Impact of Culture in Global Marketing Environment

What is culture?

The impact of religious, family, educational and social systems on oneself and on people that is the way they live and the choices they make. Marketing exists in an environment that is shaped by culture. Domestic or International Marketing both needs culture to thrive. There are many organisations that intend to market their products in different countries, must be sensitive to the cultural factors at work in their target markets. Cultural differences between different countries or different regions in the same country seem to be very small, marketers who ignore them, faces failure risk when they implement their programs.

Culture is very complex in nature and it takes significant time, effort and expertise to conquer the market. Different features of culture can create illusion of similitude, but marketers need to dig deep to make sure that they truly understand the people and environments in which they work. Even a common language does not guarantee similitude of interpretation. For example, in the U.S. people purchase “cans” of various grocery products, but in Britain it’s “tins.” In India, where English is officially recognized language after national language Hindi, “matrimonial” is used instead of dating website in conversation, referring to personal advertisements in newspapers seeking marriage partners.

Several dimensions of culture that require particular attention from global marketers are listed below.

Language

As we have seen above, the importance of language differences cannot be under rated, and there are nearly three thousand languages in the world. Language differences can be a challenge for marketers while designing campaigns, product labels, brand and product names, tag lines, and so on. One single brand name can work universally in terms of meaning but it has its own challenge. Correct and proper grammatical usage in marketing communication is essential for a product, brand, or company to be viewed as credible, trustworthy, and of high-quality.

Language is more complex when a country has more than one official language. To illustrate, in India and China, more than two hundred different dialects are spoken. India has more than twenty officially recognized languages. Mainland China’s official spoken language is Chinese. Meanwhile in Hong Kong and Macau, Cantonese Chinese, English, and Portuguese are the official languages. Hence, language can become a very complicated issue for marketers.

Finally, global marketers should be atpar to what they communicate when they choose which languages to use–or not to use. Products that carry label may suffer accordingly.

Customs and Taboos

Every culture has its own sets of customs and taboos. It is important for marketers to learn about these customs and taboos so that they will know what is acceptable and unacceptable for their marketing campaigns. For example, in China, the number eight is considered lucky and green colour which is colour of infidelity is avoided in many functions and celebrations. In Middle Eastern countries where Islamic law is strictly observed, images displaying the uncovered arms or legs of the female body are considered offensive. Meanwhile in Egypt, where many women wear the headscarf or hijab in public, an increasing number of younger women are in work and educational settings where gender segregation does not exist. Marketers struggle with whether to portray women with or without the hijab, knowing that they risk offending some of their target audience with either choice. Marketers should seek guidance from local experts familiar with local culture and customers. Marketing research can also help marketers understand these complex issues.

Values

The role of values in society is important where it is followed and it dictates what is acceptable or unacceptable. Values are part of the culture, and they can also be expressed individually, arising from the influence of family, education, moral, and religious beliefs. Values are also learned through experiences. Values can also influence consumer perceptions and purchasing behaviour. For example, consumers in some countries, such as the United States, tend to be individualistic and make many purchasing decisions based on their own personal preferences. In other countries, such as China, India etc. the well-being of the group is more highly valued, and buying decisions are more influenced by the well-being of the group, such as the family. Based on these differences in values, it is not surprising that commercials featuring individuals tend to do better in countries where individualism is an important value, and commercials featuring groups do better in countries where the group’s well-being is a higher value.

Time and Punctuality

Different cultures have different attitude towards punctuality. In some countries, being slightly late to a meeting is acceptable, whereas in other countries it is very insulting. For cultures that highly value punctuality, being on time is a sign of good planning, organization, and respect. In cultures where precise punctuality is less important, there is often a greater emphasis on relationships. The fact that a meeting happens is more important than when it happens.

While there are cultural stereotypes about time management, the best rule of thumb in business is to be punctual and meet deadlines as promised. Also, it is wise not to apply popular stereotypes to individual people for whom the cultural stereotype may or may not be true.

Business Norms

Business norms vary from one country to another and may present challenges to international marketers who are not used to operate according to the particular norms of the host country. In business meetings in most parts of Asia, for example, it is expected that the most senior person representing an organization will lead the discussion, and more junior-level colleagues may not speak at all. The role of alcohol in business meetings varies widely by culture: in Middle Eastern cultures where alcohol is forbidden, it may be insulting to serve or even offer an alcoholic beverage. In China, many rounds of toasts are customary as part of formal dinner meetings.

Similarly, business norms around greetings and physical contact also vary. American-style handshakes have become accepted as a business norm in many cultures, but this custom is not universal. In Asian cultures, a respectful bow is the traditional business greeting, although the handshake is becoming more common. In Islamic cultures, contact between men and women is a sensitive issue, even in business settings. In those regions and cultures, it is best to shake hands with a woman only if she extends her hand first. In India, the namaste (a slight bow with hands brought together on the chest) remains a respectful, if traditional business greeting particularly when interacting with women and older people.

Religious Beliefs and Celebrations

As discussed earlier, religious set of beliefs and practices can have strong influence on what consumers buy (or don’t buy), when they shop, and how they conduct business.  It is important for marketers to understand the influence of religion on consumer culture in the markets where they operate, so that their marketing activities can be appropriate. Failing to respect religious beliefs or cultures can seriously undermine the reputation of a company or brand. At the same time, marketers who well verse about the impact of religion on local culture can find great advantage in aligning marketing messages and promotional opportunities to religious practice.

For example, all the major world religions observe holidays. These festival seasons tend to be prime shopping seasons as well, such as the Christmas season in Western cultures, or Ramadan in Muslim cultures. Religious beliefs lead to sensitiveness about certain products: in the Hindu religion, cows are considered sacred and people refrain from eating beef. Jews and Muslims consider pork unclean, and they consume only kosher or halal meats, respectively. Many religions eschew alcohol: for example, devout Sikhs, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists etc. all refrain from drinking.

Religious beliefs may cause sensitive issues around revealing images or sexually suggestive material. Religious beliefs associated with different colours may create either preferences for or rejection of certain products and marketing materials. The link between religious practice and gender roles may affect the purchasing decisions. Even if a woman, for example, is not the primary buyer, she may exercise strong influence of many consumer decisions.

In other areas of cultural impact, it is crucial for marketers to educate themselves about the people and their culture, that they are targeting for marketing and doing business in order to use cultural knowledge as an added plus.

China’s culture and business practice

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