A good basic definition of concept of culture is that it is a set of traditional beliefs and values that are transmitted and shared in a given society. Culture is also the total way of life and thinking pattern that passed from generation to generation. Culture means many things to many people because the concept encompasses norms, values, customs, art and mores.
Usunier and Lee(2009)suggests that this emphasis on world markets is often viewed as cross-border extensions of American marketing thought, ignoring people, languages, culture and advocating uniformity.
According to Linton (1945), culture is the sum total of several attributes such as knowledge, attitudes, and habitual behavior patterns shared and transmitted by the members of a particular society. Edward Tylor(2002), suggests that culture is a complexity of factors including belief, knowledge, moral, law, custom, art and other capabilities acquired by man as a social being or the member of society.
People in different cultures often have different ideas about the same subject. What is acceptable in one culture may not necessarily be acceptable in another. Therefore, a phenomena appearing in different cultures can be interpreted in different manners.
Culture is shared and passed from generation to generation and is relatively stable and permanent. Old habits to die hard and a people tend to maintain its own heritage inspite of the fast changing world.
Cultural pride and prejudice make many nations reject foreign ideas and imported products. But the reverse may also be true and a perception of greatness attributed to another culture may lead to eager acceptance of things reflecting the culture. For example, Japanese are proud of their culture and economic achievements and prefer to buy Japanese goods. On the other hand, the words Made in America marked on a product communicate quality and sophistication to people in many developing countries.
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The concept of what is right and wrong is based on culture. To he straight forward and honest are considered morally right in the US even though the feelings of the people are hurt. In Latin cultures, however, people avoid direct statements that would embarrass or would make others uncomfortable. Thus, even if a Latin businessman does not mean to do business, he would appear to have intention to do so.
In an empirical study of French, American and Germany managers, substantial differences were noted on ethical issues. On an issue, that may benefit the firm at the expense of the environment, the French and German managers would more likely side with their employers and participate in what they perceive as a relatively minor infraction of environmental law. The American managers were less likely to approve a production run which would result in air pollution. Japanese are also very particular on the maintenance of environmental balance in their work ethics during the production of goods.
Multinational corporations operate in different host countries around the world and in doing so have to deal with a wide variety of political, economical, geographical, technological and marketing situations. Moreover, each host country has its own society and culture which is different in many important ways from almost every other society or culture, although there are some commonalties. Though society and culture do not appear to be a part of marketing situations, yet they are actually the key elements in showing how marketing activities will be conducted, from what goods will be produced, and through what means they will be sold to establishing industrial and management patterns and determining the success or failure of local subsidiary or affiliate.
Society and culture influence every aspect of overseas business of an MNC and successful MNC operations – whether it is marketing, finance, production, or personnel – has to be acutely aware of the predominant attitudes, feelings, and opinion in the local environment. Differences in values and attitudes between the management and the parent offices and expatriate managers at the subsidiary or affiliate level and local managers and employees can lead to serious operational and functional problems, which arise not because there are individual problems, but because of the important differences between societies and cultures. Society and culture often mould general attitudes towards fundamentals of life such as time, money, productivity and achievement all of which can differ widely across countries and lead to situations of differing expectations between the management in the home office and local employees of subsidiaries and affiliates.
While some sociocultural differences are obvious, others are relatively subtle, though equally important. It is often difficult for an international manager to catch on these subtle differences if he or she has not lived or worked in cultures other than that of home country.
MNCs have realised sometimes through costly blunders, that socio cultural factors are vital ingredients that make up overall business environment and that it is essential to appreciate these differences and how they influence the business before an attempt is made to set up an operation in a host country.
There are too many human variables and different types of international marketing functions for an exhaustive discussion about culture. The main elements of culture are:
Attitudes and beliefs
Attitudes towards time
Attitudes towards work and leisure
Attitudes towards achievement
Attitudes towards change
Attitudes towards job.
Attitudes and beliefs: In every society there are norms of behaviour based on attitudes, values and beliefs that constitute a part of its culture. The set of attitudes and beliefs of a culture will influence nearly-all aspects of human behaviour, providing guidelines and organisation to a society and its individuals. Identifying the attitudes and beliefs of a society and how if they differ from one’s own culture will help the businessperson more easily understand the behaviour of people.
Attitudes towards time: Everywhere in the world people use time tc communicate with each other. In international business, attitudes towards time are displayed in behaviour regarding punctuality, responses to business communication, responses to deadlines, and the amounts of time that are spent waiting in an outer office for an appointment.
Attitudes towards work and leisure: Most people in the industrial society work many more hours than is necessary to satisfy their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Their attitudes towards work and leisure are indicative of their views towards wealth and material gains. These attitudes affect the types, qualities and numbers of individuals who pursue entrepreneurial and management careers as well.
Many industrial psychologists have conducted research in this area to determine what motivates people to work more than is necessary to provide for their basic needs. One explanation is the Protestant ethic which has its basis in the reformation, when work was viewed as a means of salvation and people preferred to transform productivity gains into additional output rather than additional leisure. Europeans and Americans are typically considered to adhere to this work ethic because they generally view work as a moral virtue and look unfavourably in the idle.
Attitudes towards achievement: Cultural differences in the general attitudes towards work are also accompanied by significant national differences in achievement motivation. In some cultures, particularly those with high stratified and hierarchical societies, there is tendency to avoid personal responsibility and to work according to precise instructions received from supervisors that are followed by the latter. In many societies, especially where social security is low and jobs are prized, there is a tendency to avoid taking risks and little innovation in work or production processes. In such cultures, the prospects of higher achievement is not considered attractive enough to warrant taking avoidable risks. In many industrial societies, however, attitudes towards personal achievements are different. Personal responsibility and the ability to take risks for potential gain are considered valuable instruments in achieving higher goals. In fact, in many cultures the societal pressure on achievement -5 so intense that individuals are automatically driven towards attempting ambitious The types of attitudes among workers and managers often influence the types of management that has to be utilised to achieve corporate goals. In a culture that emphasises risk taking, greater responsibility, and individual decision making « decentralised management system would be more appropriate. In a culture, where there is a tendency to put in only adequate amounts of work where achievement is not a valued attribute in a person, the company will follow a more centralisee management system with only limited delegation of decision-making authority.
Attitudes towards change. The international manager must understand what aspects of a culture will resist change and how the areas of resistance differ among – cultures, how the process of change takes place in different cultures and how long :: will take to implement change. There are two conflicting forces within a culture! regarding change. People attempt to protect and preserve a culture with an elaborate set of sanctions and laws on vogue against those who deviate from norms. Wher. differences are seen, they are perceived as, “my method is right and other methods must be wrong.”
The contradictory force is one in which the public is aware that the cultural environment is continuously changing and that a culture must change in order to ensure its own continuity. In fact, in order to balance these attitudes, the manager must remember that a closer new idea can be related to a traditional one whed illustrating its relative advantage, the greater the acceptance of that new concept Usually, cultures with centuries old traditions that have remained closed to outside influences are more resistant to change than other cultures. The level of education in a society and the exposure of its people to the knowledge and experience of other cultures is an extremely important determinant of its attitude towards change.
Attitude towards job. The type of job that is considered most desirable or prestigious varies greatly according to different cultures. Thus, while the medicinal and legal professions are considered extremely prestigious in the United States, civil service is considered most prestigious occupation in several developing countries including India.
Morgan, A., 1998, Copycat TV: Globalisation, program formats and cultural identity, Luton, England, University of Luton Press.
Tylor Edward B., 2002, Primitive Culture in: Lambek Michael (ed.): A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, Malden/Ma./USA & Oxford/UK, pp. 21-34
Linton, Ralph 1945, The cultural background of personality. New York, Appleton-Century
Philip R. Cateora, John L. Graham, 2007, International Marketing, 13th Edition, McGraw-Hill’s.
Jean-Claude Usunier and Julie Anne Lee, 2009, Marketing Across Cultures, 5th edition, Prentice Hall.
Latha Nair, 1999, Personnel Management, Himalaya publishing house.
Dr. K. Aswathappa, Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, Himalaya publishing house.
Svend Hollenses, A global Marketing decision oriented Approach, 3rd Edition.
Stonehouse, G, Campbell, D, Hamill, J, & Purdie, T, 2004, Global and transnationl business, 2nd Edition, John wiley and sons, west Sussex.
Palmer, A, 2007, Introduction to marketing, Oxford university press, Newdelhi.
(b) Cateora and Ghauri (2006) state that ‘for the inexperienced marketer, the ‘similar but different’ aspect of culture creates an illusion of similarity that usually does not exist’. What do they mean by this statement? Explain and give specific examples to illustrate the points made. (50% of marks for this assignment)
Consumption patterns, living styles and the priority of needs of the human beings play important roles on the culture. This in other words means that culture prescribes the manner in which people satisfy their desires/needs. Consumption of certain food gives a good example of how it influences the culture. Americans, Europeans and Arabians consume beef whereas Thais, Chinese and the majority of Indians do not consume beef at all believing that it is improper to eat cattle that work on farms, thus helping to provide food such as rice and vegetables. In Japan, the per capita annual consumption of beef has increased to 11 Lbs. which is very small compared to the 100 Lbs. per capita consumed in the US and Argentina.
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The Japanese eat uncooked sea food and the Iraqis eat dried, salted locust as snacks while drinking. The French eat snails. Americans and Europeans use honey (Bee expectorate or bee spit) and blue cheese or Roquefort salad dressing which is made with strong cheese with bluish mould. It has been seen that no society has a monopoly on their unusual eating habits when comparisons are made among various societies.
Food preparation methods are also dictated by cultural preferences. Asian consumer prefers chicken broiled or boiled rather than fried. Consequently, the Chinese found that the Americans’ fried chicken style is foreign and distasteful.
The culture not only dictates the type of food to be consumed but also it affects what should not be purchased. For example, Muslims do not purchase chicken unless it is hallaled and like Jews no consumption of pork is allowed. They also do not use alcoholic beverages, a habit which is shared by some of the Protestants. Moussy a non-alcoholic beer from Switzerland is a product that was manufactured for the consumption of Muslims being a non-alcoholic beverage.
Life-style of individuals in every country has its own cultural influence. For example, in India majority of male and female wear dhoties/saris/lungis whereas in Pakistan they wear Salwar Kameez. In the western countries the dress code for men is suit with headgear as hat and for ladies it is skirt and blouse whereas in India the headgear is mostly turban. This life-style basically depends upon the weather conditions of the country.
The priority of needs from one country to another also varies. For example, the westerners are effluent and buy their imported clothes in large quantities. In the developing countries the needs of individuals are meager. Hence most of the men and women are dressed in the minimum.
Beside consumption habits, the thinking processes are also affected by culture. It has been observed that when the individuals travel overseas, it is virtually impossible for a person to observe foreign cultures without making reference, perhaps unconsciously, back to personal cultural values. This phenomenon is known as self reliance criterion (SRC). It is because of the effect of SRC the individual remains bound by his or her cultural assumptions. It is, therefore, necessary for the foreign traveller to recognise how the perception of overseas events can be distorted by the effect of SRC.
The best example of SRC is the behaviour of the individuals treating their animals which reflects their thinking processes. Americans and Europeans usually treat dogs and cats as family members addressing the animals affectionately and even allowing them to sleep on their beds. Arabs view dogs as filthy animals. Some in the Far Eas: like Korea and Thailand, go as far as cooking and eating dogs. Hindus in contrast revere cows and are surprised as to how the westerners and the Muslims eat beef, that also in large quantity.
The efforts of the international marketing man should be to reduce SRC effect on the individuals. The presence of SRC, if not controlled, can invalidate the results of the research study. Lee suggests a multi-step approach to remove the undue influence of SRC. Firstly the problem should be defined in terms of the culture of the researcher’s home country. Secondly, the same problem is defined again except that it is defined in terms of the cultural norms of the host country. Thirdly, a comparison is made of two cultural composites. Any difference between the composites indicates the existence of SRC.
Although African, Arab and Asian business methods have endured for centuries, most American firms react to those methods in ethnocentric terms and prefer to conduct business along the familiar western lines. Project Heads launching a venture in less developed countries should consider the following guidelines:
Resist the tendency to conduct business immediately on landing.
Resist the tendency to conduct business at all times.
Consider doing favour as a business tool to generate allies.
Contact, cultivate and conduct field work among at least one sample clientele to serve as an initial testing centre for the firm’s product.
Introduce the product line into the sample group by local forms of cause related marketing.
Extend product acceptance beyond the sample clientele into related segments.
An awareness of the influence of the SRCs is valuable because such awareness can help a manager to prevent a transfer of personal cultural norms on a wholesale basis to an overseas market. This awareness should make the manager more customer oriented and the marketing strategy thus developed will reflect through market needs.
A country may be classified as a high context culture or low context culture. The context of culture is either high or low in terms of in depth background information. North America and North Europe are examples of low context cultures. In these types of societies messages are explicit and clear in the sense that actual words are used to convey the main part of information in communication. What is important is what is said, not how it is said and not the environment within which it is said.
Japan, France, Spain, Italy, some countries of Asia like India, Africa (South Africa) and the Middle East Arabian nations are High-Context Cultures. In such countries the communication may be indirect and the expressive manner in which the message is delivered becomes critical because the verbal part does not carry most of the information. The context of communication is high because it includes a great deal of additional information such as message sender’s values, position, background and associations in the society. One’s individual environment such as physical setting and social circumstances determine what one says and how it is interpreted by others. This type of communication emphasises one’s character and words as determinants of one’s integrity making it possible for business persons to come to terms without detailed legal work.
A common advertising method used by American advertisers is to present a TV commercial as an illustrated lecture. In this low context method, a product is discussed in the absence of its natural setting. Such a message is not easily understood in high context cultures because of the omission of the essential contextual details. In one of the studies, carried out by researchers they tested six European commercials on five cultural groups ranging from the high context Asian group to the low context Swedish group and the evidence supported Well’s proposition. Compared to a low context culture, high context cultures perceive non-verbal communication elements as being more informative.
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