Culture plays a very crucial role in marketing. Most of the times, marketers and the consumers are largely unaware of this fact. Let us take an example of Jack Smith, who wants to buy a new laptop. Jack would log on to the internet and spend his time searching for various options on different e-commerce websites. He then shortlists a relatively cheaper brand, that he feels suits his requirements and budget. But when he passes through a departmental store and notices a billboard with a new advertisement of the Mac Book, he changes his mind, and in few seconds decides to go ahead and purchase a Mac Book. What is happening here?
The Influence of culture on Customers
According to a new study, the customer’s buying preferences may have a lot to do with their cultural biases (LaPlante, 2005). Several experiments and studies have shown that several cultural differences show up when the marketing information is presented in an interesting and inquisitive manner. When Jack Smith passed through the billboard, he was most probably influenced by the advertising that appealed to his particular culture. Being an American, Jack could relate to the innovative and technologically superior Apple brand .With Apple’s persuasive marketing message, this belief was reinforced and converted into a purchase decision.
This is one of the biggest reasons why marketers have realised the importance of culture in today’s marketing initiatives.
What is culture in context to marketing?
In simple words, culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything, from language, cuisine, religion, music, arts, social habits etc (Zimmerman, 2012). But this is not the only criterion which guides the marketers. General cultural practise includes theories that are largely shared by our society, but there is also something called as a personal knowledge, which can defy our cultural beliefs and act as important factor during decision making. For example, a boy who has grown up in India may accept and value his cultural beliefs and practises. But this boy also watches American movies, TV shows and follows American music. This may compel him to wear clothes and do things that his parents and peers would not like or approve. In other words, when the boy has to make a quick judgement, he would rely on his cultural norms. But when he has to make a thoughtful decision, there can be a shift from the cultural norms and his personal knowledge might come into play.
Marketers need to understand this; they cannot completely rely on cultural norms and values while creating their marketing campaign for any particular market. They need to consider several other factors that are related to the internal and external environment of its target customers.
The need for recognizing culture in Marketing
It happens many a times that marketers fail to realize the tremendous importance of making themselves familiar with the society- culture before trying to target and penetrate it. Sometimes, this can result in major marketing blunders. One of the best examples for this would be Coca Cola, which translated its name in Chinese without back-translating it (“bite the wax tadpole”). This was a major marketing blunder, and this resulted in severe backlash from the Chinese society (Marques, 2001).
It is also important for marketers to study the level of cultural acceptance of a particular market, before they start their communication programs. For example, in western countries such as U.S and U.K, it is generally accepted to show nudity and use a stronger language. In countries such as India and U.A.E, nudity and strong language is not acceptable and can result in severe penalties and even a ban. Although the world has become a global village, there are certain key aspects that remain entirely different! So, it is very important for marketers to understand, respect and value the local culture where they intend to operate. Failure in doing so can result in rejections, severe penalties, fines and even a life time ban.
Steps that marketers need to take while entering international markets
Marketers need to be very cautious while entering newer markets, some of the important steps that they need to take are as under:
- Do not make any assumptions and have pre-conceived notions while entering new markets. Different cultures have different influence on the way people look at things. Even smallest of the things like choice of words, colours, symbols and time can create a big difference for the marketing campaign.
- Hire consultants or employees who can teach marketers with the habits, norms and culture of the local people. This is very important for western companies that try to enter the conservative Middle Eastern markets such as Saudi Arabia or United Arab Emirates.
- Try to find out the key aspects that attract the society: Each cultural group has its own unique way of expressing their interests and passion. Marketers need to identify such expressions and utilize it to their advantage. In Caribbean nations such as Trinidad and Barbados, humorous style of marketing is what catches people’s attention. Serious advertisements won’t work in such markets (Marques, 2001).
- Do some market research on local people to understand what they think about the particular brand, product or the organisation. Based on their opinions and feedbacks, create the marketing campaign.
- Use the standard 4P’s of the marketing mix to analyze the effect of product, price, place and promotion on the target market (Kotler, 2009). Based on the findings, create a distinct integrated marketing communications (IMC) program and develop a unique brand message for the target market.
- Keep an eye on the latest trends and developments: Marketers must realise that what is accepted today might be rejected tomorrow. Also, sometimes there are certain short lived trends and fads that become an integral part of any particular market’s culture. Marketers can take advantages of these trends and try to develop specific marketing strategies.
For a message to be effective in a different culture, marketers must understand not only how to modify their existing message but when should such messages be communicated to the target audience. According to studies, marketing messages that are brief, frank and direct draw better attention of the target audience.
Marketers need to realise that studying any market’s culture is just a stepping stone; it is definitely not the end. There are several other factors than needs to be considered in line with the cultural values of the customers, such as their personal judgements, situations, trends, fads, needs, wants and product utility.
Kotler, P., Keller, L., Koshy, A. (2009). Marketing Management. United States, Pearson, Print
LaPlante, A. (2005). When does culture matter in marketing? Retrieved April 1, 2014 from www.gsb.stanford.edu
Marques, J. (2001). The Importance of Recognizing Culture in Marketing. Retrieved April 1, 2014 from http://noriainternational.com/
Zimmerman (2012). What is Culture? Definition of culture. Retrieved April 1, 2014 from www.livescience.com