FutureLearn: Intercultural Communications Week 3 – Variance in communicating

Week 3 of this course focuses on the communication side, having covered cultural differences in week 1 and week 2, and starts to look at how methods of communication vary across cultures.

The first section looks at the difference between High Context and Low Context communications – The short version of this is that HC relies more on situational context and non-verbal cues, and LC relies on clarity of speech and frankness. This is another point of intercultural comms where misunderstandings can occur.

These ideas were originally coined by anthropologist E.T. Hall, who developed many of the concepts of intercultural communication. Much of his work was from experience and observation, like many people who were required to work across cultures, but he was one of, if not the first, person to provide a formalised basis for how difference cultures can interact, which in turn has informed training for people working in international diplomacy, trade etc.

Whilst High context and Low Context mostly covers actual spoken communication, there are other factors which can positively or negatively impact interactions, for example the amount of space people have around them or occupy (proxemics) or the acceptable timeframes between interactions, actions and discussion (chronemics).

Understanding that these cues can affect how a person perceives you, perhaps before you’ve even spoken to them, can both help you to better interpret non-verbal cues, and also to make allowances for potential misunderstandings – to read where someone isn’t being deliberately rude, or where someone is uncomfortable with your actions.

While society and background affects this, it is so important not to assign certain behaviours or make assumptions about someone because of their cultural background. One, you can’t ever assume someone’s background and history if you don’t know them well, and two, this can lead to automatically ‘othering’ someone because of racial or cultural background.


Value of print and digital marketing – Presentation Notes

This morning, I headed into Manchester to meet up with some of the team from Culture Calling, (thanks Donna for the invite!) whom I’ve worked on marketing campaigns in the past. They were doing a presentation and chat on integrated print and digital campaigns and I got plenty of notes, so I decided to pop them up here for future marketing reference.

The first section focused pretty heavily on print marketing and why it continues to work even though we live in an increasingly all-encompassing digital world.

Direct marketing spend year on year by companies continues to go up overall.

Most effective marketing channels – Search engine marketing 66%, Offline channels 57%

Case Study time!

Canada Mail and Impact Marketing tested the same campaign with two groups of people.

  • One only received direct print drops and direct mail
  • The other received email and were served digital ads

They found there was more positive motivation to act from people who had received physical print:

  •  More likely to notice the brand name elsewhere
  •  More positive association with the brand
  • People found there was less effort involved in reading paper than digital
  • The positive associations were most noticeable in the 30-49 range

Higher print stock quality also had a positive impact so how people perceived the quality of the brand.

However, when it came to how much people said they would miss advertising if it was not presented to them (and yes, people do miss advertising when it’s not there) charities came in roughly equal for digital (9%) and print (10%)

Issues with digital ads versus print

Digital ads, esp MPUs, banners etc. tend to pull the eye to different parts of the page. In comparison, print (well-designed print) is linear and therefore more calming to read through. It creates a more intuitive process in the brain, which also means more understanding and engagement.

Haptic qualities

The mind creates a deeper emotional response to something it can touch or feel. This links back to print quality effect – better quality, better feeling paper/card.

Marketing longevity

According to a Royal Mail study, a piece of marketing print is kept, on average, for 38 days in a house, and 23% of print is shared between multiple members of a household, meaning that there is a high value for money in the print.


Outdoor display, print advertising (newspapers, magazines etc.) and media (TV, radio etc,) are forms a passive engagement. People are served these adverts whilst in the process of doing something else. Physical print is, like direct mail, social media/search advertising, are active engagement – you make the decision to do something to engage with them.

However, this certainly doesn’t mean that digital advertising isn’t worth it – just that it needs to be treated differently, not better or worse. Print is an anchor for your audience, and you can boost its effectiveness with digital marketing.

Digital advertising can show immediately who/what/where your audience is, but you can do this with print in different ways, because you control exactly where the print goes in terms of drivetime from your venue/event, specific public locations etc.

One case study that was briefly discussed involved a leaflet drop in multiple postcode sectors, with a different offer code for different areas to help track success rates.

Consider how a piece of print can be useful in multiple ways, for example, if advertising to a literary crowd, think about making a bookmark, or a paper ruler from school bag drops. Colouring sheets are great for family audiences. Postcard books for multiple events, map guides – you need to make things that people will have a reason to want to keep hold of.

FutureLearn: Intercultural Communications Week 2 – Cultural Bias

I’m only part-way though the course with this post, but this section of the course threw up some really interesting ideas that I wanted to get down before carrying on with notes etc. for the rest of Week Two.

Issues of Cultural Bias

Starting out with a quote from one of the course leaders, Chi Ruobing:

 ‘the concept of cultural identity implies both a shared sense of community and apparent similarities that generate both shared and common patterns, as well as social markers. And these help give participants a sense of belonging, a sense of security or satisfaction, and some continuing connectivity.’

Being challenged to look at your cultural identity is quite hard – and the next section of the course admits this – probably because in UK society (and quite a lot of other places), we’re encouraged to believe that cultural inequality or cultural differences don’t exist if we pretend they don’t exist, and that we somehow increase to the problems of racism, sexist and other forms of bigotry if we draw attention to them. After all, aren’t we supposed to be aiming be to one big happy equal society? But the whole point of this course is to examine the unconscious assumptions we draw between cultures.

This is actually pretty topical in the UK press at the moment, with the high-profile firing of BBC presenter Danny Baker for comparing the Duchess of Sussex’s baby to a chimpanzee. He claimed that since he’s not an outwardly racist person, of course he wouldn’t have seen the issues with comparing a child of African-American descent to an ape – so clearly, he’s not at fault! But it is his failure to recognise the cultural context, and his participation in the unconscious (and sometimes conscious) press bias amongst the Duchess of Sussex, as a mixed-race, American ‘outsider’ to the British Royal family.

How to start bridging the gaps

Having gone into detail over the previous few sections about identifying cultural differences and the where the potential for misunderstandings can arise, we now get into the next important bit, how do you go about ensuring you do understand? The first thing, again, is to start with yourself.

From the course article:

‘Our identity (self-view and how others perceive us) has a major effect on our communication. It influences the language and gestures we choose (Approach), the desires or hopes we have (Expectations), the way we conduct the interaction (Exchange) and the results (Outcome). And every communicative encounter leaves us redefining our identity…Subconsciously, we are involved in Identity Management constantly in our communicative encounters.’

In other words, we learn to reinvent ourselves through every new interaction, and through each interaction, we find it easier to connect with and understand the motives, behaviours and values of people from other cultures, even cultures we have not experienced before.

FutureLearn – Intercultural Communications: Getting Started

I signed up to this FutureLearn course a few weeks ago, which isn’t my usual style, generally I pick a course that both sounds good and that I can get stuck into right away. This was a weird feeling, and I found that I lost my initial enthusiasm for the course content as a result, and my enthusiasm to get back into online learning. This is my own fault of course, and now I’m behind, since we’re almost at the end of the first week into the second week!

It’s also a huge shame, because from the moment I started up the first video introducing the course, I was extremely back into it.

Right from the start – by which I mean the course leaders introducing themselves, the word ’empathy’ came up, which I think is a really important consideration when talking about communication – it covers and goes above things like language and intent and many other facets.

Early on, they presented a series of quotes on Intercultural Communications and learners were invited to choose one and/or discuss which ones best summed up the topic. This was my reply in the course section comments:

I definitely like Number two – but one thing I think needs a mention came up in 1.4 when Dr Chi Ruobing mentioned ’empathy’. This is something that allows understanding by way of one person putting themselves into another person’s shoes. Thinking about that now, maybe Number three is the better interpretation!

For context, the three quotes were:

  • Intercultural communication refers to the communication between people from two different cultures. (Chen & Starosta, 1998:28)
  • Intercultural communication is a symbolic, interpretive, transactional, contextual process, in which people from different cultures create shared meanings. (Lustig & Koester, 2007:46)
  • Intercultural communication refers to the effects on communication behavior, when different cultures interact together. Hence, one way of viewing intercultural communication is as communication that unfolds in symbolic intercultural spaces. (Arasaratnam, 2013:48)

The next section starts defining Intercultural Communication with more depth – which only shows how much harder it is to define, and also how many intercultural boundaries there can be, sometimes in unexpected places. The quote below is from the provided article, and shows this fairly well:

Cultural differences can be categorized by nationality, ethnicity, religious belief, gender, age/generation, geographical region, political ideology, body (dis)ability, sexual orientation, etc. None of us belong to only one type of cultural groups, so it is natural that several of these categories might apply in one interaction. In certain contexts, one or more of the cultural categories would be salient or singled out in comparison with others.*

Keeping up with my promise to myself (and a previous blogpost) that I would work to provide comments within the course and not be a passive online learner, I put this note in the comments:

I appreciated that the article suggests shades of grey in what is and isn’t intercultural communication – that depending on context there may be greater or fewer intercultural differences at play. It also illustrates that in a communication setting, one person may understand or see this more clearly than the other.

The next section looked at potential cultural conflicts – starting with the ‘fish out of water’ metaphor that most of us would use in this situation without even really examining it. We grow up and live in one culture that becomes a familiar and natural environment, one that we don’t even have to think about, it’s a part of our life, our daily being. Then, when placed into a new cultural environment where social cues or behaviours are changed or missing, we feel uncomfortable and confused – again, this may not even be from conscious behaviour because we have never had to consider these behaviours consciously.

The term ‘cultural baggage’ came next, as they discussed the importance of examining your own culture as much as others, because your learned environment creates a specific understanding of the world, and specific expectations of the world, which may not apply to other people.

There was also a focus on evaluation as you go through life interacting with other cultures, to see where misconceptions and misunderstandings may have occurred (whether they were obvious at the time or only in retrospect) and to consider how you may have acted differently. Doing so will help, to quote one of the course contributors (Dr. Yan Bing Zhang):

…become informed citizens, leaders, and advocates in understanding ways in which communication sustains and erodes collaboration within and among local, national, and global communities.

*Chi, R. B. (2015). What is intercultural Communication? The SISU Intercultural Institute “Intercultural Communication” FutureLearn course reading. Retrieved from https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/intercultural- communication/