When marketers take the time to look beyond their own self reference criteria the results are more positive. A British manufacturer of chocolate biscuits (cookies in American English), ignoring its SRC knows that it must package its biscuits differently to accommodate the Japanese market. Thus, in Japan, McVitie’s chocolate biscuits are wrapped individually, packed in presentation cardboard boxes, and priced about three times higher than in the United Kingdom – the cookies are used as gifts in Japan and thus must look and be perceived as special. Unilever, appreciating the uniqueness of its market, repackaged and reformulated its detergent for Brazil. One reason was that the lack of washing machines among poorer Brazilians made a simpler soap formula necessary. Also, since people wash their clothes in rivers, the powder was packaged in plastic rather than paper so it would not get soggy. Finally, because the Brazilian poor are price conscious and buy in small quantities, the soap was packaged in small, low priced packages. Even McDonald’s modifies its traditional Big Mac in India, where it is known as the Maharaja Mac. This burger features two mutton patties because most Indians consider cows sacred and don’t eat beef. In each of these examples, had the marketers’ own self reference criteria been the basis for decisions, none of changes would have been readily apparent based on home market experience.
The most effective way to control he influence of ethnocentrism and the SRC is to recognize their effects on our behavior. Although learning every culture is depth and being aware of every important difference is almost humanly impossible, an awareness of the need to be sensitive to differences and to ask questions when doing business in another culture can help one avoid many of the mistakes possible in international marketing. Asking the appropriate question helped the Vicks Company avoid making a mistake in Germany. It discovered that in German “Vicks” sounds like the crudest slang equivalent of “intercourse” so they changed the name to “Wicks” before introducing the product.
Be aware, also that not every activity within a marketing program is different from one country to another, indeed there probably are more similarities than differences. For example, the McVitie’s chocolate biscuits mentioned earlier are sold in the United States in the same package as in the United Kingdom. Such similarities however may lull the marketer into a false sense of apparent sameness. This apparent sameness, coupled with the self reference criterion, is often the cause of international marketing problems. Undetected similarities do not cause problems; however, the one difference that goes undetected can create a marketing failure.
To avoid errors in business decisions, the knowledgeable marketer will maintain a vigilance regarding ethnocentrism. The following steps are suggested as a framework for such an analysis.
1) Define the business problem or goal in home country cultural; traits, habits, or norms.
2) Define the business problem or goal in foreign country cultural traits, or norms through consultation with natives of the target country. Make no value judgments.
3) Isolate the SRC influence in the problem and examine it carefully to see how it complicates the problem.
4) Redefine the problem without the SRC influence and solve for the optimum business goal situation.
An American sales manager newly posted to Japan decided that his Japanese sales representatives did not need to come into the office every day for an early morning meeting before beginning calls on clients in Tokyo. After all, that was how things were done in the United States. However, the new policy based on both the American’s SRC and a modicum of ethnocentrism, produced a precipitous decline in sales performance.
In his subsequent discussions with his Japanese staff he determined that Japanese sales representatives are motivated mostly by peer pressure. Fortunately he was able to recognize that his SRC and his American “business acumen” did not apply in this case in Tokyo. A return to the proven system of daily meetings brought sales performance back to previous levels.
The cross cultural analysis approach requires an understanding of the culture of the foreign market as well as one’s culture. .Surprisingly understanding one’s own culture may require additional study because much of cultural influence on market behavior remains at a subconscious level and is no clearly defined.