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Culture can be explained as a set of beliefs or standards shared by a group of people which help the individual to decide what is, what can be, how to feel, what to do and how to go about doing it (Usunier and Anne 2005). According to Ferraro (1994), culture can also be explained as everything that people have, think and do as members of their society. Culture offers standards or rules on what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. Culture is something that has developed over time. Doing business on global basis requires a good understanding of different cultures. This is because what works in your country might not work well in another and could even be interpreted as an insult. A marketer who wants to do business in an international market must have to study the local culture in-depth before offering products to sell so that there could be effective communication according to the receivers culture, customs and learning process (Meloan & Graham 1998). For example, in some countries, a single thing can have different meaning in different cultures. Showing a thumb carries the signal of everything being fine to the westerners but it carries a serious negative meaning to the Bengali rural people.
Marketers must always recognise that cultures are not right or wrong, best or worse, but are simply different (Jain 1999). For every amusing, annoying, peculiar or repulsive cultural trait we find in a country, there is a similar amusing, annoying, peculiar or repulsive cultural trait others see in our culture. For instance, we find it peculiar that the Chinese eat dogs, while they also find it peculiar that we buy packaged, dog food in supermarkets and keep dogs as pets. They also find it peculiar that we eat lambs and certain other animals but not dogs and cats. Culture includes every part of life. It is much more a process than a distributive whole entirely identifiable by the sum of its elements. For the marketer who wishes to operate on an international market needs to consider cultural factors as a central core of his marketing policy. The scope of the term culture to the anthropologist is illustrated by its elements included within its meaning.
These are; material culture, Social institutions, Education, belief systems, aesthetics and language. Foreign marketers find these cultural schemes very useful in evaluating a marketing plan or studying the potential of its markets. All these elements are to some extent in the success or failure of marketing efforts because they constitute the environment in which the marketer operates. Their various implications should also be studied in any analysis of a specific foreign market.
Material Culture; It results from technology and is directly related to the way a society organizes its economic activity. It is manifested in the availability and adequacy of the basic economic, social, financial, cultural convergence and marketing infrastructures. For example, with high levels of technology in Germany, United States, and Japan, the general population has a broad level of technical understanding that allows them to adapt and learn new technology than populations with lower levels of technology. In China, one of the burdens for the country's economic growth is providing the working population with modest level of mechanical skill that is a level of technology.
Material culture affects the level of demand, quality and types of products demanded and their functional features as well as the means of production of these goods and their distribution. Marketing implications of material culture of a country are many so foreign marketers need to exercise caution when transacting business in such countries. Electrical appliances sell in England or France, but have few buyers in countries where less than 1 per cent of the homes have electricity.
Social institutions; They refer to the positions of men and women in society, family, social classes, group behaviour and age groups are interpreted differently within every culture. Each institution has an effect on marketing because each influences behaviour, values and overall patterns of life. Internationally successful companies have not rushed into situations but rather built their operations carefully by following the most basic business principles. These principles are to know your adversary, know your audience and know your customer.
Education; This is one of the major vehicles that channel culture from one generation to the next. There are two facets of education that matters to international marketers, these are level and quality of education. Education in general affects employee training, competition for labour and product characteristics. An international marketing manager may also have to be prepared to fight obstacles in recruiting a suitable sales force or support personnel. The type of advertising and communication that could be used in marketing highly depends on the level of education.
Belief system; Within this category are religion, superstitions and their related power structures. Religion is one of the most sensitive elements of culture. To appreciate people's buying motives, customs and practices, awareness and understanding of their religion is very crucial. When a foreign marketer has little or no understanding of a religion, it is easy to offend unintentionally. For example, in numerous Asian countries, ancient Chinese philosophy of ''feng shui'' (wind-water) plays an important role in design and placement of corporate buildings and retail spaces. According to feng shui, proper placement and arrangement of man-made structures and its interior objects will bring good fortune to its residents and visitors. Acceptance of certain types of food, clothing and behaviour are frequently affected by religion and such influence can extend to the acceptance or rejection of promotional messages as well. Superstition also plays a much larger role in a society's belief system in some parts of the world. What Westerners consider as mere superstition can be a critical aspect of a belief system in another culture. For example, in parts of Asia, ghosts, fortune-telling, palmistry, head-bump reading, phases of the moon, demons and soothsayers are all integral parts of certain cultures.
Aesthetics; Most cultures make a clear statement concerning good taste, as expressed in the arts and in the particular symbolism of colours, form and music. Aesthetics are of particular interest to the marketer because of their role in interpreting the symbolic meanings of various methods of artistic expression, colour and standards of beauty in each culture. Without a culturally correct interpretation of a country's aesthetic values, a whole host of marketing problems can arise. Product styling must be aesthetically pleasing to be successful, as much as advertisements and package designs.
For example, in China, red which is a main colour in its package and logo symbolizes wealth and happiness. So most people in china can accept the design without any difficulty in establishing good image. Insensitivity to aesthetic values can offend and create a negative impression and in general render all marketing efforts ineffective. International firms should therefore take into consideration local tastes and concerns in designing their facilities. Respecting cultural traditions may also generate goodwill toward the international marketer.
Language; This can be categorised into verbal and non verbal. For verbal language, messages can be conveyed into words by the way the words are spoken. Non verbal on the other hand, refers to gestures, body position and eye contact. A successful marketer must achieve expert communication. This requires a thorough understanding of the language as well as the ability to speak it. The local culture and language of a country is very beneficial to any foreign entrant who wishes to offer products for sale. Advertising copy writers should be concerned less with obvious differences between languages and more with the idiomatic meaning expressed. Carelessly translated advertising statements not only lose their intended meaning but can suggest something very different, obscene, offensive or just ridiculous. For example, Pepsi's familiar 'come alive with Pepsi', when translated into German, conveyed the meaning coming alive from the grave. Schweppes was not pleased with its tonic water translated into Italian as,'ll water' which idiomatically means bathroom.
Culture is one of the most challenging elements of the international market place. The most complicated problem in dealing with the cultural environment stem from the facet that we cannot learn culture. Two schools of thought exist in the business world which international marketers should be familiar with on how to deal with cultural diversities. One is that, business is business the world around, following the model of Pepsi and McDonalds. The other school proposes that companies must tailor business approaches to individual cultures. Setting up policies and procedures in each country has been compared to an organ transplant where the critical question centres on acceptance or rejection. The major challenge to the international manager is to make sure that rejection is not as a result of cultural myopia or even blindness.
Cateora and Ghauri (2006) state that 'for the inexperience marketer, the 'similar but different' aspect of culture creates an illusion of similarity that usually does not exist'.
This statement that was made by Cateora and Ghauri 2006 means that; most people in other nations can speak the same language or have similar characteristics, but this does not really mean that similarities exist in other respects, thus, a product that will be acceptable to one will readily be acceptable to the other. Cultural universals when they exist, should not be interpreted as the same. Too often, cultural similarities at first glance may just be an illusion. A marketer must thus be cautious in taking any market for granted. A common language does not mean a similar interpretation of a word or even a phrase.
For example, both the English and the Americans speak English, but they have different cultures that a single phrase has different meanings to each and can even be misunderstood. For instance, the Americans refer to the toilet as bathroom whiles the British call it lavatory. Even though they speak the same language, they have different ways of interpreting a word of phrase. In England a person will ask for a lift instead of elevator. The English would also hoover a carpet whiles an American would vacuum it. 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 approach to life values and concept of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour may all have a common heritage and may appear to be the same. In some cases, a word or phrase that could be acceptable in one country may not necessarily be acceptable in another, it can be meaningless. In Spanish, coger is a verb that means to catch but in some countries, it is used as a euphemism with a baser meaning. 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. International marketers must also be very vigilant when anxious to enter the European market because Europe does not mean a unified common set of consumers with similar needs and wants. Cultural differences do exist among them and it is a product of centuries of history that will take centuries to erase. Even the United States has many subcultures that today, because of mass communication and rapid travel defy their homogeneity.
A single geopolitical boundary does not necessarily mean a single culture. 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. Canada is divided culturally between its French and English heritage although it is politically one country. Within most cultures , there are many other subcultures that could have a significant impact on marketing , so foreign marketers must always be careful with countries that have many subcultures and need to understand that they cannot be classified as a homogenous market. The perceived cultural difference, real or imagined, explains not only why some American products have been unsuccessful in Canada but also why some Canadian products have failed in the US market. Repeated campaigns to sell electric tea kettle, an indispensable part of Canadian home life in the US market have been unsuccessful. Likewise, vegemite is the closest thing to Australian homes having it. Yet black yeast spread has never been able to find its way into the American consumer's diet.
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 behaviours, 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 behaviour 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.