mistake can be extremely damaging.

Accurate localisation is not just about translation. Done properly, it involves cultural customisation, which requires an understanding of the culture, customs, local laws and regulations of the target country.

Cultural complications

Cultural differences in foreign markets can be difficult to identify. They range from the use of colour, images and gestures, to religion and social aspects, such as how you should greet somebody, conduct business and even on what side of a car the steering wheel should be. Words, phrases and symbols can have are captured as well. It is just as imperative to get clinician-facing communication materials right.


As pharmaceutical companies continue to extend their global reach, communication will remain a tough challenge. An obvious difficulty is ensuring compliance with the regulations, patents and certification of drugs in various countries. With differing sales and distribution channels across the globe, and the coordination of integrated marketing communications in multiple languages worldwide, the pharmaceutical industry must ensure the accuracy of information at all times.

In order to combat these challenges, pharmaceutical companies must adhere to the linguistic, cultural, technical and other locale-specific requirements of the countries in which their communication materials are to appear. A PR disaster could result in a healthcare catastrophe.