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How culture affects consumer behavior? Why cultural awareness is essential for the marketers?

How culture affects consumer behavior? Need for cultural awareness

A plethora of research has accumulated that shows a strong relationship between culture and consumer behavior. Culture is an important force that has a deep impact on several things in people’s lives from their taste to their wisdom and basic choices. It affects the style a person loves to the music he prefers and even the literature he reads. Even in this era of globalization, the power of culture is intact. It is why, the marketers focus upon cultural factors while marketing to diverse populations of consumers. A Chinese customer is bound to have a different taste than a Malaysian and so will be a Japanese from an American or Indian.

“Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving” (CHOUDHURY). It is defined by several things from language and religion to art and music as well as social habits and cuisine. Culture is a way of life for a specific group that affects its values, beliefs, behavior and acceptable norms. Simply put culture controls what is acceptable for a person and what is not.

So, something that is acceptable in the Western societies may not be as acceptable in the East and the Middle Eastern nations. Culture is also understood as the traditions passed on from generation to generation. If culture is as effective and as important, it is bound to influence people’s perception and how they think of certain things including the products they buy. From interior decoration to their choice of cars and products of daily use, their choices are going to remain affected by their cultures. There are several theories which support the idea that people make judgments within the realms of society and culture.

Their everyday decisions including their buying decisions are affected or rather deeply influenced by culture.  The theory of cultural determinism holds that people are what they learn. The ideas, values and beliefs that people learn as members of society determines their nature. There are two versions of cultural determinism and the optimist version holds that human nature is malleable and that people can be the way they want to be. Still, for a person living in East, it is difficult to think and be like someone in West. So, however best we try, culture still affects us and to go beyond its boundaries is difficult for people.

This is what can also be understood as cultural conditioning. The pessimistic version of this theory holds that people will be what they are conditioned to be. This is something not under their control. This also explains to some extent why people make buying choices influenced by their cultural values. Zara creates fast fashion and sells in several markets. However, before trying to sell a particular design in any of the markets, it conducts research to study and understand the local people’s lifestyles, their choices and the local culture before releasing any product there. A lot of research is required to understand the local culture and people’s likes and dislikes before a product can be introduced into the local markets. However, since Zara conducts the preliminary research, its products sell like hotcake.

The theory of cultural relativism states that people from different cultures think, feel and act differently. The Indian culture has its own beliefs and values, the French culture has its own and the American culture its own. So, an Indian would be less akin with the American cultural symbols than an American and vice versa.   As per this theory every judgement of right and wrong is based upon societal and cultural norms. It is why the emphasis is on cultural awareness in the 21st century. Cultural awareness provides us with cultural perspective which helps to know why certain things may be right in certain societies and wrong in others. Culture also affects consumers’ perspectives in this way because after all the consumers belong to the society.

Cultural ethnocentrism refers to the belief regarding the superiority of one’s own culture over that of the others. However, such an attitude would not work in the global environment or the global markets. If a business works from this angle, it believes that the ideas which were effective in its home country will also be effective abroad. Ethnocentrism can give rise to big problems in case of global business.

The obsession with one’s own culture makes people overlook certain very important factors. Not just the environmental factors but the business objectives too might change when working abroad in a different culture. Even if managers recognize the differences they forget to value them and believe they would not need to make extra efforts to make things work as well as in the home country. In this way, they may end up hurting important values leading to losses. Managers must conduct a cost benefit analysis in such a scenario to see if making a particular change to their strategy will give rise to the expected benefits. Ethnocentrism also explains why some people feel more bound to purchase the products that are related to their own culture or are produced locally.

Culture is manifested in several ways. At its core are the values and at the surface are the cultural symbols. The symbols include words, gestures, pictures and objects that have specific meanings in particular cultures. Even the rituals and heroes differ from culture to culture and each culture has its own. The way of greeting is very different between China and US.  These are also important factors that affect which product will find acceptance in the local markets. Companies adopt some of them as a part of their marketing strategy for the purpose of brand localization. A product with its label in Chinese may be far easier to sell in China than one with an English label. Hofstede has provided a model of cultural differences that provides a better overview of the extent to which culture impacts people’s lives, their styles and their behavior and perspective. He has provided six indices that explain these cultural differences. So, it is not just about a product but how it is marketed and advertised in particular cultures also determines how much acceptance it will gain.

The style of dressing is very much different in India from US. The reason lies in the cultural differences and so the International brands trying to sell in the Eastern nations would need to consider these factors to craft fashion according to the local taste and lifestyle. Globalization has fostered an exchange of cultural values and ideas but that does not make local culture irrelevant. So, the businesses that are working in the global environment or have decided to move there must have a degree of global awareness necessary for being successful. Cultural awareness helps to understand local consumers’ preferences and purchasing behavior and find success in the global market.

Source: Choudhury, Ifte, Definition of Culture. Texas A & M University.