Can feminine Nordic values work in the masculine US?

Hofstede’s work on cultural dimensions identified the concept of masculinity and femininity in corporate cultures. Masculine cultures, such as the US, value assertiveness and success. Feminine cultures, such as Scandinavia, value nurturing and care of its citizens.

The dichotomy between these two value sets is most apparent when examining financial statements from the two countries. In masculine societies, the focus is on reporting quantifiable success measures, such as sales, profit margins, and returns to shareholders. On the other hand, most Scandinavian companies publish what is known as a triple bottom line, or TBL. These companies report not only their financial performance, but their social and environmental performance as well.

Rubin, Schultz, and Hatch (2008) looked closely at Novo Nordisk (a Danish pharmaceutical company) and its operations in both Europe and the US. In Europe, they found that Novo Nordisk was a pioneer in divesting itself of operations that were environmentally questionable, such as its detergent business. They also found that the company’s focus on the end consumer rather the investor stakeholders propelled the company from not even being in the top ten providers in the diabetic treatment world to the number one provider of diabetic care products. When the company decided to develop a hemophilia product, it waited until it had buy-in from its employees before proceeding – a rational decision in a culture that values consensus and avoiding conflict.

In comparison, the company’s US operations focus on being connected to “key stakeholders in the global healthcare and scientific community.”  While there are some initiatives to talk directly to the end customer, the US operations primarily market to doctors rather than patients. Novo Nordisk’s primary competitor in the US – Johnson & Johnson – is therefore, seen as a more compassionate company with its emphasis on philanthropy. This compassion has been rewarded with market share, as Novo Nordisk trails a distant second to J&J in the US market.

From a marketer’s perspective, the Nordic values of corporate social responsibility are more than just lip service to a current fad. They appear to make a true difference in how the company is perceived and, by extension, how its products are perceived. Novo Nordisk’s rapid rise in market share was in large part due to its TBL reporting and its commitment to truly incorporate those values.

References:

Rubin, J., Schultz, M., Hatch, M. (2008). “Coming to America: Can Nordic brand values engage American stakeholders?” Brand Management. 16 (1/2), pp. 30-39.

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