To be successful in foreign markets, a marketer must adapt his marketing decisions with that of the new culture. Many companies made mistakes and incurred huge losses in overseas markets by following marketing strategies successful in their own cultures.
Multinational marketers should take lessons from the tactical mistakes made by other marketers following the same strategy found successful in the home country.
Therefore, adaptations are required with the foreign culture in terms of all marketing decisions. To make appropriate adaptations, several questions must be asked by a multinational marketer to himself, and answers must be sought. The right questions and their appropriate answers help marketers to adapt to the new culture.
Marketing nowadays is no more considered a local, regional, or national phenomenon. It is rather considered a multinational or international phenomenon. The product you produce here in your country may have a market overseas, well beyond your national boundary. To be successful in the foreign market(s), your marketing strategies should be based on a multinational perspective.
Cross-Cultural Study in Consumer Behavior and Marketing
Cross-cultural study or research is a technique applied for comparing cultures based on similarities and differences and studying different segments of the total culture.
Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard, in their book ‘Consumer Behavior,’ define cross-cultural study as the systematic comparison of similarities and differences in the material and behavioral aspects of cultures.
Of course, one could go on and cite an almost endless list of cultural differences among societies. Cultural anthropologists have termed the observable and typical behavior patterns of a people their ‘explicit culture’.
The study of the underlying determinants of these observed regularities (the modal needs, goals, values, and beliefs of society) has been termed the study of ‘implicit culture.’ Research on implicit culture leads, by its very nature, to a more configurational and integrated analysis of observed statistical regularities within a society.
“Cross-cultural research methodology involves standard research techniques adapted to the special requirements of different languages, structural characteristics of the societies and values of the investigator.
Cross-cultural studies in anthropology often focus on social organization, child-rearing, belief systems, and similar topics. In marketing, the elements studied are more likely to be distribution systems, beliefs about sales and pricing activities, and communications channels”.
The cross-cultural researcher must go beyond the descriptive data often so laboriously assembled and search for interrelationships, which he must then account for in terms of common problems and solutions.
The researcher aims to understand the similarities in behavior across society and the differences within a society.
Societies may be thought of as having a common core culture of a general set of attitudes and orientations shared by most members. As society continues to develop, greater differentiation in meeting its needs is a consequence. Systems of positions and roles evolve to meet the objectives of the continuously diversifying society and its members.
Why is the Knowledge of Other Cultures Required for a Marketer?
A person is born into a society and is socialized in its ways. His interactions with others, education, and exposure to information all take place within the societal framework. These influence his consumption behavior in turn.
Differences in cultures exist because the problem-solving needs of various societies have not been the same. Each society has developed institutional arrangements and behavioral prescriptions that seemed appropriate for dealing with its particular problems.
These solutions were then handed down to successive generations and were given whatever additional transcendent explanations or justifications seemed to enhance their effectiveness. The problems of people living in a dry and unfertile land, for example, are in large measure different from those of people living in a temperate and fertile environment.
Not only will solutions to problems of survival differ, but so will related values and ways of looking at events. The former people might well choose to lead a nomadic life.
They should become knowledgeable about geography and skilled in finding water. Obedience to tribal edict might well evolve as a generalized response to keeping the tribe together, especially throughout long journeys. Authoritarian bonds may extend down to the family level to minimize individual deviance.
On the other hand, people living in a fertile land will probably build their way of life around their homes’ permanence, the seasonality of their agriculture, and other related factors.
Not only will their skills and interests be quite different, but their interpersonal relationships and codes of conduct should reflect the greater autonomy and independence of their way of life.
Members of such a culture are apt to take a pragmatic view of life built around such notions as rugged individualism. Religious ideas should tend to extol an ethic built around hard work and selfdetermination.
There appear to be systematic differences among cultures, for example, in attitudes toward time. The American is apt to be impatient and sometimes vulnerable to delays and ‘ever-so-slow’ progress. But, the attitude toward time here in Bangladesh is different.
Delays here do not bother us much since we are used to delays. Some cultures equate time with importance so that anything important must be led up to slowly and carefully, even a business contract, which might be negotiated in a matter of hours in such cultures.
Each culture has evolved its own rules regarding the space around another person and his possessions. In the US, for example, excessive touching of others, even good friends, during conversation is not common.
But in our country, it is a common practice. In Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, an Englishman might be regarded as cold and un-courteous unless adapted to the greater physical closeness of interpersonal relationships in these cultures.
From the above description, it is evident that international marketers find that people in other regions of the world have different attitudes, values, and needs, which call for different business methods and different types of marketing mixes.
Some international marketers fail because they do not or cannot adjust to cultural differences. To adjust your marketing strategies with other cultures, you need a sound knowledge of those cultures in terms of every aspect. The idea of a cross-cultural study has emerged from the need to know other cultures.
How the Knowledge of Cross-Cultural Perspective May Help a Multinational Marketer?
The cross-cultural study is an essential activity for a multinational marketer. There are many cross-cultural variations in consumer behavior that are of particular interest to the marketer operating in more than one culture. They are particularly obvious when one looks at cultural values or symbolic communications across cultures.
As differences in verbal communication systems across cultures are found, such as symbolic communications, multinational marketers must also consider success in other cultures.
Understanding cross-cultures help marketers to understand the values of other cultures, which influences their purchase behavior. This understanding helps marketers making proper adaptations in their product, pricing, distribution, and promotion policies.
No matter how outstanding the product a marketer produces, it cannot satisfy the entire market’s needs. Thus markets must be segmented. To segment markets effectively, marketers also require an understanding of other cultures. Values also determine whether others will influence people of a particular culture in society.
Knowing this aspect of culture helps marketers identifying reference groups that will have a bearing on consumer behavior. Thus it helps marketers to tailor their promotional programs to specific reference groups.
People’s views toward their environment also vary. These views influence their consumption to a great extent. Some view nature as finite, and it should be protected. This led them to seek environmentally friendly products.
Failure to understand people’s views toward the environment may influence marketers to develop products that are likely to be rejected. Cross-cultural research helps them identifying views of a specific target market toward the environment, thus developing products that will sell well in that culture.
People’s views toward themselves also vary, requiring different types of products by them. They (views) determine their approaches and objectives toward their lives.
Because of the variation in people’s views toward themselves, people of a particular society are too much materialistic and try to consume whatever possible. Again, knowing people’s views of themselves helps marketers devise appropriate strategies, and this is possible through a cross-cultural analysis.
Finally, cross-cultural analysis helps marketers in understanding meanings of time, space, friendship, agreements, things, symbols, and etiquette across cultures and segments of total culture, and they can make appropriate adaptations in their product, packaging, pricing, distribution, and communication strategies to be successful in overseas.
How to Adapt Marketing Decisions for Other Cultures
There are 7 questions all marketers must have answers to before making marketing decisions for other cultures.
- Is the geographic area homogeneous or heterogeneous concerning culture?
- How does the cultural setting influence or determine product and service needs?
- What needs can this product or a version of it fill in this culture, or how could it be adapted to do so?
- Can enough of the group(s) needing the product to afford the product?
- What values or patterns of values are relevant to the purchase and use of this product?
- What is the distribution, political, and legal structure concerning the product?
- In what ways can we communicate about this product?
Seeking answers to the above few questions may help marketers to think of adapting their marketing policies in an overseas culture.
Let us now examine each of them in turn:
Is the Geographic Area Homogeneous or Heterogeneous concerning Culture?
Marketers must find out whether there are any distinct subcultures in the geographic area under consideration. All people in the same culture may not represent the same consumption and lifestyle patterns.
In the UK, for example, Indian British, American British, Somalian British, and so on may display different consumption behavior. Therefore, a standardized marketing policy will not be effective in such a culture.
How does Cultural Setting Influence or Determine Product and Service Needs?
The same need, for example, is not satisfied with the same product in all cultures. Transport need, for example, is satisfied by different modes in different cultures.
A multinational marketer should determine the particular cultural setting under consideration that determines the needs of different products and services. Knowing this will help him decide which product(s) to be offered for sale in the new culture.
What Needs can this Product or a Version of it Fill in this Culture or How Could it be Adapted to Do So?
Most firms examine a new market with an existing product or product technology in mind. Marketers should know exactly what particular need might be satisfied with their product in the new culture. He should also try to determine what changes may be brought in his product to make it more acceptable in the new culture.
He must be aware of the needs in a culture, how they are presently met, and how his product can better meet one or more needs of the customers in the new culture. Bicycles, for example, meet the recreational needs in developed countries, where it meets basic transportation needs in underdeveloped countries.
Can Enough of the Group(s) Needing the Product Afford the Product?
In this stage, a multinational marketer tries to know how many in the new culture requires his product and the percentage of people who can afford to buy his product.
Whether the credit purchase facilities will help more people to buy the product need also to be identified. Knowing the answers to this will help him decide on the price and credit policies.
What Values or Patterns of Values are Relevant to the Purchase and Use of this Product?
Since the value system of a particular society influences consumption in society, marketers should also know whether people’s existing values will encourage the purchase and use of his product. If not, he can decide whether anything can be done to make the product consistent with the values held by people of the new culture.
What is the Distribution, Political and Legal Structure Concerning the Product?
The same pattern of distribution of products is not followed in every culture. In South Asia, for example, consumer goods are distributed following pervasive distribution channels as people opt for it. The same channel may not work in other countries for the same type of product.
For example, in Western countries, people prefer to buy their necessities from department stores or supermarkets, as they do not want to be disturbed at home. If a multinational marketer can identify the preferred channels of distribution, it will help him decide accordingly.
In What ways Can We Communicate About this Product?
No matter how outstanding your product is, how attractive the price is, and how well its distribution channel is designed, it will not sell unless target customers are informed of the product’s availability.
Different channels of communication are found to be effective in different cultures. For example, in South Asia, radio is found to be the most effective medium of communication, wherein other cultures may prove quite ineffective.
To decide on the selection of a communication medium, a multinational marketer should know which medium will be effective in the culture where he plans to enter with his product and decide accordingly.
A multinational marketer must know the answers to the above-mentioned questions before launching his product in a new culture.
Knowing the answers to them will help him make necessary changes in his product, price, distribution, and communication strategies. The answers may be sought by studying the cognitive, material, and normative components of a culture.