Selecting a brand image strategy based on cultural dimensions

One of the key tasks in developing a brand is to select a brand image strategy.  Most research in this area has determined that the normative model for brand images is based on the fulfillment of basic human needs:

  • Functional – solving and/or preventing problems
  • Social – group membership or affiliation
  • Sensory – novelty, variety seeking, and sensory gratification

For example, Roth (1995) notes how different toothpaste companies have aligned their brand image strategies along this model:

  • Crest – a “functional brand image based on cavity, tartar, and decay prevention”
  • Ultra Brite – a “social brand image based on providing whiter teeth for social acceptability”
  • Aim – a “sensory brand image based on taste and sensory gratification”

While this model is relatively easy to understand and implement in the US, the model is more difficult to apply in international markets unless cultural dimensions are also factored in.

Roth tested this normative model in international markets using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions and discovered the following:

  • Power distance – in countries with high power distances, i.e. where people “are highly motived by social status and affiliation norms”, a social brand image appeared to resonate the most.
  • Uncertainty avoidance – in countries with high uncertainty avoidance, i.e. where people “are very focused on risk aversion and problem prevention”, a functional brand image seemed to be the best fit.
  • Individualism – in countries with high individualism, i.e. where people “tend to seek variety and hedonistic experiences”, a sensory brand image was the most successful.

Roth’s research further identified that two cultural dimensions had the highest relationship with brand image strategy performance: power distance and individualism.

He discovered that in “low power distance cultures in which people are not highly focused on social roles and group affiliation, functional brand images that de-emphasize the social, symbolic, sensory and experiential benefits of products are most appropriate. When the country’s degree of power distance is high, social and/or sensory needs should be emphasized.”

“In countries with high individualism cultures, brand images that emphasize functional, variety, novelty, and experiential needs are more effective than social image strategies. On the other hand, cultures with low individualism are more amenable to social brand image strategies that emphasize group membership and affiliation benefits than they are to sensory brand images.”


Roth. M. (1995). “The effects of culture and socioeconomics on the performance of global brand image strategies.” Journal of Marketing Research. 32, pp. 163-175.


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