Accounting for Culture in Marketing and Sales

August 3, 2009

Cultural adaptation is best done utilizing a systematic approach that relies on qualitative data. While many organizations tailor their approach based upon known customer needs many forget to incorporate a client’s specific culture. It is culture that will provide the framework from which marketing and sales efforts are perceived and it is through cultural knowledge that the savvy professional and organization will differentiate themselves. The approach described herein has been developed by Geert Hofstede. It is an approach that provides both qualitative and quantitative data. The approach described is intended to be universal, but should also be augmented with specific target market knowledge. In today’s Global society, culture is not static, but rather constantly evolving.

The key criteria utilized to define and give insight into culture are;

Collectivism-Individualism – The degree to which a person is responsible to self or the larger group or society.

Uncertainty Avoidance – The degree to which a society is risk averse or risk takers.

Power Distance – The emotional distance between superiors and subordinates.

Gender Orientation – The degree to which a society exhibits behaviors associated with gender stereotypes.

Time Orientation – A complex measurement of a variety of factors including sequential versus synchronous, the perception of past, present, and future, and short versus long term orientation. Each culture is rated by their propensity across these criteria to gain a better insight into cultural expectations and responses.

The world averages for the above criteria are as follows;

Collectivism-Individualism: 43 The higher the rating the more an individual within this society is expected to look after himself and his/her immediate family. The lower the rating the more we see individuals integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families. The US has the globe’s highest Individualism score at a 91.

Uncertainty Avoidance: 64 Countries that score high on the uncertainty avoidance index are countries that have strict laws and regulations, a highly structured society, and tend to be more homogenous. Countries that score low tend to be more accepting of different opinions, beliefs, and cultures. The US has a score of 46 indicating a more accommodating culture accepting of differing in beliefs and opinions.

Power Distance: 55 A higher power distance rating assumes a greater inequality between societal levels, organizations, and within families while a lower rating assumes greater equality. The US rating is a 40 which is indicative of greater equality.

Gender Orientation: 50 The Masculinity/femininity index indicates that the higher the score the more assertive and competitive the culture (Masculine), the lower the score the more modest and caring (Feminine). The US has a score of 62.

Time Orientation: 45 Long term versus short term time orientation provides several insights into the focus of a particular culture. Cultures with a short term orientation focus on values such as ‘saving face’ and respecting tradition while cultures that focus on the longer term tend to focus on thrift and perseverance. The US has a score of 29 in this dimension indicating preference for a short-term time orientation. A country such as China has a score of 118.

This introductory post is the beginning of a series that will offer specific examples of each criteria as well as specific applications for a variety of different cultures and countries.

If you would like additional information on this topic or have questions on planning and executing your next translation or multilingual initiative, contact us today for a free 30-minute consultation or call us at (800) 413-7838.

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