Culture is part of the external influences that impact the consumer. That is, culture represents influences that are imposed on the consumer by other individuals.
The English anthropologist, E.B. Taylor, defined culture as: “That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by a man as a member of society.” From this definition, we make the following observations:
Culture, as a “complex whole,” is a system of interdependent components.
Knowledge and beliefs are important parts. In the U.S., we know and believe that a person who is skilled and works hard will get ahead. In other countries, it may be believed that differences in outcome result more from luck. “Chunking,” the name for China in Chinese literally means “The Middle Kingdom.” The belief among ancient Chinese that they were in the center of the universe greatly influenced their thinking.
Other issues are relevant. Art, for example, may be reflected in the rather arbitrary practice of wearing ties in some countries and wearing turbans in others. Morality may be exhibited in the view in the United States that one should not be naked in public. In Japan, on the other hand, groups of men and women may take steam baths together without perceived as improper.
On the other extreme, women in some Arab countries are not even allowed to reveal their faces. Notice, by the way, that what at least some countries view as moral, may in fact be highly immoral by the standards of another country. For example, the law that once banned interracial marriages in South Africa was named the “Immorality Act,” even though in most civilized countries this law, and any degree of explicit racial prejudice, would itself be considered highly immoral.
Within each culture are numerous sub-groups with their own distinguishing modes of behaviour.
In the United States black Americans represent the largest racial/ethnic sub-culture. In the UK it is the Asian Community. American marketing firms realize that it is impossible to treat such a large group of consumers as a homogeneous mass, a number studies though indicate that their consumption habits are significantly different from those of the remainder of Americans. As a result, American firms are now designing products and advertising campaigns aimed specifically at this large minority markets. This has now also happened in the UK. Indeed, although the UK is more culturally homogeneous than the USA, firms can no longer ignore the cultural differences of the ethnic population. Ethnic heterogeneity is slowly being recognized by more enlightened firms as potential source of marketing opportunities.
Cannon highlights a number of interesting examples of marketing opportunities and problems related to sub-cultures.
• Products may need to meet special religious needs (e.g. kosher foods).
• Marketing intermediaries may be different (e.g. the importance of small, Asian-run, shops)
• Consumer tastes may differ (e.g. Cadbury Typhoo’s Poundo Yam, aimed mainly at consumers of Caribbean origin)
• Language can be a problem in marketing communications (e.g. in the UK, 77 per cent of Pakistani origin women and 43 percent of Pakistani-origin men cannot speak working English).
The culturally aware marketing firm will recognize that sub-cultures represent distinct market segments and will seek to increase their awareness of the needs, attitudes and motivations of sub-groups.
Culture has several important characteristics:
1. Culture is comprehensive. This means that all parts must fit together in some logical fashion. For example, bowing and a strong desire to avoid the loss of face are unified in their manifestation of the importance of respect.
2. Culture is learned rather than being something we are born with. We will consider the mechanics of learning later in the course.
3. Culture is manifested within boundaries of acceptable behaviour. For example, in American society, one cannot show up to class naked, but wearing anything from a suit and tie to shorts and a T-shirt would usually be acceptable. Failure to behave within the prescribed norms may lead to sanctions, ranging from being hauled off by the police for indecent exposure to being laughed at by others for wearing a suit at the beach.
4. Conscious awareness of cultural standards is limited. One American spy was intercepted by the Germans during World War II simply because of the way he held his knife and fork while eating.
5. Cultures fall somewhere on a continuum between static and dynamic depending on how quickly they accept change. For example, American culture has changed a great deal since the 1950s, while the culture of Saudi Arabia has changed much less.
Dealing with culture: Culture is a problematic issue for many marketers since it is inherently nebulous and often difficult to understand. One may violate the cultural norms of another country without being informed of this, and people from different cultures may feel uncomfortable in each other’s presence without knowing exactly why (for example, two speakers may unconsciously continue to attempt to adjust to reach an incompatible preferred interpersonal distance).
Warning about stereotyping: When observing a culture, one must be careful not to over-generalize about traits that one sees. Research in social psychology has suggested a strong tendency for people to perceive an “out-group” as more homogenous than an “in-group,” even when they knew what members had been assigned to each group purely by chance. When there is often a “grain of truth” to some of the perceived differences, the temptation to over-generalize is often strong. Note that there are often significant individual differences within cultures.
Cultural lessons: We considered several cultural lessons in class; the important thing here is the big picture. For example, within the Muslim tradition, the dog is considered a “dirty” animal, so portraying it as “man’s best friend” in an advertisement is counter-productive. Packaging, seen as a reflection of the quality of the “real” product, is considerably more important in Asia than in the U.S., where there is a tendency to focus on the contents which “really count.” Many cultures observe significantly greater levels of formality than that typical in the U.S., and Japanese negotiator tend to observe long silent pauses as a speaker’s point is considered.
Cultural characteristics as a continuum: There is a tendency to stereotype cultures as being one way or another (e.g., individualistic rather than collectivistic). Note, however, countries fall on a continuum of cultural traits. Hofstede’s research demonstrates a wide range between the most individualistic and collectivistic countries, for example; some fall in the middle.
Hofstede’s Dimensions: Gert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher, was able to interview a large number of IBM executives in various countries, and found that cultural differences tended to center around four key dimensions:
Individualism vs. collectivism: To what extent do people believe in individual responsibility and reward rather than having these measures aimed at the larger group? Contrary to the stereotype, Japan actually ranks in the middle of this dimension, while Indonesia and West Africa rank toward the collectivistic side. The U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands rate toward individualism.
Power distance: To what extent is there a strong separation of individuals based on rank? Power distance tends to be particularly high in Arab countries and some Latin American ones, while it is more modest in Northern Europe and the U.S.