Cultural Variables and Context — The Key Ingredients for a Successful Marketing Strategy
Culture is one of the driving factors of consumer behavior. It can influence the perception of a product or a service and can make it or break it. Today's internationalized market requires products to be marketed differently depending on different cultural environments. The success of a marketing campaign is dependent on tapping into the right cultural channels. Therefore, developing the right culturally relevant marketing strategy is crucial if you want your product to succeed in different cultural environments.
CONSUMER RESEARCH THEORIES AND THEIR APPLICATION IN MARKETING
There are numerous consumer research theories that propose the best ways to analyze market demands that marketing strategy built upon. While mentioning them all is beyond the scope of this short article, a brief overview of some theories is needed to demonstrate the foundations of culturally oriented marketing.
For example, Cultural Dimensions Theory is a framework for cross-cultural comparison proposed by Gerard Henrik Hofstede in 1980. Inside the realm of business, it is used to analyze different markets and adapt products to cultural demands accordingly. Hofstede identified six cultural dimensions which are: power distance index, collectivism vs. individualism, uncertainty avoidance index, femininity vs. masculinity, and finally short-term vs. long-term orientation. Due to development in market research theories, another cultural dimension was added: restraint vs. indulgence (Nickerson, 2022 May 04).
Another theory is the Howard Seth model proposed by John Howard and Jagadish Sheth in their book The Theory of Buyer Behavior (1969). Their theory puts forward four buyer behavior components: stimulus variables, response variables, hypothetical constructs, and exogenous variables. Stimulus input variables are caused by the environment which can be social or commercial, and informational. They come in the form of brand attributes (price, quality, service, distinctiveness, or availability), linguistic or pictorial symbolism, and word-of-mouth communication. Hypothetical constructs are separated into two categories, perception and learning. Learning constructs revolve around information processing that motivates the consumer to purchase the product such as the product’s attributes, motives satisfaction, trust in the brand, and satisfaction with the product. While perception constructs deal with the way a consumer gathers information coming from the previously mentioned stimuli and perceives it. The way consumers react to marketing strategy can be followed through response variables. They are dependent on attention, brand comprehension, attitude, intention, and purchase behavior. Finally, exogenous variables are external factors that mainly come from the consumer’s environment such as the importance of the purchase, personality variables, social class, culture, organization, time pressure, and financial status (Sheth 1969; Anjali J. 2019).
Application of these theories will produce some pattern-like results such as that Germans have more rigid personal buying criteria and are driven more by facts and performance, rather than style. Furthermore, in France, the focus is on style and performance, but also on close interaction with the consumer. Japanese buyers are influenced by their inclination toward group consensus; therefore, individuals are following the flexibilities of the group. U.S. buyers value rules as important but are more flexible if new information is presented about a product (Lackman, Hanson & Lanasa, 1997). While these theories take into account different variables affecting consumer behavior, they produce results based on typologies, which can result in incomplete images of the market composed of fragments with limited context.
The theory which expands on this is the Consumer Culture Theory (CCT), a family of theoretical perspectives which focuses on the relationship between consumer actions, the marketplace, and cultural meanings. CCT is a theory that upgrades the previous theories to another level. It abandons the notion of culture as a homogeneous entity where its members share collective meanings and adopts the view of culture as a heterogeneous distribution of meanings (Arnould & Thompson, 2005). The benefit of this theory is that it studies consumers in the field, and in the consumption context. CCT is an interdisciplinary inclined theory that seeks to understand the complexity of culture beyond mere typologies. Consumers are not passive participants following mainstream trajectories, they are active performers in the market who are involved in creating culture.
APPLICATION OF ANTHROPOLOGY METHODS IN MARKET RESEARCH
As consumers are active participants and creators of culture, market research needs to be approached holistically. Today's marketing efforts are turned to improving customer experience and customer journey. However, customer experience is still separated from its cultural context (Rokka, 2021).
Anthropology, abundant in its holistic research methodologies offers insights into cultural contexts. Research methods such as ethnography, backed up by thick descriptions, are contexts within contexts that can enrich customer experiences. Anthropology observes targeted consumers in their environments, drawing conclusions from observation and active participation. The areas of research are not artificial environments but organic cultural contexts. Anthropologists go below the surface and fully immerse themselves in the cultures they study, which provides a holistic perspective.
To explain it a bit better, we can look at the example from the book Sensemaking (Madsbjerg, 2017) where a Scandinavian life insurance and annuity fund was losing 10% of its customers every year. The majority of the customers included in that 10% were people close to their retirement age, which meant the loss of the most profitable customers. The fund employed ReD, a consulting company heavily based in social sciences, among which is anthropology. The key to finding out what was causing abandonment was through finding contextual meaning. Through discourse analysis and ethnography focused on the concept of aging, a gap was found in the way the fund was promoting life at retirement age, and what their customers perceived as retirement. The fund promoted retirement age as a calm peaceful period, while the customers thought of retirement as a stressful period of losing control over one’s life. The fund also focused on promoting its services to the younger people who weren’t even thinking of retirement. Because nearing one’s retirement also meant nearing the end of one's life, a lot of people changed the organization of their finances. The fund then changed its strategy and digitized its services for younger people, while increasing its engagement with older clients. The result was an 80% less loss of clients in the two years after the study.
Despite seeming like easy, obvious, and logical reasoning, many businesses do not take into account the context behind their customers’ pain points. Anthropologists are equipped with the necessary skillset and perspectives that enable them to perceive what would otherwise go unnoticed. Having this insight is a valuable asset that you do not want to miss out on if you want to compete with other businesses in the culturally diverse market.