Why Culture Matters in Marketing

July 17th, 2008   •   no comments   

Courtesy of Nico in China

One of the most important point to take note of in marketing is culture. These are the traditions, behaviours, practices and values that are embraced by nations, communities, and sub-commities. Without an appreciation of the cultures (and sub-cultures) of your potential customer groups, any marketing endeavour is likely to fall flat on its face.

But then, you may ask, isn’t the world becoming a smaller place? Aren’t we all moving towards becoming a digitally-connected 2.0 global village?

Well, the truth is that we are all still living on separate islands, continents and land masses separated by oceans, seas and rivers. While we may have a deeper appreciation of the world through the conduits of mass and new media, the bulk of our time is still spent interacting with others like us.

I may read all about American politics, root for Obama, or cheer on my favourite American Idol participant, but I am unlikely to think like or behave like an American in my everyday life.

The question of culture becomes more complex when one considers the different groups within each culture, as well as the intermingling of different customs, practices and norms. A Chinese from China may be radically different from one born in say Australia, Singapore, or Japan. Cultural differences are also prevalent from generation to generation, and vary according to education, income, accommodation type, and so on.

How then do marketers take advantage of culture as a marketing strategy?

First, one needs to spend some time with one’s market before deploying an arsenal of marketing tactics. Mingle with the Joneses, Muhammads, Ramasamys, and Lees. Speak to them and understand their thoughts, practices and behaviours. Find out also about the impact of religion on their lives, and be mindful of taboo practices, dos and don’ts.

Second, one should look at the malleability of one’s products and services, and determine what the best cultural fit is. What may work well in Brazil needn’t necessarily be the case for Beijing or Brussels. Fashion in particular is one area that is highly influenced by cultures, as well as notions of modesty and good taste. Food is the other area which is highly susceptible to indigenous cultural influences.

Third, one needs to consider the distribution of the products, and cultural practices involved in buying and selling. Is there a bargain culture in the marketplace or do people accept prices at face value? The importance of relationships is another key factor in determining if I prefer to buy from merchant A versus merchant B, and this varies from culture to culture.

Finally, one should take into account both traditional and modern cultural influences in deciding how a target group operates. Both Korean and Japanese pop culture has been fairly influential across the entire Asian subcontinent, drawing teenage fans from as far as Cairo to Kalimantan. The amalgamation of age-old rituals with modernity will sometimes end up with surprising results.

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