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Introduction

The consumer buying behavior is affected from various sources prior to and during the purchase and the marketers have to closely examine all such factors that may deviate or attract the customers to make a purchase. These factors are either associated with the brand image or the perception of the consumer regarding the brand. This perception has a lot to do with the consumer’s set of values and beliefs. For this reason, studying the consumer psychology is highly important which is greatly affected with the influences posed by the culture the consumer belongs to. Yes, it is culture that induces values, beliefs and attitudes that come to affect the consumer buying behavior and becomes a concern for the marketers to continually boast the brand image to appeal to the traits of their very culture. As simple as the concept of culture seem to an individual, culture is embedded to the very root of the society which person is a part of since childhood (Richard 329). The entire period of upbringing and personality development, culture plays a big role in forming perceptions about the various elements of the environment. Thus, culture is by the far the most important and influential force upon the consumer behavior.

What is culture? What are its elements? What characteristics differentiate one culture from another? And how can marketers measure the impact of culture upon consumers and make use of such measurement? These are the questions that this research paper will attempt to answer through a secondary research, using information gathered from previous researches, books, internet and newspapers. Before we proceed into the in depth analysis of the impact of culture upon the consumer behavior, it is crucial to first shed light on the main definition of culture and then proceed onto its characteristics and traits that influence consumers.

Culture Defined

Culture is the root of any society which gives it a flavor and a wholesome environment for an individual to form beliefs, views, perceptions and attitudes. Thus we say for this reason that culture is a set of beliefs, attitudes and values that are learned from living in a society which in turn influences the behavior of the individuals living in a particular society (Schiffman 408). According to Lars:

Culture is a complex combination of beliefs, values, education and knowledge and morals of a society.

Culture is an external influence upon an individual and includes all the forces that other people may induce upon him. This includes the standards and the customers raised by the people themselves living in a society for long. This is the reason why different areas have different cultures and societal norms, as they are man made and which ever object is man made and artificial is bound under variations. Culture is surely man made and not natural but it naturally affects the behaviors of people who live by it. Culture shapes all the behavioral attributes of a person, including his beliefs, values and morals, which are hard to mould and can a significant impact upon his many decisions, including purchase decisions.

Culture is thus, a complex entity with several interdependent components. Two such components that play a major role in culture are beliefs and values.

Beliefs consist of the thoughts and statements that reflect the comprehensive understanding of various things in the environment. Values on the other hand are not the same things as beliefs. Where beliefs can be many, values are few in number and are different for each society. They are sets of appropriate behaviors that are standardized by the society and all members are bound by them. Together with knowledge, these components form customs and traditions and as whole an entire culture, that does adapt to the changing environment slightly, but stick well to its valued roots, such as the cultures in Asian countries which are still being strong (Hoyer 360).

Characteristics of Culture that Impact Consumer Behavior

Following are the major characteristics of culture that strongly influence the buying behavior of the consumers:

It is Comprehensive

Culture presents a comprehensive outlook whereby all rules, norms, customs, traditions, beliefs, knowledge, and standards match well and coincide with each other and not contradict each other on any ground. That is all the elements are present in a logical pattern and are more or less similar to each other. Thus, the behaviors of the members closely reflect the cultural standards. This goes for the products and the services they go for as well, which should be in the same logical pattern and abiding by the standards of the culture (Solomon 210). For this reason, it is important to study the cultural standards of the target market before advertising. Marketers to achieve higher acceptability reflect the similar cultural standards to attract customers to obtain what is coincidental to their beliefs and values.

It is Learned

Culture is the environment that a person lives in throughout his life, and the beliefs, attitudes, values, etc are all taught to him through this environment. Culture is man made and a person is not born with the values and beliefs vested in a culture, they are in fact learned as the child grows. This learning is in three forms: Formal, whereby the parents and elders siblings teach behavioral patterns and lessons, informal, whereby the child learns certain things on his own through observation and imitation and technical, whereby a specialized and controlled environment of the school teaches a child a more comprehensive and advanced education to the child for his later years (Schiffman 410).

Culture is passed from one generation to another through enculturation, a process by which the members learn the culture into which they are born. A different way of learning is through acculturation, the process by which the members learn the rules and norms of a culture from the native culture. Through acculturation, the original or native culture is modified through direct contact with or exposure to a new and different culture.

It is Set under Boundaries

Culture is bound under the acceptable and standard behavior of a society. This is what is taught to the offspring as they grow up. There are boundaries of acceptable right and unacceptable wrong behavior, in between which the culture resides (Hoyer 387).

It is Dynamic or Static

Cultures can be dynamic and static. Being dynamic means they are open to change and adapt with the demands of changing times. Being static means the culture does not change any of its beliefs, values or customs. The dynamic strength of the culture presents marketers with innovative opportunities (Blackwell 154). An example of such dynamism would be the change in family structure in Singapore, where now more American culture is prevailing and youngsters are residing independently and not with parents after the age of 18. Such a change meant new opportunities for the marketers in Singapore to cater to this new market.

It is Free of Conscious Awareness

There is limited conscious awareness of cultural beliefs, customs and norms. And also, there is lack of information and learning about other cultures, where several conflicts occur due to misunderstandings and communication gaps.

It Satisfies Needs

Cultural standards have been formed in each society based on the experiences of its founders. Every group has its own experiences based on which it sets standards. Same is the case with a society, which takes up ‘tried’ actions and establishes them as standards for the future prosperity of its members. So, the standards are basically directions for the members and offer guidance to lead a life that is free of troubles and relief and is well focused and directed. Guidance and teaching being the core functions of a culture, it evolves within a society to include better rules and standards (Blackwell 157).

It is Shared

The best part about culture is that it exists among a group and lives through interactions and relationships. Culture prevails in a society through one generation’s passing on of values and beliefs to another, through communication and relationships. Culture links its members and promotes socialization. This is the very socialization that influences to a great extent the consumer perceptions about brands. The importance of word of mouth marketing is thus evident in the socialization element of culture, something which the marketers make much use of (Hoyer 391).

Differences between Cultures that Create Differences in Consumer Behaviors

Different societies around the world are found to have different cultures. Why is that so? Researches have found out that there are several dimensions of culture cause such a difference. These dimensions include, the individual or collective orientations of a culture, whether the culture is high text or low text, the power distances that exist in the culture, gender norms, standards and values, and uncertainty avoidance. Each of these is discussed now in detail.

Individual and Collective Orientation

Cultures differ in the extent to which they promote individual values, (for example, power, achievement, hedonism, and stimulation) versus collectivist values (for example, benevolence, tradition, and conformity). One of the major differences between these two orientations is the extent to which an individual’s goals or the group’s goals are given precedence. This difference is reflected in advertisements. For example, in the United States magazine advertisements appeal to individual beliefs and preferences, personal success, and independence. In Korea, a more collectivist culture, advertisements rely on appeals that emphasize benefits to the group, harmony and family integrity (Rapaille 516).

High and Low Context Cultures

A high context culture is one in which much of the information in communication is in the context of the person – for example information that was shared through previous communications, through assumptions about each other and through shared experiences. A low context culture is one in which most of the information is explicitly stated in the verbal message. High text cultures are also collectivist cultures. These cultures (Japanese, Arabic, Latin American, Thai, Korean, Apache, and Mexican) place great emphasis on personal relationships and oral agreements. Low text cultures, then, are also individualistic cultures. Members of the high context cultures spend lots of time getting to know each other interpersonally and socially before any important transactions take place. On the other hand, in low context cultures, the members spend a great deal less time getting to know each other and hence do not have that shared knowledge. As a result, to the member of the high-context culture, every detail omitted or assumed is vital for communication whereas, for the member of the low-context, what is omitted creates ambiguity (Devito 94).

Power Distances

In some cultures power is concentrated in the hands of a few and there is a great difference in the power held by these people and by the ordinary citizens. These are called high power distance cultures. Examples of such cultures are Mexico, Brazil, India and Philippines. In low power distance cultures (examples include Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, and to a lesser extent the United States), power is more evenly distributed throughout the citizenry. These differences impact on consumer behavior in s number of ways. In the workplace of low power distance cultures a member is expected to confront a friend, partner, or supervisor. In high power distance cultures, direct confrontation and assertiveness may be viewed negatively, especially if directed at a superior (Peter 275).

Masculinity Vs Femininity

In some culture, males are held superiors than females and are deemed the role of the sole bread winner of the family, whereas the females’ job is limited to the care of the family of the household chores. This is so because of the gender characteristics associated with each. Such as for males, the gender traits of boldness, aggressiveness and command, are considered important to support the inferior ones, such as females and infants. On the other hand, females are humble, emotional and articulate, so they are given the household responsibly. This is not the case in all cultures. Some cultures give women equal opportunities as men, and they too function as the breadwinners of the family. This drift is mainly caused by the cultural adaptations to changing times (Harrison 463).

Uncertainly Avoidance

Cultures tend to live under either a structured or an unstructured environment regarding consequences and situations, relating to various situations. The more structured the culture prefers to keep the situations, the more certainty it prefers and avoids ambiguity and is able to tolerate risk. Thus, for such culture a high level of uncertainty avoidance means high tolerance and preparation for risk suppression. On the other hand, the cultures that live by in uncertain situations, and not clarify ambiguity, they are left in haphazard consequences, and risks when take up ugly results, they are faced with challenges and panic to the end (Devito 101).

Measurement of Cultural Impacts

So far we have discussed the characteristics and the factors of culture that create impact upon the consumer buying behavior. It makes us wonder how can marketers measure and assess such impacts? Commonly, there are two ways the marketers do that: through a content analysis and a consumer field work.

Content Analysis

Content analysis focuses on finding out whether a culture has gone through recent changes and adaptations. Usually the primary values of a culture do not change with time, it is the secondary ones that are subject to change and do so subsequently. Marketers through content analysis look for such changes. Why? When these changes or rather shifts occur, they open doors of opportunities for marketers, exploring which only points to entry of new trends and styles, and altogether a new market. The first one to identify a new market is of course a winner in the business game. Marketers conduct the content analysis through covering news and information in magazines, reports, personal opinions, etc, and use such information to also find out new and improved ways to reach the audiences and the changes and trends that conventional advertising has undergone and what the latest advancements are (Schiffman 418).

Consumer fieldwork

Apart from secondary research, marketers also conduct primary research in the form of consumer fieldwork, to extract first hand and fresh data to suit better to their marketing requirements. There are three common ways of conducting a primary consumer research: field observation, shadow shopping and in-depth interviews and focus groups (Hawkins 211).

Lessons for Marketers

Through research marketers can very well understand the cultures, their characteristics and the impacts they have. Such information is useful, then onwards, in crafting marketing strategies. However, in doing so, there are important considerations and lessons for managers, which have to be taken into close account to cater best to the target audiences in the international markets having different cultural backgrounds. These lessons include understanding of the customer’s core values that are closely tied with their culture, and dealing with the target audiences with close disregard to stereotyping.

Core Values

All customers have certain core values associated with each and every thing in their lives. Marketers have to realize those core values that they can make use of and target the customers accordingly. The very same core values that are required and sought by the customers are embedded in the product or service which is then communicated to the targeted customers and delivered hoping to achieve satisfaction. Having selected and targeted the appropriate core values spells satisfaction on part of the customers for sure. But then this calls for firstly careful understanding of the core values of customers, and then selection of those which are relevant to the business products or those which could be embedded into services or products. Before selecting the marketers have to make sure whether the value they are targeting is pervasive, enduring, and consumer related. Common core values associated with customers are: Achievement and success, efficiency and practicality, reliability, comfort, individualism, freedom, external conformity, humanitarianism, youthfulness, health and fitness. However closely associated to products and services are the core values of consistency, predictability, reliability, timelines, that is the customers want timely delivery of service and response to queries regarding the service or product, effective performance of the product or service they paid for, ease of purchase and usage of the product or service, and finally the responsiveness of the product or service towards satisfying their need and requirement (Mooij 381).

Stereotyping

People have the tendency to engage in stereotyping other cultures on extreme grounds. They may either generalize a culture as being a high context or a low context one or as having low avoidance for uncertainty or high avoidance for uncertainty, however, not all cultures are at the extreme ends and some lie in between with moderate standards and norms. These are the cultures that fall the victim of stereotyping. As much as stereotyping is common, it may spell disaster for marketers if they happen to practice is openly or mistakenly in crafting marketing or an advertising strategy. One stereotypical mistake can lead to forever saying good bye to foreign market that the company may have been looking forward to entering and gaining market share. A simple way to avoid stereotyping is simple: understand the culture and know that not all cultures are the same and is some other culture is different that does not mean that it is wrong or right. What may be considered immoral or wrong in some cultures may be considered right in some. Such as interracial marriages in South Africa were considered immoral and illegal whereas, racial discrimination of the sort is considered immoral in the US! (Richard 402)

Conclusion

Culture is an important and in fact a major component of the society which induces beliefs, attitudes, values, knowledge, customs, standards, and traditions in to the individuals who are members of a society. The influences of culture are external but are by far very powerful. For this reason marketers all over the world of multinational business are continuously engaged in understanding different cultures to cater best to their needs and observation. Daniel John in his paper on culture and consumer behavior writes:

The relevant literature form cross-cultural psychology, anthropology, consumer behavior and international marketing is reviewed in an attempt to describe the impact culture has on salient consumer behavior constructs of perception, information processing, value systems, and self concept and offer hypotheses for marketing management. (94)

But understanding the effect of culture on consumer behavior is not an easy task as it calls for understand of the root of the cultures of the target customers, their beliefs and values, their norms and standards, and so on, which are different for all cultures and societies and create different impacts upon consumer buying behaviors on high, low or moderate levels. But the important thing to note is to spend considerable time in investigating cultures to better understand the needs and requirements of the customers reflected through their beliefs and attitudes and then shape the marketing of products and services accordingly and not destroying the potential brand image of a product in the eyes of the culturally different customers through unfortunate stereotypical advertising or promotional campaigns!

Ronald LeBlanc writes in his research article:

Managers must balance the need to segment between using cultural criteria and using individual consumer characteristics among groups in different cultures. The idea  of marketing universals presumes that consumer decision making processes are similar across cultures. (46)

Understanding the impacts of cultures on consumer buying behavior not only allows crafting of a successful marketing campaign but also enables marketers to find useful opportunities owing to cultural shifts and new markets to enter into. With the advent of global business empires, and the customer and employee diversity resulting from it only has increased the importance of the study of cultures all around the world.

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