For the inexperienced marketer, the similar but different aspect of culture creates illusions of similarity that usually do not exist. Several nationalities can speak the same language or have similar race and heritage, but it does not follow that similarities exist in other respects – that a product acceptable to one culture will be readily acceptable to the other, or that a promotional message that succeeds in one country will succeed in the other. Even though people start with a common idea or approach, as is the case among English speaking Americans and the British, cultural borrowing and assimilation to meet individual needs translate over time into quite distinct cultures. A common language does not guarantee similar interpretation of words or phrases. Both British and Americans speak English, but their cultures are sufficiently different so that a single phrase has different meanings to each and can even be completely misunderstood. In England, one asks for a lift instead of an elevator and an American, when speaking of a bathroom, generally refers to a toilet, whereas in England a bathroom is a place to take a tub bath. Also, the English “hoover” a carpet whereas Americans vacuum. The movie title The Spy Who Shagged Me means nothing to most Americans but much to British consumers. Indeed, anthropologist Edward Hall warns that Americans and British have a harder time understanding each other because of apparent and assumed cultural similarities.
The growing economic unification of Europe has fostered a tendency to speak of the “European consumer.” Many of the obstacles to doing business in Europe have been or will be eliminated as the European Union takes shape, but marketers, eager to enter the market, must not jump to the conclusion that an economically unified Europe means a common set of consumer wants and needs. Cultural differences among the members of the European Union are the product of centuries of history that will take centuries to erase. The United States itself has many subcultures that even today, with mass communication and rapid travel, defy complete homogenization. To suggest that the South is in all respects culturally the same as the north eastern or mid western parts of the United States would be folly, just as it would be folly to assume that the unification of Germany has erased cultural differences that arose from over 40 years of political and social separation.
Marketers must assess each country thoroughly in terms of the proposed products or services n never rely on an often used axiom that if it sells in one country, it will surely sell in another. As worldwide mass communications and increased economic and social interdependence of countries grow, similarities among countries will increase and common market behaviors, wants, and needs will continue to develop. As this process occurs, the tendency will be rely more on apparent similarities when they may not exist. A marketer is wise to remember that a culture borrows and then adapts and customizes to its own needs an idiosyncrasies thus what may appear to be the same on the surface may be different in its cultural meaning.
The scope of culture is broad. It covers every aspect of behavior within a society. The task of foreign marketers is to adjust marketing strategies and plans to the needs of the culture in which they plan to operate. Whether innovations develop internally through invention, experimentation or by accident, or are introduced from outside through a process of borrowing or immigration cultural dynamics always seem to take on both positive and negative aspects.