The social and cultural influences on international marketing are immense. Differences in social condition religion and material culture all affect consumers’ perceptions and patterns of buying behaviour. It is this 4, area that determines the extent to which consumers across the globe are either similar or different and sod detennie, the potential for global branding and standardization. This category encompasses a wide range of considerations, many of which can — if misunderstood or unanticipated — significantly undermine a business marketing efforts. These include: 1) Language, 2) Literacy rates, 3) Religion, 4) General education levels, 5) Social values, and 6) Ethics, 7) Social organisation.
A failure to understand the social/cultural dimensions of a market are complex to manage, as McDonald’s found in India. It has to deal with a market that is 40 per cent vegetarian, had an aversion to either beef or pork among meat-eaters and hostility to frozen meat and fish, but with the general Indian fondness for spice with everything. To satisfy such tastes, McDonald’s discovered it needed to do more than provide the right burgers. Customers buying vegetarian burgers wanted to be sure that these were cooked in a separate area in the kitchen using separate utensils and sauces like McMasala and Mcimli were developed to satisfy the Indian taste for spice. Interestingly, however, these are now innovations they have introduced into other markets.
When a firm operates in an international business environment, as an individual is bound by the society in which people live, it needs to understand the importance of society. Social class is an important part of society. In most Western societies, these classes are classified as upper, middle, and lower. The level of perception of each class and their frequency of buying goods differ from one country to another.
In countries like India perception and trends of the consumers have been changing owing to the liberalisation and the changes in lifestyles. Another important aspect of society is the group. The performance of groups differs in individualistic and collectivist societies. The family is an important part of the social environment. The social and cultural environment is one of the critical components of the international business environment and one of the most difficult to understand.
This is because the social and cultural environment is essentially unseen; it has been described as a shared, commonly held body of general beliefs and values that determine what is right for one group. National culture is described as the body of general beliefs and values that are shared by a nation. Beliefs and values are generally seen as formed by factors such as history, language, religion, geographic location, government, and education; thus firms begin a cultural analysis by seeking to understand these factors.
Before entering a foreign market, marketers should study all aspects of that nation’s culture, including language, education, religious attitudes, and social values. The French love to debate and are comfortable with frequent eye-contact. In China, humility is a prized virtue, colours have special significance, and it is insulting to be late. Swedes value consensus and do not use humor in negotiations. The “etiquette tips for marketing professionals” feature offers some examples that will help you deal with cultural differences that arise in business dealings with foreign guests.
Factors Constituting Cultural Differences
The basic premise of cross-cultural differences lies in values and priorities. Factors that constitute cross-cultural differences are as follows:
Different countries assign different values .to time dimension. For example, the Americans, the Germs, and the Japanese assign very high priority time. They value time in terms of money; hence, they are very efficient in time management. But in many other countries, such time value is absent. Beal Americans, their strong sense on time value, the Amencs, most Europeans like U.K., France, the Russian as we
2) Patterns of Thought:
Patterns of thought could be another strong issue for cross-cultural differences. Typically, Indians believe that their present, and future are the reflection of their past. Americans, on the other hand. believe that their future is ahead of them, which they can foresee. It is for this reason; Americans always take advantage of impending opportunities with an attacking strategy.
3) Personal Space:
Cross-cultural influences even determine the nature and type of interactions. While interacting with others, some may believe in maintaining distance, while others prefer face-to-face interaction. Personal spacing styles are more evident in negotiation meetings. Those who believe in maintaining distance may feel unhappy when their personal space is invaded. Let us take the example of business interactions between the Americans and the Arabs. Americans may feel uneasy with the closer interaction style of Arabs, while the Arabs may feel disturbed when Americans may keep a distance from them during the interaction.
4) Family Roles and Relationships:
Family roles and relationships influence the pattern of culture. In many societies, family roles and relationships are very traditional, personal, and predictable. The husband is the provider, the wife supervises the household, and males in the household are more valued than females. Each member of the family has a designated role and the responsibility for maintaining the status quo for such a role. Peer pressure preserves the roles, and work situations and business interactions are less influential than familial responsibilities.
Verbal and non-verbal systems of communication systems or languages of every culture primarily reflect the values and composition of languages. In Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna is an icon, for his multiple roles such as a warrior, as a good family person, as a strategist, etc. He is invoked with many names, and each name indicates a different meaning. Similarly, for a Hindu, a cow is a sacred animal; hence Hindus use several words for cows. Eskimos describe snow using many words and expressions. Similarly, Arabs use numerous words to describe a camel. Some of these words may not carry any meaning, but people attach meaning to them. It is for the managers to understand and observe the composition of languages to infer certain cultural cues.
Religion is the most dominant force that influences one’s culture except perhaps in communist countries like China and Cuba. Not only the cultural pattern, but religion also influences the business, socio-economic, and political situation, the lifestyle of people, certain beliefs endorsed by specific religion, etc. Understanding religion-biased cross-cultural issues, therefore, becomes most important for international business.
7) Personal Achievement:
Achievement is another value espoused by the traditional American business Person. The success and reputation of Indian business leaders are measured by the size of their organisation, the amount of their compensation, and their position in the hierarchy. The larger the organisation and the compensation, and higher /he stature, the greater the respect they earn. In other cultures, especially where family time is meaningful, the quality of relationships and the time spent with family are the symbols of success and prestige. When American (perhaps subconsciously) communicates this acquisitive attitude to a culture that does not share their achievement motivation, communication channels can be damaged or severed.
8) Competitiveness and Individuality:
Competitiveness and individuality are the most crucial cross-cultural issues, since, from these emanate the individual ambition, aggressive behaviour, etc. In countries like the U.S.A., competitiveness is encouraged, while in Japan it is discouraged as the Japanese belief in team spirit and consensual decision-making. In India and China also, collectivity, team spirit and patience are valued more than individuality and competitiveness. Individuality and competitiveness also influence status symbols, body language, aggressiveness, and self-advertisement. These are in conflict with other cultures that value modesty, team spirit, collectivity, and patience.
9) Social Behaviour:
Social behavioural pattern varies among different cultures. The Chinese people believe in taking a bite of every food item served, as this demonstrates their sense of politeness. Now, imagine money-conscious American business hospitality meet for a Chinese delegation. The food budget would far exceed than envisaged. Similarly, the sense of punctuality is another cross-cultural cue. Punctuality is revered in American culture. It is said that such value is attached to punctuality by the Americans because of their obvious nature of impatience. There are many other aspects of social behaviours that exert influence in cross-cultural relations. For Indians, touching the feet of the boss (especially by the lower staff) is showing respect to elders as well as gratitude. For Americans, it is something unimaginable even a low-level employee will not touch the feet of the U.S. President or a company President/Chairman.
10) Ethnocentric Attitudes:
Ethnocentric attitudes indicate nurturing of feelings by a culture group that their cultural values, habits, and religion are superior to others. This superiority complex is harmful to cross-cultural relations, as it often culminates in disrespect and inflexibility, and ensuing conflict. Ethnocentricity also develops the syndrome of stereotyping, i.e., a typical assumption that the behaviour of people from another culture group will match with their perceived superior culture. Stereotyping at times negatively affects cross-cultural relations, and can even impair a business deal.
11) Flexibility and Sincerity:
The degree of flexibility in cross-cultural relationships has to be cautiously dealt with. With a flexible approach, the superior need to analyse the responses and reactions of culturally different subordinates to interpret their reactions to the communications. It requires sincerity, and patience, empathetic listening, etc.
12) Intercultural Socialisation:
Intercultural socialisation helps in awareness of each other’s cultural constructs and thereby develops informed understanding of cross-cultural behaviour, habits, actions, and the reasons. Such intercultural socialisation is important, particularly for the reasons that actions and behaviour of one cultural group or the other are so different; at times it may create confusion. For example, while bowing is a form of welcome greeting for most of the South-East Asian countries like Japan, for Westerners shaking of hands is the normal custom of welcoming. Similarly, leaving some portion of food after dining is considered as customary in some cultural groups, but a sign of impoliteness for others.