The area of cultural dimensions has several key players: Hofstede, Hall, Schwartz and the World Values Survey. Another cultural dimension database that has received a great deal of attention is project GLOBE.
The project identified nine main cultural dimensions:
- Uncertainty avoidance – the extent people “rely on social norms, rituals, and bureaucratic processes to alleviate unpredictability”
- Power distance – the degree to which “people expect that power should be unequally shared”
- Collectivism: Societal collectivism – the degree to which “institutional practices encourage and reward collective distribution and actions”
- Collectivism: In-group collectivism – the degree to which “individuals express pride, loyalty, and cohesiveness to their groups”
- Gender egalitarianism – the extent to which “a society minimizes gender role differences”
- Assertiveness – the degree to which “individuals are assertive, confrontational, and aggressive in social relationships”
- Future orientation – the degree to which “individuals engage in future-oriented behaviors, such as planning and investing in the future”
- Performance orientation – the extent to which “a society encourages and rewards members for performance improvement and excellence”
- Humane orientation – the degree to which “a society encourages people to be fair, altruistic, friendly, generous, caring and kind to others”
House, Javidan, Hanges, and Dorfman (2002) used the GLOBE cultural dimensions as their basis in determining how leadership is affected in different countries by the prevailing dimensions. They discovered the following:
- Societal cultural values and practices affect what leaders do. Leaders are a product of their culture and develop leadership styles based on that culture.
- Leadership affects organizational form, culture and practices. Founders establish the initial culture of their organization based on their cultural background, which continues to influence the organization culture even after the founder is gone.
- Societal cultural values and practices also affect organizational culture and practices. Leaders develop implicit leadership theories from their surrounding culture and apply them to their organization.
- Organizational culture and practices also affect what leaders do. Over time, as cultural norms change, leaders alter their behaviors and leadership styles.
- Societal culture and organizational form, culture and practices both influence the process by which people come to share implicit theories of leadership. As common leadership theories are developed in response to a society’s norm, these common leadership theories then come to differentiate the culture.
- Strategic organizational contingencies affect organizational form, culture and practices, and leader behaviors. Factors such as size, technology and environment affect how a leader adapts his leadership style while maintaining the core developed in response to the surrounding society.
- Strategic organizational contingencies affect leader attributes and behavior. An organization that has a high power distance leadership style may be forced to adapt if a partnership strategy is put in place.
- Relationships between strategic organization contingencies and organizational form, culture, and practices will be moderated by cultural forces. A leader may initially adopt an autocratic decision making style, but could be forced to adapt when transferred to a low power distance society.
- Leader acceptance is a function between common leadership theories and leader attributes and behaviors. If a leader’s native style is congruent with the society norms, he is more likely to accept the common leadership theories in that culture.
- Leader effectiveness is a function of the interaction between leader attributes and behaviors and organization contingencies. Leaders with styles that are more congruent with the strategic contingencies, e.g. strategic partnerships with equal decision powers, are more likely to be effective.
- Leader acceptance influences leader effectiveness. If a leader’s style is incongruent with the society norms, e.g. an aggressive negotiating style in a non-aggressive society, the leader is less likely to be effective.
- Leader effectiveness influences leader acceptance. As a leader proves his effectiveness, his leadership style gains more acceptance, even if it is incongruent with society norms.
House, R., Javidan, M., Hanges, P., Dorfman, P. (2002). “Understanding cultures and implicit leadership theories across the globe: an introduction to project GLOBE.” Journal of World Business. 72, pp. 3-10.
Marketers are extremely aware that consumers gravitate towards certain brands based on brand image and brand promise. Therefore, marketers must clearly identify the needs of their intended customer and craft that image and promise to speak directly to that audience. As always, however, taking a brand global adds a new level of complexity in determining those customer needs and identifying if the needs are the same in the new market.
Eisengerich and Rubera (2010) examined two theories related to how consumers perceive brands and development brand commitment.
- Chaplin and John (2005) developed the theory of self-brand connections, which “demonstrates that people choose brands that are congruent with their self concepts. The process of self-brand connections is based on people’s comparisons of their own values and preferences with the brand’s characteristics.” If there is a match, consumers will identify more strongly with that brand, e.g. a person valuing creativity is more likely to connect with brands that emphasize creativity.
- Bagozzi (1975) developed the theory of exchange which “argues that people are more likely to reciprocate when an exchange partner is perceived as having made equivalent contributions to the relationship. For example, if a brand is perceived as being focused on customer needs, e.g. a superlative service structure, the customer will respond in kind.
Eisengerich and Rubera (2010) also examined four brand positioning strategies and their relationship with Hoftstede’s cultural dimensions. They placed the four main positioning strategies into two groups:
- Brand innovativeness and self relevance – both refer “to the perceived image of the brand that consumers use to establish self connections”
- Customer orientation and social responsibility – both refer “to the way the consumers perceive the general exchange with the brand.
Their research revealed two main results:
- Brand innovativeness and the development of brands that are relevant to self image are effective in strengthening consumer commitment in countries “whose cultures are individualist, short-term oriented, and low on power distance.” Conversely, these strategies were most ineffective in countries with the opposite cultural dimensions.
- Customer orientation and social responsibility increased “brand commitment in countries that are collectivist, long-term oriented, and high on power distance.”
From a marketers perspective, it becomes even more critical to consider cultural dimensions when entering a new market. The selection of the wrong core positioning strategy can undermine the development consumer brand commitment, leading to failure in that market.
Eisingerich, A., Rubera, G. (2010). “Drivers of brand commitment: a cross-national investigation.” Journal of International Marketing. 18 (2), pp. 64-79.
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.
Metaphors are extremely useful linguistic tools in the marketing world. Like teachers, marketers have long known that we understand new concepts and ideas more readily when they are presented as a metaphor.
In fact, a recent study cited by Science Daily proves that the use of metaphor does indeed spark more regions of the brain than language devoid of metaphor:
“New brain imaging research reveals that a region of the brain important for sensing texture through touch, the parietal operculum, is also activated when someone listens to a sentence with a textural metaphor. The same region is not activated when a similar sentence expressing the meaning of the metaphor is heard.”
But what happens when the metaphor is culturally based? Is the same level of learning achieved? Littlemore (2003) examined this idea in her study with British instructors and Bangladeshi students. Littlemore found a direct relationship between the cultural dimensions described by Hofstede (individualism/collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and social orientation) and how culturally based metaphors were interpreted. For example:
- Uncertainty avoidance – The expression “it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice” was reviewed. For a low uncertainty avoidance culture like Britain, it “reflects an underlying belief that uncertainty is a good thing.” In the study, virtually all the students misinterpreted the metaphor, resulting in responses such as “government should work properly to avoid problems.”
- Power distance – The expression “trickle down economics” was reviewed. In this case, because Bangladesh scores high on power distance, this metaphor was understood by all, resulting in responses such as “wealth is accrued at the top and takes a long time to get to the bottom.”
- Individualism – The expression “to slowly shift the creaking apparatus of government” was reviewed. Most of the students understood that government is a large machine that has to work as one.
- Social orientation – The expression “cut back the machinery of government” was selected for review because it seemed to reflect a view towards the relationship between government and social programs. All the students understood the metaphor as meaning that the public sector needed to be downsized. The overall feminine aspect of social orientation, i.e. caring for others, in Bangladesh did not affect their understanding, regardless of their agreement with the statement.
While this research shows that marketers need to be careful in selecting metaphors so that they are interpreted as intended, it also shows that metaphors continue to be useful and effective ways to reach your audience, even in a global environment.
Littlemore, J. (2003). “The effect of cultural background on metaphor interpretation.” Metaphor and Symbol. 18 (4), pp. 273-288.
Over twenty years ago, Theodore Levitt argued in his famous article “The Globalization of Markets” that new technologies would homogenize consumer wants and needs, i.e. standardized, high-quality products at lower prices would be preferred over customized, higher-priced products. This theory was based on the core assumption that consumer decisions are based on purely rational reasons, such as pricing or utility differences.
However, many researchers since that time have discovered that consumer behavior is frequently not rational; decisions are not always made to maximize economic or functional benefits. Instead, it is becoming more apparent that individual consumer behavior is driven by the cultural values that are pervasive in that consumer’s country.
Indeed, Hofstede’s five dimensions of national culture are being increasingly used to explain consumer behavior (from their original use of describing global corporate organizational cultures).
For example, de Mooij and Hofstede (2002) note the following consumer preferences that can only be attributable to cultural values:
- Leisure spending is lower in countries with high power distance, due to the fact that more free time is spent with family and relatives in these cultures rather than on organized leisure activities.
- Food expenditures are higher in collectivist cultures because providing food and having food in the home for guests is an important value in the collectivist cultures.
- Grooming expenditures (clothing, footwear, makeup) are higher in countries with high uncertainty avoidance; researchers speculate this is because being well groomed is one way to bravely face a threatening world.
- Privacy-related expenditures, such as a private garden, are higher in individualist cultures. Hofstede notes that in individualist countries, people entertain friends in the privacy of their own backyard, while in collectivist cultures, people get together in parks, bars, bistros, etc.
- Luxury items are more frequently sold in masculine cultures since they are visual symbols of success – a core value in masculine societies.
As de Mooij and Hofstede explain, “when income levels are such that consumers have satisfied their basic needs and wants, they will then spend their discretionary income on what best fits their value systems”.
de Mooij, M., Hofstede, G. (2002) “Convergence and divergence in consumer behavior: implications for international retailing,” Journal of Retailing. 78 (2002), pp. 61-69.