Cross Cultural understanding of consumer behavior

Assessing cultural change still remains a difficult task and marketers are likely to continue to face problems when attempting to understand, appreciate, and reflect changing cultural values. First, these changes are choice elusive and hard to define, and their practical effects are frequently indirect. Second, the marketer may tend to ascribe fundamental cultural changes simply to the generation gap and incorrectly assume that they are only fads and will quickly disappear. Finally, because change often generates complexity, marketers may resist changing cultural values rather than trying to take advantage of them.

More and more companies have adopted a global outlook in which the world becomes their market. For example, numerous major corporations, such as Coca Cola, Hoover, IBM, Pfizer and Gillette, receive over half of their earnings from foreign operations while many others also have significant international markets. Such situations require the marketer’s appreciation both of culture differences among international markets and of their influence on consumer behavior. In this section some of the marketing implication of these cultural subtleties will be discussed. Unfortunately, there have been rather few published cross cultural studies of consumer behavior that the marketer may use in making strategy decisions. There have been some important recent examples of research in this area, however.

The need for cross cultural understanding:

A recent study of almost 12,000 managers around the world found that although changes were occurring in every country, culture, and corporation, there is still no common culture of management. Moreover, managers’ views tend to correspond more to their country’s cultural heritage and less to its geographic location.

The diversity among cultures is reflected not only in management but also in marketing and consumer behavior and it can take some getting used to. Thus, when Americans venture broad, they experience what anthropologists call culture shock, that is, a series of psychological jolts when they encounter new customs, value systems, attitudes and work habits; the shock reduces their effectiveness in foreign commercial environments. Therefore, it is crucial to effective operations that the manager be well schooled in the host culture. A lack of understanding of the host culture will lead the manager to think and act as if he would in his home culture. Such a self reference criterion that is, the unconscious reference to one’s own cultural values – has been termed the root cause of most international business problems abroad. The goal should be to eliminate this cultural myopia. The following effectively expresses the payoff from understanding how culture may influence cross cultural executives.

A general comparative analysis if cultures may help marketing executives to anticipate the responses of their rivals, understand more accurately their customs in business transactions and deal with colleagues of different nationalities in joint decision. Culture makes a difference in problem identification and in the objectives motivating choice. Culture also may make a difference in the communication of problems and recommendations, and particularly in the decisiveness of recommendations. Failure to understand these differences may lead to noisy communication, misinformation and misunderstanding. Culture also makes a difference in individual strategies to adjust decision situations to facilitate choice and mitigate undesirable consequences for the organization and the decision maker.

The marketer needs a frame of reference with which to understand and evaluate the range of cultural values that may be encountered. A useful conceptualization of the possible range of variations in values found in different cultures is offered which presents a classification of value orientations that might be encountered by the international marketer. This model suggests five basic orientations, which are thought to be common to all human groups. These relate to human nature, relationship of people to nature, sense of time, activity and social relations. The marketer’s task then becomes one of seeking to understand what type of value system predominates in a given culture and reacting effectively to that system through marketing. Thus, the international marketer would benefit from doing the same. Americans would fall on the right hand side of this value range. Nevertheless it has been observed that even in our modern value systems there are some primitive aspects of consumption that serve as an outlet for spiritual expression and the preservation of ethnic heritage.

Major sources of misunderstanding among cultures are the differences in values and priorities indicated.