Culture may be loosely termed as the way of doing things by a given group of people. This assemblage of people may be a country or community. International marketers often realise the need to understand the prevailing culture of their target market before launching marketing campaigns in the said region. Culture plays a significant role in determining market trends. This paper will describe the impact of culture on international marketing. It will also discuss the various elements of culture that have a profound impact on international marketing. The paper will also discuss Hofstede’s model of culture and its role in enhancing global business operations.
Relationship between Culture and International Marketing
The success of international marketers depends highly on their ability to grasp the culture of their target customers (Waldron 2016; Darley, Luethge, & Blankson 2013). Culture plays a pivotal role in shaping the nature of international marketing strategies. Cultural and social differences such as those caused by religion affect customers’ perceptions toward a given product to the extent of influencing their buying behaviour (Doole & Lowe 2008).
Many cultures may seem similar. However, they are very different when carefully observed. For instance, the term “the West” bundles the English and Italians together, although the two communities possess different values and norms (Brewer 2013). A successful international marketer must go the extra mile to identify the similarities and differences among the various cultures. This information may help to design effective market strategies.
Cultural differences such as language have an impact on the attributes of a product such as its use in a particular market, the brand name, and the adverting campaign. When Coca-Cola entered the Chinese market, it had faced huge problems related to the brand name (Doole & Lowe 2008). Therefore, Coca-Cola came up with another name, ‘Keekou Keele’, which had a positive connotation. Other companies that have had to deal with negative perception based on brand name include General Motors and Pepsi Cola. General Motors brand name ‘nova’ failed to appeal to the Spanish consumers since the term means “no go” in Spanish. In Germany, Pepsi Cola was forced to abandon its “Come Alive with Pepsi” campaign as it translated into “Come Alive Out of the Grave” (Doole & Lowe 2008, p. 8).
Leading successful marketing campaigns in different countries requires companies to comprehend the outstanding discrepancies in different regions (O’Cass & Viet 2007). Ahmed, Ullah, and Alam (2014) argue that analysing the culture of a particular market beforehand may determine how successful a product will be in that market. Failure to relate to the new culture may limit the business’ chances of tapping fully into a market, hence opening gaps for competitors to take over. Firms should also ensure that their employees understand the prevailing culture of their new working environment because workers interact with customers first hand. If labourers are unable to understand the new culture, they may become a hurdle to the business (Ahmed, Ullah, &Alam 2014).
Elements of Culture
Culture is a broad term that encompasses various aspects, or elements. These elements together define the behaviours and values of the people who possess the particular culture. Scholars such as Samaha, Beck, and Palmatier (2014) argue that culture is not inherited, but it is learnt by interacting with the immediate environment. Understanding the elements is important in helping global marketers to dissect and understand different cultures.
Language is one of the most significant elements of culture. Whether written or spoken, language is an important source of information on the culture of the speakers (Abdin 2008). To succeed in marketing, a marketer should strive to understand the local language, including the accompanying tone (Abdin 2008). People are more receptive to others who can understand their language. Doole and Lowe (2008) emphasise the importance of understanding the impact of terminology used to in advertising campaigns on the target market.
Non-verbal communication is another important aspect of culture. Different cultures have diverse body language patterns. It is possible for a body sign to have totally opposite meanings in different cultures (Abdin 2008). For instance, the thumb sign in the ‘west’ means ‘alright’. The same sign in the Rural Bangladeshi has a negative connotation (Abdin 2008). Therefore, non-verbal communication is as sensitive as spoken communication. A global marketer should have an understanding of the meaning of various non-verbal cues before including them in an advertising campaign.
Another important aspect of culture is the high or low-context civilisation. In a high-context culture, words have the exact meanings as stated. Hence, a speaker implies exactly what he or she says. The effect is that fewer words are used. Examples of high-context cultures include the Japanese and other Mid-Eastern way of life (Hallikainen & Laukkanens 2016). In low-context cultures, the context of the message depends on several factors.
The factors may include the social standing of the speaker, the level of expertise, the speaker’s tone, and body language (Bai 2016). Northern Europeans’ way of life offers a good example of low-context cultures. In high-context cultures, trust is implied in the speaker’s word while a speaker’s word in low-context cultures cannot be fully relied on and hence the reason it (word) must be reduced to writing (Dinnie 2015).
Religion is another important factor that shapes culture. Different societies profess diverse religions, which also modify their behaviour. For instance, the Middle Eastern population comprises mostly Muslims while the west principally harbours Christians. Conflicting customs are evident between the societies mainly because of religion. The customs range from the mode of dressing to diet. For instance, Muslims women are required to dress in veils while covering their faces. A market campaign that features women in conventional clothing will most likely offend the Muslim audience. In India, about 40 percent of the population is vegetarian. In fact, this situation caused McDonald’s a difficult time trying to establish a market for its burgers in the country (Doole & Lowe 2008).
Material life is another important dimension of culture that informs international marketing. Material life refers to the people’s income-generating activities (Lemonnier 2013). An international marketer who is intending to venture into a foreign market should study the society’s material culture. Important areas that may provide valuable information on material culture include transportation, communication, and power.
Material life has a significant impact on marketing strategies. For instance, for a society whose material life is subsistence agriculture, it may be difficult for a manufacturer of farm machinery such as tractors to achieve meaningful market success in the society. On the other hand, for a culture in which most of the population lives and works in the city, various businesses are bound to thrive, both locally and across national boundaries (Abdin 2008).
Hofstede is among the few productive playwrights on the subject of civilisation and international marketing (Minkov & Hofstede 2013). Hofstede and his colleagues embarked on explaining why culture is a more relevant aspect in examining why some nations attain a competitive advantage while others do not (Wilson 2016). Hofstede’s model has been adopted in various areas of international branding and advertising (De Mooij & Hofstede 2010).
The model has been instrumental in explaining concepts such as self, personality, and identity and hence the variations in branding strategy. Another important area that the Hofstede’s model addresses is information processing (Vandekerckhove et al. 2014).
Hofstede popularised the notion that some countries have a competitive advantage. However, he failed to explain why only some nations have this comparative advantage. Nevertheless, Hofstede’s concept has been widely accepted and adopted in international marketing. He and his colleague’s hypothesis stated that culture, as opposed to structural and material conditions, is the biggest influence on human behaviour and hence economic growth (Hando & Ahem 2012).
The duo examined the culture of some rich and poor nations. The rich nations examined included the United States, the UK, and Australia. On the other end were poorer countries such as Pakistan and India. The cultural values examined included power distance, eccentricity, ambiguity evasion, and manliness. The main reason for the widespread acceptance of Hofstede’s concept is its simplicity and straightforwardness, which make it appealing to researchers and marketers (Boateng & Agyemang 2015). According to Magnusson et al. (2008), recent frameworks have failed to match Hofstede’s original work.
Recent studies have pointed to the important role played by culture in shaping international marketing. Different cultures result in different perceptions of products and marketing campaigns. For instance, Coca-Cola had to change its brand name in China to suit the Chinese market because the name had a negative implication. Elements of culture that influence international marketing include language, non-verbal communication, high and low-context cultures, and religion. Additionally, Hofstede, one of the most acknowledged researchers on the impact of culture on international marketing, has suggested cultural variables such as individualism, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance that cause some nations to have a comparative advantage over others.
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