Why is it Important for an International Marketer to Study Culture

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Why is it important for an international marketer to study culture? Outline the main techniques available for undertaking cultural analysis?

Where once marketers of goods or services may have targeted customers only in their domestic market, the globalisation of the business environment through improved technology, reduction in trade barriers and emergence of large multinational corporations (Palmer & Hartley, 2002), means that the marketers of today may have the option to consider marketing internationally. It is posited that an international firm is one that expands from its domestic market into new markets, using its existing capabilities, and this differs from a multinational corporation (MNC) which may have units acting autonomously in several countries (Miroshnik, 2002). Globalisation is not a new concept, and has been seen as the standard for some time (Levitt, 1983). Entry into a new international market is both an opportunity and a risk and may be achieved through a number of means, including exporting, direct investment, licensing, joint ventures and strategic alliances, each with varying levels of risk that the company must weight up prior to entry (Palmer & Hartley, 2002). Once an entry decision has been made, it is posited that cultural analysis of the target country is imperative for this to be undertaken successfully (Morden, 1995). Management styles, strategies, technologies and structures appropriate to one culture, may be detrimental to the brand when used in a different culture (Miroshnik, 2002). The international marketer must consider what adaptation, if any, is required to its marketing mix (Palmer & Hartley, 2002) and may use cultural analyses to determine to what extent current marketing programmes can be utilised, or how appropriate they would be to the new market (Kotabe & Helsen, 2001). Indeed, recent studies appear to favour adaptation to the new culture, thus the interest of the international marketer in culture and its consequences continues to increase (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010). It is suggested that the behaviours modelled by an individual will be the result of the prevailing cultural values within their society, their social class, reference groups (e.g. family and friends) and their individual physical and psychological attributes (Palmer & Hartley, 2002, p 382). Notable contributors in the field of cultural knowledge include Hofstede, Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars (Morden, 1995). Of use for the international marketer wishing to analyse the culture of a new country versus its domestic market are conceptual models which identify, classify and measure culture as specific dimensions, enabling a comparison to take place (Miroshnik, 2002). Herskovits’ (1989) five dimensions of culture are material culture, social institutions, men and universe, aesthetics and language and language (Miroshnik, 2002). Material culture concerns consumer demand, including quality and attributes of goods/services required and encompasses both economics and technology; the former looks at how a country makes use of its capabilities and technology concerns its production of goods and development techniques (Miroshnik, 2002). An understanding of material culture will be imperative for the international marketer in its marketing mix decisions; while considering whether the product/service meet local demands for quality and attributes, or whether there exists a capability for the product/service to be produced in the country. Many brands will adapt their product to suit the culture in that country, even if only slightly, an example would be Coca Cola and McDonald’s who adapt their products/menus to suit local tastes; McDonald’s also consider the experience, for example, in France where fast food was not as consistent with the culture of enjoying and taking time over food (Palmer & Hartley, 2002). Social institutions include decision making, leadership styles and social class (Miroshnik, 2002). Social class may be particularly important to the international marketer, for example the Hindu caste system remains relatively stable throughout a Hindu’s life, with less likelihood of movement between social classes than in western societies and overall it is posited that those within a particular class will share common attitudes and behaviour patterns (Palmer & Hartley, 2002). An understanding of the class system in the target country, and its similarities/differences to current countries will be paramount. Man and universe comprises religion and superstition, this could be very important to the marketer as religions, beliefs and practices can vary greatly between countries, for example superstitions are integral to Russian culture and religion is intrinsic to Arab and Asian business (Miroshnik, 2002). To be unaware of cultural sensitivities around this area could be detrimental to any international marketer. Aesthetics involves folklore, music, arts and visual/aesthetic/symbolic norms and whilst this dimension could be glossed over as simplistic or superficial, aesthetics can be extremely important to a culture and thus to the international marketer, for example it would be inadvisable to use a bat within branding in Russia as it is considered bad luck (Miroshnik, 2002). Finally, language as a dimension is to consider the nuances of what is said, unsaid, plus non-verbal communication (Miroshnik, 2002).

Hofstede cultural dimensions

The assumption that an employee working for a multinational with its own organisational culture will adopt that culture, rather than retain their individual pre-existing culture, was found not to be the case by Hofstede (1983), Miroshnik, 2002). Hofstede’s four dimensional model of national culture, introduced in the 1970’s, may be used to analyse cultural differences; it is posited that this allowed culture to be unwrapped from a single dimension into multiple dimensions (Minkov & Hofstede, 2011). The dimensions are power distance, individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity and uncertainty avoidance (Hofstede, 1983). Hofstede’s cultural model shares similarities with the work of Trompenaars (1993) and the GLOBE study (House et al, 2004), a strong inducement for international marketers to use Hofstede’s cultural dimensions to analyse cultural distance is the large number of countries measured, enabling easy comparison (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010). Power distance relates to the way the society deals with power distance including the importance and respect allotted to superiors, and conversely to subordinates (Hostede, 1983), also attitudes to inequality (Hofstede, 2006b). Luxury brands may be important in high power distance countries, as their acquisition would demonstrate to others that they are required to show deference (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010). Individualism/collectivism concerns personal goals as opposed to collective or group goals (Hostede, 1983). Self-actualisation is important to consumers in individualist cultures and brands that help the consumer to promote their sense of self may do better than in collectivist cultures, where identity is linked to the social system they belong to (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010). The more direct communication style suitable for an individualist culture may be deemed inacceptable in a collectivist culture, and they may respond more favourably to marketing that promotes collective benefits and family harmony (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010). Of the four dimensions, Hofstede states that it is this dimension which has lessened in its impact, for example Japanese youth are more individualistic than their parents whilst they continue to mirror their parents in the other dimensions (Hofstede, 2006a). Masculinity-femininity classifies the cultures relative importance of what may be considered as more male characteristics such as advancement and success versus more traditionally feminine characteristics such as being nurturing (Hostede, 1983). The Netherlands have a more feminine culture with both men and women valuing the softer skills; this can impact upon marketing strategy as more feminine cultures may wish to communicate differently than masculine cultures (Hofstede, 2006a), for example a tour operator using travel agents or call centres more heavily in feminine cultures to allow more opportunity for direct communication. Also, it is posited that household chores such as shopping will be shared more in feminine cultures, thus the marketer must consider who will be making the buying decision; perhaps that target audience will be different from the domestic market. In masculine cultures, status brands may symbolise success and achievement (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010). Uncertainty avoidance deals with anxiety relating to the unknown and the extent to which consumers within the culture would seek to avoid this uncertainty (Hostede, 1983); this would also include the expression of emotion and control of aggressive behaviours (Minkov & Hofstede, 2011). In high uncertainty avoidance cultures, the ‘seal of approval’ from experts may be welcome within marketing, additionally this may impact upon the types of product that will be more successful in the country, for example, preventative medication is more prevalent in high uncertainty avoidance cultures (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010). Hofstede added a fifth dimension in 1991, long versus short term orientation which relates to gratification deferment (Hofstede, 2006b) and cultural focus on the past, present or future (Minkov & Hofstede, 2011), thrift may be more important to long term orientated cultures (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010) which could affect pricing decisions for international marketers. Hofstede’s dimensions are not without their critics; criticisms include incorrect characterisation of dimensions (Jacob, 2005) and that the dimensions are out of date with a lack of societal range in the sample (McSweeney, 2002)however Hofstede posits that the adoption of his dimensions into the mainstream as a cornerstone of cultural research (Minkov & Hofstede (2011) has its disadvantages, namely that they may not be used as originally intended- as a means to discover differences in national culture (Hofstede, 2002). Like Hofstede, Trompenaars also looked at time orientation and individualism/collectivism, yet Trompenaars looked at a further five dimensions, namely universalism/particularism, affective/neutral relationships, specificity/diffuseness, achievement/ascription and internal/external control (Trompenaars, 1996)., Criticism of this typology hinge on its reduction of acomplex construct such as leadership style to two dimensions when the respondent may use both leadership styles in different circumstances, or indeed a different style altogether, but is forced to choose from one of two given styles (Jacob, 2005). The conceptual work of Hall (1976) considers cultures as being either high or low context, as a continuum of how much context matters in the culture, and may be used as a tool for international marketers to understand cultural differences and the management implications of the same (Kim et al, 1998). It is posited that a high context culture would have strong respect for social hierarchy, bonds between people would be strong, people may be more self-contained with feelings and messages may be simple but with deep meaning, examples of countries with a high context culture include Japan, China and Korea (Kim et al, 1998). In high context cultures personal relationship may be important in the business to business relationship (Kim et al, 1998), which would have important implications for the marketer, for example, how the relationships could be developed. Conversely, the low context country would be a more individual culture, messages may be more overt, and bonds between people may be more fragile and breakable should they be considered to be untenable; countries such as Switzerland, Norway and Sweden are considered to have low context cultures (Kim et al, 1998). The marketer in a low context culture may not have as much trouble acquiring customers, as they may have in retaining them. With the wealth of information gained from the various means of cultural analyses, the international marketer will then need to consider the impact upon its marketing strategy. Using Hofstede’s terminology, they may be currently marketing in an individualist culture and attempting to persuade through marketing, but it is suggested that this would be quite wrong if they were attempting to begin to market to a collectivist culture where inducing positive feelings about the brand and building trust would be paramount (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010). What the international marketer should seek to achieve is congruence in the brand’s marketing set against the cultural norms of that country (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010). However, the international marketer must also take on board that culture will never be a ‘one size fits all’ descriptor for a country, as there will most likely be subcultures, for example the UK, with its distinctive subcultures (Palmer & Hartley, 2002). Additionally, people may be members of more than one cultural group at one time- the traditional family culture, work culture, and perhaps even a different cultural group of friends (Jacob, 2006). Culture surrounds the consumer; to develop international marketing strategy without an understanding of it would be foolhardy (de Mooij & Hofstede, 2010), equally, the international marketer undertaking cultural research based upon a single model of cultural analyses, subsequently assuming cultural homogeneity could be equally set upon the wrong path (Jacob, 2006). What is clear is that culture is by no means a simple concept, and is one that would require extensive research on the part of the international marketer.


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Why Is It Important For An International Marketer To Study Culture. (2017, Jun 26). Retrieved July 14, 2024 , from

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