Business Lessons from Tehran – Iran
The City of 72 Nations – Tehran
I am fortunate to travel around the world as a keynote speaker sharing my expertise in Digital Marketing and Sales. One of the trips that was different was my trip to the capital of Iran. Tehran got the nick name “The city of 72 Nations” since the economic flourish attracted great number of immigrants from other Iranian cities. I was invited as one of the guest of honours to the graduation ceremony of an esteem business association. My job was to deliver a keynote speech on social media and then give the diplomas to the graduates. Sounds easy right? Well, not for me. What happens if we have a terrorist attack or if someone kidnap me? After all, what we usually see on CNN and BBC is that Iran is a country of terrorists, burning American flags and they are all armed and dangerous. Even though I knew that all that was not true, I must admit that my perception was that Tehran is not a safe place for Europeans. That’s why the first night I didn’t even walk outside the hotel to see the city. The next morning, I summon my courage and called a taxi to take me to a nearby “Milad Tower” an amazing structure standing at 435 meters with an incredible view of the city. That’s when my perception of Iran started to change. The taxi driver was polite and fair, he even try to explain to me their currency so I will not give him more than the meter. At the tower, since I was the only foreigner, the tour guide gave me a personal explanation of the history of the tower and made sure that I understood the path of the tour and what I had to pay attention. Then when I got to the top I notice that the Persians just like everyone else in the world, are taking pictures with their friends, selfies and then share them on social media. Wow, they are just like me! That’s when I realize that the media had distorted the reality and influence my perception of the Persian people. They were not dangerous people, they were polite, generous, respectful and kind.
Perception Is The Reality
This realization lead me to my first business lesson that I learn from Iran which is that “perception is the reality.” If I haven’t visited Iran most probably I will still believe that Tehran is not a safe place for travellers. After my research I found that other travels have come to the same conclusion as me that Tehran is a safe and friendly place for visitors. Now, how can we use this lesson that perception is reality for the benefit of our business? It easy, you just control the information about your business and you only share information that reinforce the perception that you want to establish in the minds of your potential customers. For example, if you want to create the perception that your products are luxurious all you have to do is to create a luxurious website and start posting pictures of your products in luxurious scenes and other luxurious products. Another example, is the creation of the perception of softness that the tissue manufacturing companies are doing it. Because they want to create the perception that their tissues are soft they created TV commercials with little puppies that we all associate them with softness.
Therefore always remember before you post anything on social media ask yourself if the picture is going to emphasize the perception that you want to cultivate or not. If the answer is yes then just share it to as many social media as you can. Perception is reality baby!
Find The Differences But Focus On The Similarities
The second business lesson that I have learned was when I was called up on the stage to present the diplomas to the graduates. The first person they called was a lady, so I extended my arm to congratulate her before I gave her the diploma. She didn’t extend her arm. I thought maybe she is not the right person so I showed her the name on the diploma asking her if that was her. She reply “yes” but still she didn’t extend her arm. Then she whisper “we don’t shake hands.” Oh, my mistake. That’s how I found out that women in Iran don’t shake hands with unrelated men. That’s a difference between my culture and the Persian culture. You should have done your research, Mr. Big-Time-Professor, I thought. Later on, when the ceremony was finished I ask the translator the name of their language. “Farsi” he replied. Wow, that’s a big similarity. In Cyprus we use the exact same word “farsi” when we want to say that someone is talking a foreign language fluently. We have borrowed that word from the Persians and we still used it today. That’s when I learned my second big lesson from Iran “find the differences but focus on the similarities.” It is important for every business person especially those who want to expand globally to do a research and find out the preferences of potential customers living in other countries. This will assist you make necessary changes to your products as a way to ensure a successful market penetration in the foreign country. One of the great examples of this lack of research was when Barbie was introduced to Japan. Japanese girls didn’t prefer Barbie because it was too different from their “beauty models”. Barbie was tall, with long blond hair and a heavy eyeliner, a scary doll for Japanese girls. In opposition to this mistake Mc Donald’s, always re-adjust their menu according to the preferences of the people living in the country they enter. For example in Greece we have the Greek Mac and in Italy they serve pasta.
At the same time we should not forget to focus and emphasize on the similarities we have with foreign customers. Focusing on the similarities we have with their traditions and preferences will assist us to build the bond and trust much easier and faster. Always remember to find the differences but focus on the similarities.
Treat Them Like A Celebrity
The final lesson that I have learned was when the ceremony was over and it was time to take some pictures. Everyone rushed towards me wanting to take a picture with me like I was a celebrity or something. I was surprised. I really felt like I was a movie star and it felt great. That’s what make me want to visit that country again. Who doesn’t want to feel like a celebrity after all? That’s where my third lesson was conceptualized. Treat your customers like celebrities and they will want to come back again. Marketing and selling is what going to get you customers, but supreme customer service is what is going to bring them back again and again. As Walt Disney said always provide excellent customer service and try to exceed customer’s expectations if you want them to come back again, talk about your business and bring their friends with them the next time. When in doubt just treat them like a celebrity.