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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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International marketers are continuously confronted with increasing multicultural marketplaces (Boachie-Mensah & Boohene, 2012). The “globalization of markets and international competition are requiring firms to operate in a multicultural environment” (Luna & Gupta, 2001, p. 47). Hofstede and De Mooij (2002) define culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” (p. 63). Consumer behaviour is shaped from “a mix of religious beliefs, economic and political exigencies” (Soares, Farhangmehr & Shoham, 2007, p. 279). Identifying consumer behaviours in a standard fashion is extremely difficult if not impossible (Soares et al., 2007). This essay will analyse literature from Boachie-Mensah and Boohene 2012 and relating authors on the importance of cultural differences and consumer behaviour for international marketers.

The Importance of Cultural Differences within International Marketing

International marketers find it a challenging task to market across different cultures (Boachie-Mensah et al., 2012). Cultural differences are defined by Tylor (1888-1951) in Soares et al (2007) as “the complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habit acquired by man as a member of society” (p. 280). Cultural differences are essential for international marketers to understand as they shape consumers behaviour (Steenkamp, 2001). Culture differs in demographics, languages, non-verbal communications and values (Boachie-Mensah et al., 2012). Boachie-Mensah et al (2012) acknowledge the issue for international marketers is not whether to market to different cultures but how to do it. The “failure to take cultural differences between countries into account has been the cause of many business failures” (Steenkamp, 2001, p. 42).

International marketers who attempt to translate marketing communications from one culture to another can create ineffective communications (Boachie-Mensah et al., 2012). For example Ford Motor Company developed a low-cost truck for European countries naming it Fiera which meant terrible and ugly in Spanish (Boachie-Mensah et al., 2012).

In the past international marketers would set up businesses in foreign countries after they had numerous conversations with local partners and visited the country several times (Quelch & Klein, 1996). However with businesses set up online the need for conservations and visits is minimised and businesses without broad international contacts use the internet to become familiar with foreign countries customs, trends and laws (Quelch et al., 1996). The internet has allowed international marketers to deal with cultural differences more easily by adapting products and services inexpensively to national and international preferences (Quelch et al., 1996). The internet removes communication barriers and cultural obstacles between marketers and customers that were originally created through location, time zones, language and culture (Quelch et al., 1996).

There is continuing controversy on cross-cultural marketing strategies being standardised (Boachie-Mensah et al., 2012). Standard marketing strategies create significant cost savings and should be an important consideration for international marketers (Boachie-Mensah et al., 2012). Hofstede (1980-1991) and Schwartz (1994-1997) both developed a comprehensive standard framework to understand different cultures consumer behaviors (Steenkamp, 2001). Hofstede's framework involves four cultural dimensions; individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity, power distance and uncertainty avoidance (Dwyer, Mesak & Hsu, 2005). Hofstede's framework was designed to investigate marketing issues such as the humor in advertisements, consumer responses to advertising, new product development and brand market share (Steenkamp, 2001). Schwartz's framework was designed to identify three basic societal issues; the relationships between individuals and groups, responsible social behavior and the role of humankind in the social world (Steenkamp, 2001). It is agreed that no single framework is able to describe a society's culture in-depth (Steenkamp, 2001). However it can be argued that both frameworks do establish a standard way of identifying basic culture across an international board (Soares et al., 2007).

The Importance of Consumer Behaviour within International Marketing

It is imperative international marketers understand the cultural differences of their consumers to understand their consumer behaviour (Boachie-Mensah et al., 2012). Schwartz and Ros (1995) in Steenkamp (2001) state consumer behaviour is determined by “cultural groups when pursuing and justifying their actions” (p. 35). To understand the influence of culture on consumer behaviour Boachie-Mensah et al (2012) define cultural and behavioural differences as the “learned beliefs, values and customs that serve to direct the consumer behaviour of members of a particular society” (p. 123).

De Mooij (2000) states international marketers would like to believe the new Europe with a single currency will make people more similar, eating the same foods, wearing the same clothes and watching the same television programs, but this is not the case. International marketers are now increasingly exploring and comparing consumer behaviour in diverse national environments if their marketing is to be effective (Craig & Douglas, 2001). As businesses expand into international markets “the role of timely and accurate marketing research to guide decision making becomes increasingly critical” (Craig et al., 2001, p. 83). The “retailing strategies for one country cannot be extended to other countries without adaptation” (Hofstede et al., 2002, p. 65).

Changes and trends within the marketplace are what international marketers thrive on (De Mooij, 2000). Most advertising agencies will employ trend watchers to keep up to date on changes in consumer buying behaviour (De Mooij, 2000). Boachie-Mensah et al (2012) emphasise changes in culture and consumer behaviour means international marketers have to constantly reconsider their marketing strategies; for example why consumers are doing what they do, who the purchasers and the users of their products are, when they do their shopping, how and when can they be reached by the media and what product and service needs are emerging. Marketers who successfully monitor changes in consumer behaviour often find opportunities for new products (Boachie-Mensah et al., 2012).

De Mooij (2000) explains when people possess nearly everything they need they will spend their income on what fits their value pattern; for example “Americans will buy more cars, the Dutch will buy more luxurious caravans and the Spanish will eat out even more than they do now” (De Mooij, 2000, p. 108). This example makes it increasingly important for international marketers to understand cultural values and its impact on consumer behaviour (De Mooij, 2000). Consumer behaviour is influenced through personal, social, institutional, religious and marketing factors (Sheth & Parvatlvar, 1995). Consumers use brands in different ways for example collectivist consumers purchase brands similar to their reference group, while individualist consumers buy brands to differentiate themselves from others (Luna et al., 2001). Luna et al (2001) acknowledged advertising with high levels of information emphasising individualistic benefits were more successful in America (Luna et al., 2001). In contrast marketing advertisements focusing on family or group benefits were more effective in Korea (Luna et al., 2001).

A critical point that differs consumer's behaviour on purchases is consumers have significantly different global opinions about products made in different countries (Min-Han, 1990). The perceptions towards a countries brand creates significant effects on consumer behaviour, the effects are especially stronger for products from a developing country which are seen as more credible brands (Erdem, Swait & Valenzuela, 2006).


Culture is the complex knowledge of belief, art, law, morals, customs, capabilities and habits of members of a society (Boachie-Mensah et al., 2012). When consumer behaviours change because of trends developing, marketing opportunities are provided to international marketers (Boachie-Mensah et al., 2012). The economy is becoming increasingly cross-cultural so it is imperative international marketers understand culture influences consumer behavior (Luna et al., 2001). Boachie-Mensah et al (2012) acknowledge the importance for international marketers to understand their consumers' cultural differences and consumer behaviours if they are to effectively market internationally.

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