Cultural dimensions and website design

A significant amount of research has uncovered that customers in different countries respond to different types of messages. Much of this research has linked the cultural dimensions developed by Hofstede (i.e. individualism, collectivism, power distance, long-term orientation) to messaging that resonates in cultures with pronounced tendencies towards particular cultural dimensions.

Calabrese, Capece, Corbo, Ghiron, and Marucchi (2012) expanded this thread of research to examine how users in different cultures respond to different website structures. They discovered there were strong correlations between cultural dimensions and the acceptance of different organizational structures. Consider the following examples:

In collectivist cultures, people place the groups (and relationships) in their lives first, both at work and at home. Therefore, the preferred website structure is one that is role oriented. For example, a site for ordering flowers would be better organized by the customer’s role (spouse, co-worker, guest) rather than by the type of event (wedding, birthday, anniversary). .

In individualist cultures, people place high importance on action. Therefore, the preferred website structure is one that is task oriented. For example, a site like Amazon that walks the customer quickly through the selection and checkout process appeals to the individualist culture best.

In low power distance cultures, there is greater informality between people, especially at work. In these cultures, a website that doesn’t use relevancy rankings works best. For example, a camera site that simply describes all the features of each model and allows the customer to develop their own ranking system for selection is preferred.

In high power distance cultures, there is much more formality between people and more rigid levels of hierarchy. In these cultures, that same camera site should include relevancy rankings, in effect telling the user what features are the most critical and what the feature hierarchy should be.

In feminine cultures, the focus is on personal relationships, such as family. In these cultures, a structure that is more relationship oriented, similar to the collectivist structure, will work best. For example, a site like the P&G’s Pamper site that focuses on the parent’s relationship with his or her child, rather than diaper benefits, will resonate in this culture.

In masculine cultures, the focus is on competitiveness and winning. In these cultures, a structure that is goal oriented works best. For example, eBay and its emphasis on “winning” an auction resonates most in masculine cultures.

In long-term orientation cultures, the focus is on stability. In these cultures, a structure based on social coherence works best. For example, an insurance website that is organized by long-term responsibilities, such as taking care of a spouse after your death or providing for your children’s education resonates the most.

In short-term orientation cultures, the focus is on the ability to change in response to your environment. In these cultures, a structure that is focused on liberty works best. For example, a bank website that is responsive to people’s lives, such as mobile apps or the ability to transfer money instantly between accounts resonates in this culture.

In uncertainty avoidance cultures, the focus is on the familiar and on clear rules. In these cultures, a structure that has a crystal-clear drill-down structure works best. For example, a site like SAP with its products, services and support, and training and education menus work best. The customer always knows exactly where he is in the website and always knows how to navigate to the next product , service, or training class.

In uncertainty tolerance cultures, the focus is tolerance for ambiguousness. In these cultures, a structure that allows customers to choose their own path through the site work best. For example, a site like Fox News that allows users to select between headline news, roundup stories, videos, streaming shows, etc. resonate best in the cultures.

From a marketer’s perspective, understanding the relevant cultural dimensions in a potential international market could help drive an appropriate website structure that will appeal to the values in that culture.

References:

Calabrese, A., Capece, G., Corbo, M., Ghiron, N., Marucchi, M. (2012). “Cross-cultural strategies for web design”. World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, 71, pp. 78-83.

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