In a globalized world, international marketing has become very important. Multinational corporations understand that cultural differences are important in regards to their marketing strategies, but still find many challenges.
One issue that international marketers face is understanding what culture is. In 1952, A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckholn counted 164 different definitions of culture throughout their research. Over the years, well-known scholars have modified the definition. Sven Hollensen defines cultures in a more detailed view, “Culture encompasses virtually every religion, education, family and reference groups. Further, it is also influenced by legal, economic, political and technological forces” (2011, p. 234).
Hollensen’s definition shows just how complex culture can be. The complexity of culture requires marketers to put in a lot of time and effort into understanding each culture that they want to advertise to in order to be successful. International marketers must take into consideration all elements of culture, such as language, manners and customs, technology and material culture, social institutions, education, values and attitudes, aesthetics and religion. Marketers are able to foresee certain points of cultural differences, like language in advance and are able to manage their marketing strategies in accordance. The main problem that international marketers must overcome is truly understanding the underlying attitudes and values of the buyers in different countries.
There have been several cultural frameworks created and used in hopes of being able to better understand the different cultures around the world. In 1996, Samuel P. Huntington came up with nine classifications that would identify the cultures of the world: Western (the United States, Western Europe, Australia), Orthodox (the former Soviet Republics, Central Europe), Confucian (China, Southeast Asia), Islamic (the Middle East), Buddhist (Thailand), Hindu (India), Latin America, African and Japanese.
Huntington’s work was useful in identifying different cultures based on a countries geographic area, but culture is more complex than that. Other cultural frameworks are often used to help understand less visible cultural elements. Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions is a very popular framework that focuses on five areas of a culture, power distance, individualism, masculinity/femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long term orientation.
Similar to Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions is a framework that identifies cultures as low-context versus high-context. This cultural framework can be found extremely useful in advertising in particular. Depending on the context of a culture, the way a company sends their message may differ. For example, low-context cultures depend on spoken and written language to understand the message. So a company that is trying to advertise their product or service in a low-context culture should deliver their message directly through speech or written words. Advertising to a high-context culture is different because people in this culture interpret more of the elements surrounding the message to develop their understanding. In this case the words used in the advertisement are not as important as the surrounding elements.
If all of the elements of a culture are not considered in a marketing strategy, the company can find difficulty reaching international markets. If they do not put the time and effort into creating a customized strategy for each culture, companies may accidently deliver an incorrect message or offend a culture, which in turn could cause negative publicity and hurt the companies reputation. While it may be time consuming to try to truly understand the underlying attitudes and values of a culture, the benefits of doing so will allow a company produce a customized marketing strategy and will enable them to reach their intended target markets.
Kroeber, A. L., & Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture A critical review of concepts and definitions. New York: Vintage Books.
Huntington, S. P. (2011). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. New York: Simon & Schuster.