Many of the additional complexities and problems faced by international marketers stem from differences in the cultural and social environment which the marketer faces when marketing internationally. Influences of cultural differences when marketing across national boundaries take on a heightened importance.
We know how people consume, their needs and wants, and the ways in which these wants are satisfied are determined by culture. Culture is the human-made part of environment that includes knowledge, beliefs, morals, laws, customs and other elements acquired by humans in society. Because cultures are so different between countries, cultural forces and factors take on a particular significance for the international marketer. We highlight some of the possible areas or aspects of culture where there may be important differences when marketing in foreign markets:
Sometimes seemingly relatively small and subtle differences in cultural habits and practices can be important in marketing products in different cultures. For example, attitudes towards body hair differ between even relatively geographically proximate European countries. In the UK for instance, most women shave their under-arm hair, whereas most German women do not. A company like Gillette takes this difference into account in preparing its marketing plans for the different European countries.
Comparison between domestic and international marketing
The marketer must understand the implications of these different elements of culture for developing marketing strategies e.g. there may be very different norms and values pertaining to say gender roles, or the use of sex in advertising when marketing in a foreign country. Similarly, religious beliefs may have a significant impact on what is acceptable marketing practice.
It is important to recognize that within any national culture there are often a number of sub-sets of culture. In the UK there is a distinct cultural difference between the north and south, which affects purchasing behaviour – in direct and observable ways, but sometimes in quite subtle ways.
In addition to geographical sub-cultures, cultural sub-sets will often be created by, for example, different racial groups within a country, such as the Chinese in Malaysia and Mexicans in the USA. Sub-cultures within countries have become prime targets for many marketers. In the European Union, the Asian sub-culture, once a neglected area of the market, now represents a major market segment. Such sub-cultures have their own particular marketing needs and represent substantial opportunities for the marketer willing and able to cater for these. There are a number of key concepts relating to culture that become especially important when marketing across national boundaries:
A simple example is the word ‘pet’. In many societies this word is used in an affectionate manner to describe domestic animals or even, in some societies, loved ones. In France however, the word ‘pet’ means, in certain circumstances, flatulence. Simple cultural differences like this can be significant in developing marketing branding programmes. It is important to isolate differences in cultural values between one’s own culture and the new culture. Inevitably we use our own criterion and culture frameworks to assess markets, but these may not always be appropriate.
There are many examples of ‘misnamed’ products or unfortunate advertising slogans including:
‘Nova’ – Vauxhall’s small car which in Spanish means literally ‘no go’;
‘Pschitt’ – a French soft drink brand which needs no explanation;
The ‘Come alive with Pepsi’ campaign slogan was translated in some countries to ‘Pepsi will bring your relatives back from the grave’.
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