Differences In National Cultural Factors Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The differences in cultural factors among nations, ethnic groups, and regions are becoming more obvious. As cited by Ghauri et al (2006), " the manner in which people consume, the priority of needs and the wants they attempt to satisfy, and the manner in which they satisfy them are functions of their culture that temper, mould and dictate their style of living". The part in the human environment that is man-made is considered as culture. These include knowledge, customs, beliefs systems, laws, art, morals, habits and acquired human capabilities as members of society. Culture is everything that people have, think and do as members of their society (Ghauri & Cateora, 2006, p.74).

This piece of work is an attempt to examine why cultural factors are considered to be the central core of marketing policy, and the 'similar but different' aspect of culture creates an illusion of similarity that usually does not exist'.


Knowledge of cultural factors in international marketing such as material culture, social institutions, education, beliefs, aesthetics, and language (See figure 1.0) is considered imperative for international marketers; therefore, most writers on international marketing consider them as the central core for policy making. They generate major impacts and influences on marketing as a whole. They are instrumental elements to some extent in the failure or success of a marketing effort. This is because they constitute the environment within which the marketer operates. Moreover because people react to these factors in their native culture, it is incumbent for the marketer to learn them in another when wanting to go global. (Ghauri and Cateora, 2006).

Material Culture-This includes technology and economics. Technology includes the techniques associated with the creation of material goods, it is the technological know-how of people in a society, and differs with different societies. For example, majority of the people in the western world understand the simple concept involved in reading a gauge, this simple concept is not part of the normal culture in many countries of the world and hence constitute a major technical challenge. Countries with high levels of technology, has a broad level of technical understanding which enable them to adapt and learn new technologies more easily than countries with lower levels of technology population. The United States, Germany, Japan and many others have relatively high levels of technology and hence the general population is expected to have a high level of technical understanding that enable them to adapt and acquire new technology readily easily.

Economics on the other hand refers to the production of goods and services, consumption, means of exchange and the income derived from the creation of utilities. It is the manner in which people employ their abilities, and the benefits derived from those employed abilities. The level of demand, the quality and types of products demanded and their functional features, as well as the means of production of these goods and their distribution are directly affected by the material culture of that society. Consider the case of electrical appliances in developed countries like the United kingdom and the United States, their demand is high and hence sales are high due to constant electricity supply, For some countries where electricity is only available to a few who can afford it for economic reasons, demand for electrical appliances is low (Ghauri & Cateora 2006).

Social Institutions- These are political structures and social organisations that are basically concerned with the relationships that exist among people and how they relate to one another, the harmonious way they organise their activities, their pattern of governance, the family unity and cooperation, and the behaviour patterns that exist in a society. And these differ with different societies. Even within a society, there exist different cultures. Culture differs in many respects with one another; the positions held by men and women in society, the family, group behaviour, age groups, and social classes all are interpreted differently within every culture. For instance the class system in India (i.e. the Nobles, the Clergies, and the Peasants). The Nobles are referred to as the untouchables. They have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the population. Each individual institution has an effect on marketing due to the influences each exerts on values, behaviour and overall patterns of life. In certain cultures where social organisation results in having close-knit family units, for example, it is less effective to target a promotional campaign at individual family members than at the family unit (Ghauri & Cateora 2006) .

Education- The role and level of education in a particular market is important in strategy formulation for a market intervention. In every society, the way of life is a replication from generation to generation. Society teaches what is acceptable or unacceptable, right or wrong, and other ways of behaviour. The behaviour pattern of people, to a great extent is influenced by the level of literacy that exists in that society, and influences the marketing strategy and techniques used. Therefore, it is important for marketing professional to have an understanding of the level of education that exists in a society. The nature and type of communication and advertising used, hinges greatly on the level of education (Ghauri & Cateora 2006).

Belief Systems-This encompasses superstitions, religion and their related power structures. People's habits, their outlook on life, their shopping patterns (acceptance of certain types of food and clothing), dress code, behaviour patterns etc. are reflected on their religious beliefs, and such influences to a great extent determine how far a promotional message is accepted or rejected. Bodily functions featured in adverts are in some countries considered immoral or improper and therefore the products a prone to rejection. An acceptable culture in one society can be regarded as vulgar in another. In many case, one's own religion is not a reliable guide to another's belief.

An example can be seen in the McDonald's Beef Fries Controversy. As cited by Ghauri et al (2006), In May 2009, a lawsuit was filed against McDonald's (the world's largest fast food chain) in Seattle, United States. It was alleged by the lawsuit that for over a decade, the company had duped vegetarian customers into eating French fries that contain beef extracts. Even though, the amount paid out to settle the class action lawsuit was a pittance for the 24 billion McDonald's, but it will definitely serve as a precedent and make corporate' throughout the world to be aware of cross-cultural differences in markets and ensure to include them in their planning and policy making" (Ghauri & Cateora, 2006)

Aesthetics-As cited by Ghauri et al," closely interwoven with the effect of people and the universe on a culture are its aesthetics; these include drama and dance, folklore, music and arts". Aesthetics are considered important to the marketer in that they help to interpret the symbolic meaning of various methods of artistic expression, colour and standards of beauty in each culture. These symbols carry a unique and distinct meaning that differs with different culture, and hence the uniqueness of a culture can be seen in these symbols. A culturally correct interpretation of a country's aesthetic values can prevent a whole host of marketing problems to arise. For advertising, designing of packages and product styling to be successful in any given market, they must be aesthetically accepted. Insensitivity to aesthetic values by any marketer will create a negative impression and hence the marketing efforts are rendered ineffective. If a marketer is insensitive to aesthetics values, he/she can create a negative impression and in general render the marketing efforts ineffective.

In the Japanese culture for example, the use of the number 4 should be completely avoided since the word for 4, shi, is also the Japanese word for death (Ghauri & Cateora 2006).

Language-For one to be a successful marketer, a thorough understanding of the language spoken as well as the ability to speak it is extremely important. It is the medium of communication between the marketer and the customer. Advertising copy writers on the other hand, should focus more on the idiomatic meanings expressed and less with language differences. Idiomatic expressions differ in meaning with dictionary translation. For example, an advertising campaign by an airline urged customers to 'fly on leather' in a bid to promote its plush leather seats'; the translated meaning for the Latin American and Hispanic customers suggested that passengers should 'fly naked'. Advertising statements if carelessly translated would not only lose their intended meaning, but would imply something else that can be offensive, obscene or ridiculous. Therefore, in order to minimise the effect of misconception in the use of advertising statements, foreign marketers should ensure that they master the vernacular within the foreign country with the aid of a national resident to enhance effective communication (Ghauri & Cateora 2006).


Companies that intend to globalise need to understand that there are a host of subtle cultural factors that may restrict their activities or make the organisation trip in its course; and these cultural factors may not be obvious to the naked eye and are often referred to as the uncontrollable. It is because of this phenomenon, cultural factors are considered by many writers on international marketing, including Usunier (1996), to be the 'central core' of marketing policy. Therefore companies or co-operations must include in their policies the cultural diverse needs of their market niche, and ensure to operate in any foreign markets based on the existing culture.


Culture includes beliefs systems, traditions, language, moral values, laws or rules of behaviour held by a defined group of people, a community, or a nation in common. As cited by Hahn, R. A, (1994), the characteristics that are determined by culture include; the language spoken at home, religious observances, customs, acceptable gender roles and occupations, dietary practices, intellectual, artistic, and leisure-time pursuits, and other aspects of behaviour (Hahn, R. A,1994).

Culture in the true sense is inherited, borrowed or learned; it is passed on from one generation to the other in a society in the form of solutions to problems for the succeeding generation. This cultural heritage constantly build on and expanding the culture so that a wide range of behaviour is possibly created. Moreover, this borrowed behaviour if fully accepted and combined in a unique manner, becomes typical of a particular society (Ghauri and Cateora, 2006). As cited by Ghauri et al, "to the foreign marketer, this similar but different feature of cultures has important meaning in gaining cultural empathy".

According to Ghauri et al (2006), "for the inexperienced marketer, the 'similar but different' aspect of culture creates an illusion of similarity that usually does not exist".

According to Giovannini et al, it is dangerous and short-sighted to project our own patterns of behaviour onto substantially different cultures, as people in different cultures have different market values and behaviours. Similarity in culture is an illusion, and only the inexperienced marketer would think that culture is the same everywhere. But in actual fact, profound differences do exist particularly in the area of values and concepts of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, same language or similar race and heritage, religious concepts, promotional messages, acceptability of products to name but a few. By assuming that culture remains the same everywhere, you are likely to react spontaneously and instinctively on the basis of knowledge that has been assimilated over a period of time when confronted with a situation in another culture. You seldom stop to think about a reaction as it happens unconsciously. Your reaction would be based on meanings, values, symbols and behaviour relevant to your culture for a solution which usually differs from those of the foreign culture. This perception is often wrong and is virtually not helpful. This is the primary barrier to international marketing success, and is referred to as a person's 'Self Reference Criterion' (SRC) in making decisions. The SRC is an unconscious reference to one's own ability to asses a foreign market in its true light (Ghauri and Catreora, 2006).

For example, people of different culture can have a misunderstanding about personal space between them. Most cases in the west, individuals that are unrelated maintain a considerable physical distance between themselves and others especially when talking to each another or sometimes in groups. In such cases, people do not consciously think about that distance, people only know what they feel right without having to think. One feels uncomfortable if someone is closer or far away as the case may be in order to correct the distance. We are relying on our SRC.

Under mentioned are he accepted distances westerners keep in order to avoiding misunderstanding between individuals or groups of people in a society.

Intimate distance: Close: ± 0-15cm, Far: ± 15-45cm;

Personal distance: Close: ± 45-60cm, Far: ± 60-120cm;

Social distance: Close: ± 120-210cm. Far: ± 210-360cm;

Public distance: ± 360-750 cm or even more.

Acceptable distances between individuals differ with different culture.

With some cultures the distance accepted between individuals can be substantially less than that accepted by westerners. Whenever are westerners are unaware of the distance accepted by another culture, they would move away if they appear too close in a bid to restore the accepted or proper distance. They do so unconsciously. Westerners assume 'foreigners' are pushy, while foreigners assume westerners are unfriendly and standoffish. Both react to the values of their own SRCs, making them victims of a cultural misunderstanding (Ghauri & Catreora, 2006).

As cited by Ghauri et al," if every situation is evaluated through our SRC, then we are ethnocentric". A western experience used by westerners (SRC) in the evaluation of a marketing mix will have a little likelihood of success if the cultural differences that require adaptation in international markets are not fully appreciated. 'ESSO', a brand name for Petrol for instance, was a successful name in the United States and would not seem to appear harmful for foreign countries; however, in Japan, the name ESSO phonetically implies 'Stalled Car', a bad image for petrol (Ghauri & Cateora, 2006).

Countries differ with one another in terms of activities within a marketing programme. In as much as differences exist; there are probably more similarities than differences. As cited by Ghauri et al, "Such similarities may lull the market into false sense of apparent sameness". This clearly suggests that this apparent sameness, coupled with our SRC and ethnocentrism, is often the cause of international marketing problems. However, similarities that are undetected do not cause problems, but an undetected difference can create a marketing failure. In order to prevent a marketing failure, it is important and imperative for a marketer to conduct a cross cultural analysis of every situation, and ensure to isolate your SRC influence that may induce you to ethnocentrism (Ghauri & Catreora, 2006).

There may be a common heritage of values, approach to life and the concepts of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and they may have the same superficial appearance, but in actual fact, there exist profound differences. Among the Spanish-speaking American countries, there is a unique difference in the interpretation of idiomatic expression in each country, and there is every indication that national pride tends to cause a mute rejection of any 'foreign-Spanish' language. In most cases a word or phrase acceptable in one country, is not only considered unacceptable in another, but interpreted or considered as a vulgar or indecent. For example the word 'coger' in Spanish is the verb 'to catch'; whilst in other countries it is used as a euphemism with a baser meaning.

Common language does not guarantee similar interpretation of words or phrases. British and Americans for example speak English but have significantly different cultures that a single phrase is different in meaning to each and can be misunderstood completely. In England, people ask to be directed to a lift, whilst Americans would refer to it as an elevator. In England a bathroom is referred to as a place to take a tub bath, whilst in America it is referred to as a toilet.

Product acceptability also differs with different cultures. Different nationalities may speak the same language, but differ in other respects. For instance, an acceptable product to one culture may be rejectable product to the other, or an accepted promotional message in one culture, may fail in another. Even though people start with a common idea or approach, as the case among English-speaking Australians, Americans and the British, cultural borrowing and assimilation to meet individual needs translate overtime into quite distinct cultures.

One geographic boundary does not necessarily mean one culture. For example, India (North and South), USA (North and South), UK (North and South), Germany (East and West), Ireland (North and South), and Canada (French and English), all of which have sub-cultures that due to mass communication and rapid travel, homogenisation is defied. Any of the above mentioned countries for instance, Canada is politically one country but is divided culturally between its French and English heritages. A marketing strategy that may be successful among the French Canadians may certainly be unsuccessful among the English Canadians. In most cultures, there exist sub-cultures that can have marketing significance and hence these cultural diversity needs to be appreciated if a marker should succeed in his quest for international intervention (Ghauri & Catreora, 2006).


However, this is by no means to imply that all marketers should focus on cultural differences only to adjust marketing programs in such a way that they are accepted by consumers in various markets. Contrary, in identifying opportunities to implement a modified standardized marketing mix, it is imperative on the part of marketers to also seek out cultural similarities. One of the most important marketing strategies for businesses today, is to be able to manipulate both the similarities and differences in the worldwide marketplaces (Robot, G. T, 2010).