Consumer Culture
October 1, 2019
 

Consumer Culture PART II

Dimensions of Cultural Values

 
 
 

In our last post we introduced the concept of consumer culture and why marketers should start seeing consumers through a lens of commercial interests. We talked a bit about what it means to live inside a consumer culture and how marketing professionals can apply this thinking to boost their odds of success. If you missed that post you can check it out here.

In this post we want to dive a bit further into the concept of culture and explore what factors make up culture and why marketers might want to start paying attention to them. Understanding how cultures relate to one another is also important, that's why near the end of our post we’ll briefly examine a Cultural Scoreboard where we are also able to examine several different cultures from all the world.
By the end of this post, we hope to encourage readers to develop a better understanding of the culture in which they live. Hopefully, this will allow people to grow a better appreciation of the social values of their own culture, and foster a better understanding of how culture impacts shared communication and by extension your marketing skills.

 

The Dimensions


One of the most widely accepted theories on culture comes from Geert Hofstede and his cultural dimensions theory. This theory is a framework that describes a culture by how values relate to behavior.
There are 6 dimensions to this theory. Each dimension is a value based dimension that represents a commonly agreed-upon consensus on the most preferable ways of living within a society. To help demonstrate this theory, we’ve created a simple visualization for each of the dimensions. For each dimension, we’ve included an in depth analysis that explains it in a bit more detail, as well as why its relevant to marketing.

Let's get to it!

Individualism Masculinity Power Distance Uncertainty Avoidance Long Term Orientation Indulgence

HIGH SCORE
Values personal responsibility
LOW SCORE:
Values group cohesion

HIGH SCORE
Values assertiveness & control
LOW SCORE:
Values community

HIGH SCORE
Values division of authority
LOW SCORE:
Values egalitarianism

HIGH SCORE
Values novelty & risk-taking
LOW SCORE:
Values clarity & familiarity

HIGH SCORE
Values future benefits
LOW SCORE:
Values immediate benefits

HIGH SCORE
Values happiness & extraversion
LOW SCORE:
Values restraint and thoughtfulness

 
 

Individualism

What is it


The first of the Geert’s dimensions is called individualism. This is a measurement of the degree to which a culture prefers individualistic type traits vs. collectivist ones. High individualist societies place a high value on things like self-reliance, individual-initiative, and personal achievement. In contrast, nations with low degrees of individualism are inversely high in collectivism. High collectivist societies favor extended family groups, group identity, and group loyalty.


Why Its important to marketing


Generally, Western societies tend to be more individualistic, Eastern nations tend to lean collectivist. A cultures comfort-ability with individualism has important implications for the way consumers make decisions and how they find value in consumption. For example, in the United States, marketers often communicate the value of various products by emphasizing how a product can help a person achieve personal freedom. Inversely, marketers in the East may choose to emphasize how a product can help a person harmonize with other members within their social groups. Using this dimension to better understand the values of your audience you will undoubtedly increase the likelihood of the impact of your message.

 
 

Masculinity

What is it


The next dimension is Masculinity. This dimension attempts to measure the degree to which a culture values machismo or mannerisms traditionally associated with gender roles. Masculinity is affiliated with traits like assertiveness and strength, which is in contrast to the concept of femininity, which is represented by traits like mindfulness, conciliation, and community.



Why Its important to marketing


Honing in on the degree to which masculinity is represented within a culture can be an important aspect to creating the right message. For example, advertisements for tablet computers in Japan(a highly masculine nation) may emphasize product benefits such as one’s ability to get ahead. A newer, faster computer with more features can help one assert themselves in the workplace. In contrast, designing an advertisement in a more feminine country (such as Brazil), one might emphasize the benefit of connectivity with family and friends through social networks and other communication tools.

 

Power Distance

What is it


Power distance is the third dimension that’s measured within Geert’s theory of cultural values, and it measures the extent to which people accept the division of authority and privilege amongst a society. These distinctions go beyond traditional social classes and affect everything from supervisor and subordinates relationships all the way to communication between different age groups within the family unit.
In a low power distance culture such as the United States, it’s common for people to refer to each other by a first name basis. This includes people from different social classes. However in many Asian nations, where power distance is relatively high, people often use terms such as senior and junior to recognize status distinctions between these classes. For example, a student might be referred to as a “junior” in relation to a faculty supervisor. Sometimes even students may refer to other students as senior/junior depending on their level of experience in a program of study or course.



Why Its important to marketing


Power distance structures are a significant force of influence within a culture and can affect everything from the organizational structures of how business operates to the informal procedures of everyday communication.
In low power distance cultures (like the US), norms might require individuals to justify their superiority with merit. In low power distance cultures, there tends to be a more intense level of competition, since everyone is under the impression that they can lead. Inversely, high power distance settings may have less competition because the candidacy for leadership is less flexible, revolves more around ones relationships, ones ties to family, or powerful allies.

 

Uncertainty Avoidance

What is it


The fourth concept is called uncertainty avoidance, and this dimension is best described as the level of stress that a culture finds acceptable when confronted with uncertainty. Cultures measuring low in this measurement are most comfortable with the unknown or ambiguous. Cultures high in uncertainty avoidance prefer the known, avoid taking risks, and enjoy life to be structured and routine.



Why Its important to marketing


Uncertainty avoidance is one of the most important measurements for marketers because of its implications in consumer behavior. Generally speaking, marketing success and improved quality of life heavily depend on obtaining value from something innovative and therefore naturally unfamiliar. This makes it a crucial measurement for marketers to understand as they attempt to introduce new products and services to people.

Cultures high in uncertainty avoidance will be slower to adopt to new products and are generally slower to react to novel price promotions. They are also quicker to buy something because of perceived scarcity. This is possibly because of doubt over when the product might be available again.

Superstitions and myths also play a big role among cultures with high uncertainty avoidance. Although these cultures are less likely to gamble, when they do, they may use astrological charts to help plan their activity. Organizations (such as casinos) have been able to somewhat predict peak periods of traffic based on these types of beliefs. High-uncertainty avoidance cultures also demand greater amounts of product information and explanation. For instance, German consumers ,like many other consumers high in uncertainty avoidance, find more value from the detailed product presentations that others may not have the patience for.
Research suggests that low uncertainty avoidance leads to a higher degree of implicit trust as a partners’ ethics guide marketing transactions. This means that fewer issues need to be governed by explicit rules.

 

Long-Term Orientation

What is it


The fifth dimension measured is called Long-term orientation. this dimension measures the value a culture places on the prioritization of future rewards over short-term benefits. Cultures that lean towards a long-term orientation have consumers that value thriftiness, pragmatism, and perseverance. It also means they are more likely to maintain and develop long-term relationships in both their personal and professional lives. At the other end of the spectrum, cultures that lean toward a short-term orientation have consumers that value immediate payoffs. Short term orientation cultures also may highly value “saving-face”, like in Japan.



Why Its important to marketing


Understanding the value a culture places on long-term/short-term orientation has important implications for general business communication within the culture. This becomes immediately obvious in eastern countries like China. In the east region there is a popular concept called Guanxi (which literally translates to “relationship”). Guanxi is the Chinese term for a way of doing business in which parties must first invest time and resources to get to know one another before consummating an important deal. Another phenomenon coming out of the eastern hemisphere associated with long-term orientation is called Renquing. Renquing is the idea that when someone does a good deed for you, you are expected to return that good deed in kind. The expectation of reciprocation has been known foster very long term and prosperous relationships between participants. This is because individuals are forever trying to balance the renquing score with one another. In some cases, a consumer and service provider may end up in a life long relationship facilitated by this concept.

 

Indulgence

What is it


The final dimension measured inside Geert’s theory is called Indulgence, this dimension measures the degree to which a culture values restraint versus immediate gratification. High Indulgence cultures value gratification for natural human drives (related to enjoying life and having fun) whereas low indulgence/restrained cultures suppress gratification and try to regulate these drives by means of social norms.



Why Its important to marketing


In general, cultures that score high in restraint will tend to prioritize utilitarian value in consumption, whereas societies with high indulgence will tend to prioritize hedonistic value in consumption. For marketing professionals, the advantages of being able to recognize where a culture falls within this measurement should be fairly obvious. It is probably one of the most salient examples of why understanding this theory has immediate practical benefits to marketing communication. Through a better understanding of the indulgence orientation, marketing professionals can wield enormous power in how they choose communicate their messages to the most receptive audiences.

 
 

The Global Culture Scoreboard

Using the core societal values as a tool for measurement, Geert Hofstede was able to rank and compare some of the largest cultures the world over in what he calls The Cultural Scoreboard. With the Cultural scoreboard, it becomes possible to visualize the similarities and differences between some world’s most prominent and pervasive cultures. You can find a snapshot of this below.

United
States
Canada UK Russia China
Power Distance 40 39 35 93 80
Individualism 91 80 89 39 20
Masculinity 62 52 66 36 66
Uncertainty
Avoidance
46 48 35 95 30
Long Term
Orientation
26 36 25 81 87
Indulgence 68 68 69 20 24
 
 

Conclusion


Marketers are always on a perpetual journey to understand and communicate value to their peers, colleagues, and clients. We hope by now, its a bit easier to see why culture is so important to identifying and capturing what that value looks like. No matter what part of the world you hail from, culture is immensely important to figuring out how people make sense of their day to day lives. Likewise, a better understanding of a culture can offer massive insights into what people believe about complex topics like independence, uncertainty, merit, restraint, etc.
We believe that the more that people understand about their culture, their values, and the ways in which people communicate with one another, the better off we will all be. We had a lot of fun to writing this one, and we definitely learned a lot. We hope you learned something too!

 

We want to know what you think?
Do you think Geert Hofstede and his cultural dimensions theory does a good job of describing culture? Do think it’s helpful/necessary for marketers to study culture? Are there any dimensions that Hofstede missed? Let us know in the comments below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *