The major challenge of understanding the target market is to adapt effectively to different cultures. Such adaption requires an understanding of cultural diversity such as norms and sanctions, culture perceptions and dimensions, how culture is a learned process that can be view under enculturation and acculturation processes, how verbal and nonverbal communication can affect the penetration in the target market and how this differ in different countries and even in different locations of the same country, and finally the understanding of emerging cultures.
This essay will cover all aspects mentioned and explains each one with a relevant example, which is applicable in the current market. There is no single definition of culture. Fletcher (1979) defines culture as the total way of life society; Hofstede (1980) states that cultures are the collective programming of mind (Crawford, 2007, p. 1). Culture embodies meaning; otherwise, the consumption but its self has no absolute meaning. Furthermore, consumer culture can be held societal beliefs that define what is socially gratifying.
Culture shapes value by framing everyday life in terms of these commonly held beliefs (Babin & Harris, 2013, p. 154). Culture defines the meaning to objects in different cultures such as the size of a flat in Japan may be smaller comparing with a flat in Australia, because space is limited in Japan. It gives meaning of activities realised by different individuals in the different culture, and also its understanding facilitates communication between people from different cultures. Therefore, consumers need culture in order to guide their consumption actions effectively.
Culture determinates things that are socially rewarding and under rewarding. Culture norm refers to rules that specific the appropriate consumer behaviour in a given situation within a specific culture. For example, if a woman is drinking alcohol beverages in a bar in India, this is culturally unacceptable. Culture sanctions refer to the penalties associated with performing a non-gratifying or culturally inconsistent behaviour. In the last example, the woman can be looked and judged as a person who does not come from a good family.
In addition, each society defines its own norms and the ways in which they are realized. It can be therefore be said that culture is a structure that gives form to behaviour and fixes the framework of exchanges between the people of this group (Broawaeys & Price, 2008, p. 9). Consumers are influenced by market trends. Therefore, when they make a consumption decision, trends in the market and what is fashion are important. Therefore, popular culture influences consumers’ consumption decisions. Popular culture captures cultural trends and shapes norms and sanctions within society.
American companies use celebrities such as Katy Perry, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber to advertise their products, because American culture is very influenced by these people. In contrast, Chinese companies use officers or officers’ relatives such as officers’ wives and children to advertise their product, because these people are seem as celebrities and models in China. Moreover, every consumer plays various different roles in society, and creates expectations from the point of view of another person. Then, role expectations become a primary basis for cultural norms and sanctions.
When a foreigner travels to India, he or she expects local people to understand at least 2 languages (English and Indian), because of Indian background and also both language are official in there. However, the same foreigner cannot expect the same from Mexican people, even though Mexico is very influenced by the United States of America; only a small group of its population speaks English. The function of culture is integration, adaptation, communication and expression. Societies are organized politically into nations, but within this national unity subcultures may exist with specific cultures characteristics.
These groups use the society in which they are embedded as their framework of reference, and share their nationality, language and institutions, while being delineated by their socio-economic, historic or geographic characteristics (Broawaeys & Price, 2008, p. 9). Italy and India are relevant examples for this case, people from the north and south of both countries have specific characteristic that differentiate between each other, such as clothing, dining habits, culinary dishes, even religion and dialectics. Additionally, culture is influenced by ecological factors and tradition.
Analysing these two components will assist to distinct people from different cultures and understand their culture. First, ecological factors are physical characteristic that describe the physical environment and habitat of a particular place. For example, people who live in areas with low rainfall forecast usually look for houses with flat roofs; which is the opposite selection of house construction for people who live in a high rainfall forecast. Second, tradition is this sense refers to customs and accepted ways of structuring society, which includes things like family, and political structure of society.
In Pakistan, arranged marriage among the members of the same family is culturally acceptable, rewarding and common; while in others nations is seen as orthodox, old fashionable and even unacceptable. Consequently, companies must target these components in order to penetrate the market efficiently and consumer advertising may need to differ based on the traditional family decision-making style associated with culture. While tradition can be thought of as influencing culture, one can safety say that, in the long run, culture also defines tradition (Babin & Harris, 2013, p. 157).
Measuring culture in a global basis is a challenge that was best achieved by Geert Hofstede. His theory of value-based differences in cultures is based on five keys dimensions, with each dimension representing a core societal value. First dimension is power distance. This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of power distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification.
In societies with low power distance, people strive to equalise the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power (Hofstede, 2014). The relationship distance between employers and employees in countries such as India, China and Korea is longer than in countries such as Australia and the United States of America. Second dimension is individualism, means the extent to which people expect each other to take responsibility for themselves and their immediate family. A society's position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we” (Hofstede, 2014).
Individuals in countries such as China, use the word “we” when they are talking about their nation or work achievements, because China is a collective society; thus their thinking is as a collective group of people. The masculinity side is the third dimension, which represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material reward for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented.
China is a masculine society that is success oriented and driven. The need to ensure success can be exemplified by the fact that many Chinese will sacrifice family and leisure priorities to work. Service people (such as hairdressers) will provide services until very late at night. Leisure time is not so important (Hofstede, 2014). The fourth dimension is long-term orientation that can be interpreted as dealing with society’s search for virtue. Societies with a short-term orientation generally have a strong concern with establishing the absolute Truth.
In societies with a long-term orientation, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions to changed conditions, a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, and perseverance in achieving results. China is a relevant example in this dimension; Chinese people use ‘Guanxi’ which is the network of relationships in their everyday life. Long-term relationship is important in this society and the understanding and connections will help companies to success in this market.
A popular phrase used in China is ‘tell me who you know, no what you know’ which tells that connections are really important in business. The last dimension is indulgence or uncertainty avoidance, which implies that a culture with high level of uncertainty avoidance is uncomfortable with things that are ambiguous or unknown. This dimension has important implications for consumer behaviour, because marketing success and improved quality of life often depend on obtaining value from something innovative and, therefore, somewhat familiar (Babin & Harris, 2013, p. 160).
Culture is a coherent, learned and shared process; because being logically connected, observations of behaviours may aid to learn the culture observed, as culture is not about individuals, it is a social phenomenon that is shared among individuals. It can be learnt by consumers through one of two socialization processes that are enculturation and acculturation. The first one, enculturation represents that way a person learns his or her native culture, which is the way that consumer learns and develops shared understandings of things with his or her family (Babin & Harris, 2013, p.163).
For example, Mexican people mostly have chilli in their dishes; since they were children, chilli formed part of their dining table; hence, it is highly consumed product in there. The second one is acculturation that is the process by which consumers come to learn a culture other than their natural, native culture that is the culture to which one may adapt when exposed to a new set of core social values (Babin & Harris, 2013, p. 164).
For example, Mexican immigrant in Australia must adapt to cold meals such as sandwich, salads and wraps for lunch; instead of what he or she is used to have in Mexico, which usually a hot meal such as chilli chicken with rice and beans. There are factors that can inhibit acculturation such as consumer ethnocentrism and strong ethnic identification. Consumer ethnocentrism is a belief among consumers that their ethnic group is superior to others and that the products that come from their native land are superior to other products (Babin & Harris, 2013, p.164).
Greeks are a relevant example; they protect their culture and tradition wherever they go, making their consumption decisions and interaction with other communities dependent on this protection. The other factor is strong ethnic identification, which is the degree to which consumers feel a sense of belonging to the culture of their ethnic origins, can make consumers feel close-minded about adopting products from a different culture (Babin & Harris, 2013, p. 164).
For example, McDonald’s is a very popular fast food company that has had success in many nations; however, it has not in others. McDonald’s shut down their operations in Bolivia in 2002. Inside Bolivia Costarica newspaper informed that Bolivians are not against the concept of hamburgers and French fries; it’s that they are against the concept of “fast food,” believing all meals should be prepared with love, dedication, certain hygiene standards and proper cooking time. Therefore, even a big successful company such as McDonald’s can fail without proper understanding of a nation’s culture.
Formerly, consumer behaviour theory suggested that a triad of institutions accounted for much of the cultural learning process. However, a quartet of institutions has been recognised, which includes family, school, church and media. The first three institutions are considerate as primary agents for acculturation and enculturation. While, the last one is recently has been recognized. For example, Latin American countries are very influenced by the American media, which impacts in their culture; thus, children and teenagers are acculturated to the American society.
In addition, researchers has concluded that teen consumers around the world have presented high consumer consumption similarities in certain areas. Communication is a key element in order to understand a culture. Language is very important; however is not the only way to communicate. Firstly, verbal communication refers to the transfer of information through either the literal spoken or written word (Babin & Harris, 2013, p. 167). Consumers will hardly find value to products and services that they cannot understand.
Translation of the words or phrases that is used in the advertising of a product is not enough for effective communication. For example, Pepsi translated its slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life” into Mandarin meaning “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave” in Chinese market, which obviously was not an effective communication. Consequently, translation equivalence that refers two phrases share the same precise meaning in two different cultures; could be a more effective form of communication than the simple translation.
Secondly, nonverbal communication refers to information passed through some nonverbal act, and cues are culturally laden so that the meaning depends on culture (Babin & Harris, 2013, p. 169). Elements of nonverbal communication such as time, mannerism/body language, space, etiquette/manners, relationships, agreement and symbols vary from nation to nation and the understating and proper use of them is strategic to success in the marketplace. Time is highly important in many cultures, such as in German, the time of arriving for a meeting is crucial and influences the outcome of the meeting.
While, in others countries such as Peru, to delay in arriving for meetings is common. Mannerisms or body language refers to the nonverbal communication cues signalled by somatic (uncontrollable biological) responses such as facial expressions, posture, arm/leg position, skin conditions and voice (Babin & Harris, 2013, p. 170). For example, in Japan, loudly slurping your soup is considered to be a sign that you like the soup. The value that consumers place on space affects communication styles. The space between a sales person and a customer will differ from nation to nation.
In Latin America, the sales person can get close to the customer in other to show the product or service that can be considerate inappropriate in others nations. Etiquette and manners represent the customary mannerism consumer use in common social situations. For example, in India, it is appropriate to take food and eat it with your right hand. Relationships between consumers and brands are very important in nations with high level of long-distance and uncertainty avoidance dimensions; guanxi is a related example for Asian nations. Agreement is achieved in different ways, depending on the parties.
In Japan, the word ‘yes’ does not mean that they agree with the conditions, it is means that they understood what was said. Lastly, symbols such as gifts can have different meanings between cultures. An example is one wedding gift that should not be given to a Chinese couple would be a clock, due to the Chinese word for 'clock' sounding like the word for 'death'. Emerging countries such as India and China, have taken the attention of many investors and enterprisers, because of their low labour cost and vast population among others factors.
The profitability of doing business in these countries is high, thus enterprisers need to adapt their services and products in order to success. Globalization is an essential concept in this, which represents the idea that the marketing strategy may be global, but the implementation of that strategy at the marketing tactics level should be local. For example, McDonald’s vary its menu in different countries, such as in India, where they offer chicken and vegetarian options.
In conclusion, the aspects mentioned in this essay such as culture norms and sanctions, role expectations, factors that influence culture, dimensions of cultural values, verbal and nonverbal communication and emerging markets highly influence consumer behaviour decisions. Therefore, marketing teams must analyse the culture of a target market in order to penetrate it. The more information and knowledge about the market culture that they can achieve, will point out a crucial role in doing business.