What is Culture?
How does culture affect the needs we recognize?
Culture is crucial when it comes to understanding the needs and behaviors of an individual.
For a brand, it is important to understand and take into account the cultural factors inherent to each market or to each situation in order to adapt its product and its marketing strategy. As these will play a role in the perception, habits, behavior or expectations of consumers.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Culture?
- 2 Cross-cultural Analysis
- 3 Aspects of Sub-cultures
- 4 Culture/ Sub-cultures Impact on 7 P’s of Product/service
Consumer behavior is largely dependent on cultural factors consisting of mutually shared operating procedures, unstated assumptions, tools, norms, and values, and standards for perceiving, believing, evaluating, and communicating.
Cultural factors vary by country but become increasingly complex when people immigrate to foreign countries that have different cultural dimensions. In these situations, people are subjected to a wide variety of cultural reference groups that ultimately affect their purchase behavior.
In addition, reference groups may consist of familiar groups or external peer groups with each group providing specific and often conflicting information that affects purchase and consumption behavior.
Below mentioned are certain specific characteristics, which define a culture and its attributes:
Culture is Invented
It cannot be viewed as something that just “exists” and is waiting to be discovered. People are responsible for inventing their culture and this invention consists of three interdependent components:
- The ideological component refers to ideas, beliefs, values, and approaches to defining what is right and wrong, or desirable and undesirable.
- The technological component is concerned with the skills, and arts and crafts that provide humans with the means to produce goods by using what is available to them in their environment.
- Organizational component enables humans to live in the family system and makes it possible to coordinate their behavior effectively with others’ actions.
Culture is Learnt
It is not like biological features or instinctive. The process of learning cultural values begins early in life largely through social interactions among families, and friends, in settings such as educational and religious institutions. Growing children are firmly indoctrinated with ways of behaving, thinking, and feeling.
Some of the core cultural values that have been passed down through generations in India are belief in God, respecting elders, domination of the husband, being polite to ladies, accepting arranged marriage, viewing marriage as a union between two families, and living in joint families, etc.
Culture is shared by a fairly large group of human beings living in organized societies and works as a linking force. Generally, a common religion and language are the critical elements that largely help people share values, customs, norms, and experiences.
We observe that American pop culture is being shared by a large number of other countries through the availability of several products such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s burgers, Levi’s jeans, movies, music, etc.
Culture Satisfies Needs
Its components are passed down through generations because they are gratifying. Culture offers order, and direction and guides societies in all phases of life by providing tried and trusted ways of meeting physiological, personal, and social needs, and due to these reasons people feel comfortable doing things in a customary way.
Cultural values and customs etc. are followed as long as they keep on offering satisfaction, even when we are exposed to other cultures.
Though advertising is considered an important agent in bringing about social change, from a marketer’s point of view an important mission of advertising is to reinforce established cultural values and aid in the development of new tastes, habits, and customs.
Cultures Are Similar but Different
There are certain similarities among all cultures and many elements are present in all societies such as athletic sports, adornment of the body, cooking of food, a calendar, family, government, language, religious rituals, dancing, music, and many other elements.
There are, though, very significant variations in the nature of these elements in different societies, and may exhibit important differences in consumer behavior.
The theme of cultural influences in a given country has two variations. Cross-cultural influences are norms and values of consumers in foreign markets that influence strategies of multinational organizations marketing their products and services abroad.
The second variation refers to sub-cultural influences that concern differences in values among different groups within a country that distinguish them from society as a whole.
In its international operations, Levi Strauss closely follows both cross-cultural and sub-cultural trends. The basic principle it follows is “think globally but act locally.”
The company recognizes that tastes in fashion, music, technology, etc. are becoming increasingly similar across most countries of the world because of the global reach of media such as MTV, the Internet, and greater facilities for travel.
There seems to be an increasing influence of American culture on consumption values as more and more consumers are shifting their preferences for American goods.
Multinational corporations such as Proctor & Gamble, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, IBM, Gillette, Johnson and Johnson, Kellogg’s, Colgate-Palmolive, Nestle, Canon, Epson, Honda, Suzuki, and many others earn large revenues abroad.
As more foreign markets emerge and offer opportunities for growth, marketing in foreign countries is likely to increase in importance.
Marketing across cultural boundaries is a difficult and challenging task because cultures may differ in demographics, languages, values, and non-verbal communication.
When managers venture abroad, they experience a series of psychological jolts when they face new customs, value systems, attitudes, and behaviors. This often reduces their effectiveness in foreign business environments.
Cross-cultural analysis helps marketers determine to what extent the consumers of two or more nations are similar or different. The greater the similarity between consumers, the more feasible it is to use relatively similar strategies in each country.
In case the cross-cultural analysis reveals that there are wide cultural differences, then a highly individualized marketing strategy may be indicated for each country.
A study reported by Rosabeth Moss Kanter of almost 12,000 managers around the world (“Transcending Business Boundaries: 12,000 World managers View Change,” Harvard Business Review 69, May-June 1991) found that although in every country, culture, and corporation changes were occurring, there is still no common culture of management.
In fact, the views of managers tend to relate more to their own country’s culture and less to its geographic location.
Some experts argue that marketing strategies, particularly advertising, should be standardized because this can result in substantial cost savings. The differences in cultural values across countries make it difficult and a risky proposition.
An ad for a beauty care product showing a model wearing a short dress with a very low neckline may be appealing in most Western cultures but would be probably banned in most Muslim cultures.
Aspects of Sub-cultures
Culture is viewed to consist of basic behavioral patterns that exist in a society. Within this national culture, all segments of a society do not possess the same cultural patterns and one can distinguish relatively more homogenous and sizable groups within the larger society.
They will have distinct beliefs, values, customs, and traditions that set them apart from the larger cultural mainstream, though they follow most of the dominant cultural values and behaviors of the larger society.
The influence of sub-culture on consumer behavior depends on factors such as sub-cultural distinctiveness, sub-cultural homogeneity, and sub-cultural exclusion.
When a sub-culture strives harder to maintain a separate identity, its potential influence is more. For example, Indians settled in many countries have maintained their language and religious practices as a means of cultural identity.
A sub-culture with homogeneous values is more likely to exert influence on its members. For example, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs of Indian origin appear to be members of separate sub-cultures.
However, the common thread among all of these groups is that they have strong family ties, are basically religious, mostly conservative, have a common language (some Indian language), celebrate their festivals, and are male-dominated.
At times sub-cultures are excluded by society. Exclusion tends to strengthen the influence of subculture and encourages the maintenance of sub-cultural norms and values. Even today, in India, scheduled castes are excluded from upper-caste society.
There are different tribal groups in India with distinct norms, customs, and values and excluded by the larger society. Afro-Americans have, at times been excluded from a white dominant society through the denial of education and job opportunities.
Sub-cultures may be based on religion, region, language, age, gender, and many other differences. As in most other countries, one may easily notice several sub-cultures in India. For example, based on the geographic location it is possible to broadly identify North Indian, South India, East Indian, and West Indian sub-cultures.
However, the diversity of sub-cultures in India is mind-boggling and in every geographic division, one can identify several sub-cultures. For example, North India has Punjabi, Kashmiri, and Hindi belt cultures, among others.
Religion serves as another parameter to distinguish sub-cultures in India such as Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, and join, etc. Even these religious sub-cultures have further sub-cultures within, such as Arya Samaj, Sanatan Dharma; Sunni, Shia; Protestant and Catholic, etc.
Culture/ Sub-cultures Impact on 7 P’s of Product/service
As a result of rapid advancement and all-around development, we find ourselves exposed to people from various cultures. There has been a great deal of opening up, and society has been impacted on all fronts, be it social, economic, cultural, or technological.
The cultural fabric has undergone a transformation and we see changes in our values and beliefs, customs and traditions, etc.
It is important for a marketer to give consideration to three major issues;
- how do consumers in one culture get exposed to goods/services being used by people of other cultures?
- how should a marketer design/adapt his 7P’s so as to be accepted by people influenced by newer cultures (if he is serving in the home market only);
- how should a marketer design/adapt his 7P’s so as to be accepted by people of other cultures (in foreign markets).
Every component of culture should be carefully studied and a marketing program designed accordingly.
The marketer must make sure that the product or service offering appeals to the needs and wants of people from foreign cultures.
Product names or brands should not have double meanings; they should not be insensitive in any manner, and they should not hurt the sentiments of people in the country where the marketer is planning to enter.
While taking decisions on packaging and labeling as also the design of advertisements, he must make sure of colors and symbols. Colors and symbols have varied meanings and connotations.
The marketer should be careful that he should not be insensitive to people of foreign cultures.
The marketer would get inputs into how the foreign culture is different from his native culture.
This would help him decide whether to have a marketing program similar to the one that is present in the native country or to have a program that is ‘individualized’ to the foreign country.
McDonalds is a perfect example; when they entered India, they adapted their product offering by offering chicken burgers instead of beef and pork (as consumption of beef and pork is taboo with Hindus and Muslims).
Further, they introduced the McTikki Aloo Burger for vegetarians; they positioned themselves a “family” restaurant keeping in line with the Indian family concept. Companies that do not localize their offerings may find penetration into foreign cultures a difficult exercise.
An example that can be quoted is Kellogg’s Breakfast Cereal. They found it difficult to penetrate the Indian market as the very concept of cold milk at breakfast was against the traditional Indian belief (where hot milk was preferred especially at breakfast and cold milk was regarded as unhealthy).
It is thus concluded that a “world brand” may not always be favored. The marketer needs to adapt his product/service offerings.
Companies like Unilever, Nestle, and Proctor, and Gamble follow a mixed approach. They have standardized offerings in terms of their brands, but they blend and adapt theirs 7P’s to suit the needs of the local culture.
Their offerings are generally standardized but the implementation strategy is “local”. Thus, they introduced under the same family brand name, soaps for different kinds of skin, shampoo for different kinds of hair (depending on the skin and hair types across countries and cultures), and detergents for different water types (hard water or soft water).