Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Culture - Central core of marketing policy


Why are cultural factors considered by many writers on international marketing, such as Usunier (1996), to be the ‘central core’ of marketing policy?

Culture, as described by Taylor (1913), is a complex and interrelated set of components that consists of knowledge, values and beliefs, manners, law and morals. It also includes habits and skills obtained by an individual as a part of a particular society (Usunier and Lee, 2005, p. 6). According to Hofstede (1980, p. 13), these elements are engraved in value systems of the groups that exist in a nation’s population.

National and regional cultures influence the perception of groups of customers. Customer’s perception of benefits, understanding of marketing communications and inferences from symbols such as colours etc are influenced in a big way by national and regional cultures (Bridgewater and Egan, 2002, p. 23). This is why a clear knowledge of similarities and contrasts that exists between cultures of different nations and regions is important for development of successful international marketing strategies (Doole and Lowe, 2008, p. 71). In this coursework, the reasons for considering cultural factors as “the ‘central core’ of marketing policy and strategy” will be explained.

Culture components and its impacts on consumer behaviour

Culture components influence all attributes of buyer and consumer behaviour. According to Sarathy et al (2006), there are eight such components of culture that examines culture from a marketing perspective:

Education: The level of education in a market is an important component that influences consumer behaviour. Both primary and secondary education has a significant influence on the target customers in terms of their sophistication. For example, ICI markets it product like pesticides in developed countries using advertising and printed matter as it primary way of publicity, where as in developing countries the organization relies heavily on educational programmes which are mostly delivered verbally to communicate their marketing message (Doole and Lowe, 2008, p. 74).

Social organiation: This can be described as the way in which organization of a society occurs. This includes things such as social institutions, importance of kinship, interest groups and status systems. For instance, in some nations, women’s role is seen as “the housewife or the home maker” by default. Therefore companies used to marketing to women as homemaker may have difficulty in nations where there is no social status for women at all (Doole and Lowe, 2008, p. 74).

Radial Diagram

Components of Culture

Adapted from Ghauri and Catheora, 2006, p.83

Technology: Some cultures are more able to handle, deal and adopt new technologies than other cultures. For example, some cultures find the concept of leaving freezers plugged in overnight difficult to understand. In such cultures, marketing efforts have to me made to educate population about the new technologies and their handling (Doole and Lowe, 2008, p. 74).

Law and Politics: The legal and political environments, according to Sarathy et al (2006), are usually regarded as consequence of the cultural traditions prevailing in the nation or region. Political and legal systems are generally formed because of the prevailing norms of behaviour considered right in the regional or national culture. Therefore, cultural responsiveness to political issues is deemed to be very important for marketing strategies (Doole and Lowe, 2008, p. 75).

Aesthetics: This refers to the ways in which things such as design, beauty, good taste etc is perceived by the culture of the local region. Organizations must research on what is acceptable or unacceptable to the local consumers prior to launching marketing campaigns otherwise it might send wrong message to the potential customers. A classic example that shows such a mishap is that of Pepsodent, the popular toothpaste, who marketed their products in the far reaches of East Asia as a toothpaste that whitens teeth without knowing that the local natives preferred to blacken their teeth by chewing betel nuts as they found it more attractive (Doole and Lowe, 2008, p. 75).

Values and Attitudes: Different cultures value things such as achievement, work, time, risk taking and wealth differently and have this affects the products and also on its communication and packaging activities. Therefore, marketers have to consider such cultural factors in their marketing activities (Doole and Lowe, 2008, p. 75-6).

Religion: Religion is also an important cultural component that affects the marketing strategy. To understand a market, it is important to identify the objects that are sacred, philosophical systems, norms, beliefs, values, rituals, and taboos. Marketers must ensure that their marketing strategies and campaigns do not hurt the religious sentiments of the people especially in markets like Saudi Arabia where even smallest violation of religion gets punished by the government or the consumers (Doole and Lowe, 2008, p. 76).

Language: Language is another important cultural factor that makes it important for marketers to consider culture as the central core of marketing strategies. An understanding of the local market is important so that right message is communicated to the customers (Lamb et al, 2008, p. 153). Two languages that sound same sometimes have different meanings and this could create misunderstandings and confusion. For example, the word ‘terrible’ in English means awful or dreadful, whereas in French the word ‘terrible’ can, in contrast, mean great or wonderful. Therefore, language is an important cultural factor that affects marketing strategies (Doole and Lowe, 2008, p. 77).

The above components of culture give direct and indirect messages to customers concerning which products and services to buy and therefore it is important for marketers to base their marketing strategies and communications based on the local cultural factors.

The following examples show the blunders made by organisations by not conducting a proper analysis of cultural factors of the overseas market:

Example: A trade delegation arrived in Taiwan to sell green caps. They later found out that the colour green was used by opposition political party. Moreover, a man wearing green in Taiwan signified that his wife has been unfaithful. This led the trade delegation move out of Taiwan and look for other markets (Kotler et al, 2008, p. 240).

Example: When Procter and Gamble introduced the Pampers branded diapers in Japan in the late 1970s, the product was unsuccessful despite of being a successful product in United States. The primary reason for the failure was ignorance of cultural differences between American and Japanese parents. Typical Japanese parents were found to be changing diapers about 14 times a day, almost twice as often as American parents and therefore, Pampers diapers were two expensive for them (Solomon and Stuart, 2000, p.96).

Culture affects Business norms

According to Kotler (2008, p. 948-9), culture not only does affect consumer behaviour but also influences business norms and behaviour. Therefore, it is important for marketers and business executives to understand these factors before doing business in another country. For instance, American executives prefer to get down straight to business which may involve fast and face-to-face bargaining, whereas such business ways are considered rude in the Japanese and Asian countries as they prefer to start with polite conversation and rarely engage in face-to-face bargaining.

Cultural shifts create opportunities:

Culture is also important for marketers because cultural shifts bring up opportunities for new products that might be wanted. Therefore, marketers are always trying to identify shifts in culture to innovate and come up with new products that satisfies the need of the consumer. For example, the cultural shift in favour of health and fitness has created a big market for products like gym equipments, low calorie foods, and health clubs etc (Kotler et al, 2008, p. 240).


Therefore, it is concluded that culture plays a very important role in determining marketing strategies for multi-national corporations as it affects almost every aspect of consumer and buying behaviour. The components of culture shape the way consumer responds to a product, service or a message and thus, marketers must use cultural factors as the ‘central core’ of their marketing policy.

It must also be noted that culture changes with time and therefore it also important to monitor such changes in cultural components to ensure that marketing policies are aligned to the new culture.


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