Global Marketing

Cross-Cultural Considerations in Business

When we think of the world, we tend to associate certain traits, or behaviors, with specific countries. If you stumble upon an overly helpful/nice person, the joke can be made that they’re Canadian, or if you know any Indian “aunties”, you’ll know they’ll constantly and persistently offer you food.

Why is it that we associate specific traits, behaviors, personalities to specific countries? The answer is: culture.

Culture is one of the main considerations of the international marketing environment as explained by our peers last week.

How does culture drive behavior?

Culture begins to embed in us at a very young age, and as we grow and become more perceptive of the world, we are more and more influenced by our surrounding environments. When I (Maria) first moved to California, the more I conversed with California residents, the more my English evolved and was enhanced. I no longer speak English the way they do in Lebanon – my home country. As such, I have been, according to my friends, “Americanized”.

In his TedTalk on “How Culture Drives Behavior”, Bourrelle argues that “we all see the world through cultural glasses”. This lens, or this perspective, is an inherent part of human beings.

Consequently, how does behavior drive our choices?

Geert Hofstede, a Dutch psychologist, pioneered the research on cross-cultural groups and organization. Hofstede successfully developed the first empirical model, originally delimiting 5 “dimensions” of a national culture. Later, Hofstede Insights added a sixth dimension: Indulgence versus Restraint (IVR).

Power Distance Index (PDI)

A large degree of power distance indicates that societies accept a specific hierarchical order, where each entity has a “rightful place”. A low PDI indicates more distribution of power and providing equality to all. This HBR article depicts the large PDI in Malaysia, mostly attributed to the Malay feudal system. In reality, global brands operating in high PDI countries focus on the “rightful place” concept, and operate its business under that pretext so as not to disrupt the social construct of a country/area.

Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV)

This dimension tackles how people look after themselves within a society. Individualism is when a person focuses more on the immediate “I”, or “me”, which also engulfs family and close ones. On the other end, collectivism is based on communities, whereas each individual belongs to a specific group, with strong emphasis on loyalty and belonging. In reality, a collectivist society values relationship-building, after which business can be conducted, whereas in an individualist society, a person would much rather gather all the information about a product/service and be on their way.

Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)

In masculine cultures, a male and a female’s role are different, whereas a feminine society is one where cultural roles overlap. In masculine cultures, household work is mostly handled by women. For example, in Lebanon, you will rarely see an ad for a detergent featuring a man, as that can be perceived as offensive to the traditional role a male holds in the family, or just simply because it’s not relatable.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)

Uncertainty avoidance can be defined as “the extent to which people feel threatened by uncertainty and ambiguity and try to avoid these situations'  (de Mooji & Hofstede 2011). Countries with high UAI have a need for structure, clarity, rules and formality, and are less open to innovative or new concepts. As such, introducing technological innovations that are new (and probably not yet regulated) in a country like Greece, which has a very high UAI (roughly 100), can result in failure.

“The Greek myth about the “birth” of the world tells us a lot about high Uncertainty Avoidance: at the very beginning there was only Chaos but then Cronos (Time) came in to organize life and make it easier to manage.”

Hofstede Insights

Long/Short Term Orientations (LTO)

This dimension measures the extent (or limit) to which a society thinks into the future. In long term orientation societies, the focus isn’t on imminent happiness, rather it’s pursuing a more long-term steadiness. However, in short term orientation societies, the focus is mainly on the day to day, and how to be happy or present in the moment. This would highly influence a consumer’s behavior vis-a-vis willingness to invest in a certain product, service, market etc…

Indulgence versus Restraint (IVR)

Social norms and expectations highly drive this dimension. It essentially measures how much a society gratifies itself. In Lebanon and if you’re a woman, you may find yourself in situations where you really want that extra piece of cake. If you do reach for it, brace yourself for “but you’re going to gain weight!” comments. These dynamics highly influence an individual’s indulgence, or lack of.

Before getting into these dimensions however, don't forget about the importance of language, and don't do what IKEA did:

IKEA: What's Swedish for OOPS?

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any examples of how your own culture/background influences your behavior? Let us know in the comments section!

3 replies on “Cross-Cultural Considerations in Business”

Great insight into culture! Personally, when I (Robyn) think of culture, it is more in terms of religion. Part of the Jewish religion is always making sure that there will be enough food, so that means buying food for 1.5 as many guests as you expect, and then eating leftovers for days. I see that in my life on a regular basis, where I always overestimate the amount of food that I need when having guests over just to make sure that nobody will be hungry. At this point, you think I would have learned how to buy the right amount of food for the number of guests, but I probably never will.

I love that! That’s so interesting. As Lebanese, we also share the same mindset in terms of hospitality and abundance. I would say it is more linked to being a Lebanese, rather than a specific religion, as Lebanon has 18 different religious sects.

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