Even if cultural differences between countries or between regions within the same country appear minor, marketers who ignore them, run the risk of failing to implement their programs.
People’s lives, how they live their lives, and the choices they make are all influenced by family, education, and social systems. Marketing always takes place in a culturally shaped environment. Companies that want to sell their products in different countries must be aware of the cultural differences that exist in their target markets. Even if cultural differences between countries or between regions within the same country appear minor, marketers who ignore them, run the risk of failing to implement their programs.
Culture is complicated, and fully comprehending its impact takes time, effort, and expertise. Although various aspects of a culture can give the impression of similarity, marketers must dig deeper to ensure that they truly understand the people and environments in which they work. Even using the same language does not promise that the interpretations will still be the same. For example, in the United States, they buy “cans” of various grocery items, whereas the British buy “tins.”
The following are a few cultural dimensions that require special attention from global marketers. Let’s explore:
As previously stated, the importance of language differences cannot be overstated, and the world is home to nearly three thousand languages. For marketers creating international marketing campaigns, product labels, brand and product names, tag lines, and other materials, language differences can be a challenge. It’s difficult to come up with a single brand name that appeals to everyone in terms of pronunciation, meaning, and “ownability.” Obviously, proper and grammatical language usage in marketing communications is required for a product, brand, or company to be perceived as credible, trustworthy, and of high quality.
When a country has more than one officially recognized language, things become more complicated. For instance, in Canada, national law requires labels to include both English and French. There are over two hundred dialects spoken in India and China. In India, there are more than two dozen official languages. In Hong Kong and Macau, Portuguese is the official language. This clearly shows, language can quickly become a very complex issue for marketers. Finally, when deciding which languages to use or not use, marketers should be aware of what they are communicating.
Traditions and Taboos
Traditions and taboos differ from culture to culture. Marketers must understand these customs and taboos so that they can determine what is acceptable and what is not for their marketing campaigns. In Japan, for example, the number four is considered unlucky, and many consumers avoid product packages that contain four items. Images of the female with uncovered arms or legs are considered offensive in certain countries where religious law is strictly enforced. Therefore, marketers should seek advice from local experts who are familiar with the culture and customers in their area. Marketers can use marketing research to better understand and navigate these complex issues.
The role of values in society is to define what is and is not acceptable. Values are a part of a culture’s societal fabric, but they can also be expressed individually as a result of family, education, morals, and beliefs. Experiential learning is another way to learn values and predictably, have an impact on consumer perceptions and purchasing behavior. Individualistic consumers, for example, are prevalent in some countries, such as the United States, and make many purchasing decisions based on their own personal preferences. In other countries, such as Japan, group well-being is more highly valued, and purchasing decisions are more influenced by group well-being, such as family and relatives. Given these disparities in values, it’s no surprise that print or digital ads featuring individuals perform better in countries that place a high value on individualism, while ads featuring groups, on the other hand, perform better in countries where the well-being of the group is highly valued. Make sense no?
Punctuality and Time
Different cultures have different time and punctuality sensitivities. Being a few minutes late to a meeting is acceptable in some countries, but it is highly offensive in others. Being on time is a sign of good planning, organization, and respect in cultures that place a high value on punctuality. When punctuality is less important in a certain place, a greater emphasis on relationships is often placed. It is more important than a meeting occur than when it occurs.
While there are stereotypes about time management (such as the relaxed “flexible time”), in business, the best rule of thumb is to be punctual and meet deadlines as promised. By following this rule, you will not offend anyone. It’s also a good idea to avoid applying popular stereotypes to individuals who may or may not fit the cultural stereotype. Allow others’ actions to speak for themselves, and always treat them with the respect you would anticipate from them.
Norms of business
Business norms differ from country to country, which can be difficult for foreigners who aren’t used to operating under the host country’s rules. In Japanese business meetings, for example, the most senior representative of an organization is expected to lead the discussion, and more junior-level colleagues may speak only when needed. The role of alcohol in business meetings varies greatly by culture. For example, in Middle Eastern cultures where alcohol is prohibited, serving or even offering an alcoholic beverage will be considered insulting.
Similarly, business customs regarding greetings and physical contact differ. Many cultures have adopted the Western-style handshake as a business standard, but it is not universal. A respectful bow is the traditional business greeting in Japan but in some other Asian cultures, the handshake is becoming more common. Even in business settings, contact between men and women is different in certain cultures. It is preferable to shake hands with a woman only if she extends her hand first in certain regions and cultures. For example, when interacting with women and the elderly in India, the namaste (a slight bow with hands brought together on the chest) is a respectful gesture as well as in a traditional business greeting. The best advice is, always seek advice from a trusted colleague or friend who is familiar with the local customs and can provide etiquette instruction.
Celebrations and religious beliefs
Religious beliefs and practices can have a significant impact on what consumers buy (or don’t buy), when they shop, and how they conduct business. To tailor their marketing efforts appropriately, marketers must understand the impact of religion on consumer culture in the markets where they operate. Failure to respect religious beliefs or cultures can seriously damage a company’s or brand’s reputation. Simultaneously, marketers who are aware of the impact of religion on local culture can gain a significant competitive advantage by aligning marketing messages and promotional opportunities with religious practices.
All of the major world religions, for example, celebrate holidays that include feasting and gift-giving. These festival seasons, such as Christmas in Western cultures or Ramadan in Muslim cultures, are also prime shopping seasons. Certain products and marketing materials may be preferred or rejected based on the beliefs associated with the symbolism of religion. Marketers must, however, avoid oversimplifying how decision-making takes place in these situations.
To summarize the article, simply we as marketers must educate ourselves about the people and cultures that we are targeting for marketing and business to take advantage of cultural knowledge.