P is for Perception: AbuLLard's ABCs of Branding
The way people perceive your marketing -- images, messages, and means --
depends on their on personal perceptions. There are many differences in the
perceptions of people of different cultures. Some are
obvious. Many more are very subtle. The obvious differences show up in the
way people behave, what they wear, what they eat, holiday customs. However,
most of these are influenced by values, experience, and beliefs that have a
profound influence on communication styles.
Multicultural marketing is complex -- even within
similar cultural groups, there can be differences which must be taken in to
account. Consider the Japanese reaction to Chinese actresses being cast in
in Memoirs of a Geisha.
Why do Cultural Perceptions Vary?
Each person grows up within a unique cultural
environment which is influenced by personal and family values, as well as
local, state, national, and geographic factors. From this experience, each
person develops a cultural mindset —a predisposition to see the world in a
particular way. This mindset can be considered as software for the brain,
forming the foundation of a person's way of viewing and interacting with the
world. These factors are assimilated into a persons subconscious way of
thinking and acting from a very early age.
There are many studies in the literature on cross-cultural studies that discuss the key variables
that impact intercultural communication. The most important are:
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Context vs Content
The difference is that, High-Context communication involves implying a message through that which is
not uttered. This includes the situation, behavior, and para-verbal cues as
integral parts of the communicated message. High-Context cultures tend to
use indirect, non-confrontational, and vague language, relying on the
listener's or reader's ability to grasp the meaning from the context.
Behavioral language, such as gestures, body language, silence, proximity
and symbolic behavior, are as important as the spoken or written word.
Communication will often be indirect and circular, jumping back and
forth and leaving out detail, assuming this to be implicit. Lastly, such
cultures believe that truth will manifest itself through non-linear
discovery processes and without having to employ rationality.
High-Content (Low-Context) cultures tend to use a more direct,
confrontational, and explicit approach to ensure that the listener
receives the message exactly as it was sent. Conversation in Low-Context
cultures tends to be less physically animated, with the meaning
depending on content and the spoken word, and a flow that will get
straight to the point. Lastly, these cultures tend to emphasize logic
and rationality, believing that there is always an objective truth that
can be reached through linear processes of discovery.
Scandinavians, Germans, the Swiss, and most Americans
communicate predominantly through Content. In cultures, such as Latin
American, the Japanese, and Chinese, messages include other communicative
cues such as body language and the use of silence. How and where you say
something in these cultures can more important than what you say.
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Atomic vs Molecular Cultures
Also classified as Individual vs. Collective Identity, this relates to
how people view themselves with respect to other people in their family or
work group. In individualist societies, personal freedom is valued and
individual decision-making is encouraged. Low-Context Cultures like that of
the United States tend towards individualism. Communications highlight
individual accomplishment, unique benefit and personalization. On the
contrary, in collectivist societies, societal norms and social benefit are
valued and communicated.
Americans of northern European descent act as individual atoms.
We value personal freedom, independence ... Popular sayings such as “If you
want a job done right, do it yourself,” and “ You have to blow your own
horn” reveal this emphasis on autonomy. Actively pursuing one’s personal
interests is considered natural and legitimate.
By contrast, Latin Americans and Asians, for example,
are much more sensitive to their "group". The use of networks and
connections, the exchange of information and favors, the obligation toward
and reliance on the extended family all reflect the “molecular” structure of
these societies. Communication in these cultures requires that one be more
indirect, diplomatic, non-confrontational, and cautious in communicating
with others because there is a positive or negative multiplier effect in
every social or business transaction. A good interaction may gain one
multiple allies (members of the other person’s group) while a negative
encounter has the potential of creating numerous opponents for oneself.
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concerns the extent to which the people of a country can tolerate
ambiguous or uncertain situations. High-Context Cultures typically
demand uncertainty avoidance — their communications is relatively
risk-averse, comforting, and provides concrete direction.
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Masculine vs. Feminine Identity
cultures value assertiveness, ambition, success, and performance. To
such cultures big and fast is beautiful, the machismo ideal is
acceptable, and clear gender roles are the norm. In contrast, feminine
cultures value, beauty, nature, nuturance, the maschimo ideal is not
acceptable, and gender roles are blurred. Countries such as Japan,
Austria, and Mexico are examples of masculine cultures, while most of
the Nordic countries score high on femininity.
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Societies that are high on power
distance, such as Malaysia, Mexico, and India, accept power and
hierarchy in society and are low on egalitarianism. The emphases in high
power distance societies are on status, referent power, authority, and
legitimacy; their communications reflects this. In contrast,
communications from low distance societies like Canada and the United
States stress equality and fairness.
What's important to remember is that just
translating your message into a local language is not sufficient for
developing your Internet-based communications. The use of software on
the Internet that offers automatic translation services may be prone to
various cultural errors, because context and culture are largely
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A few recommendations:
All of these factors impact have a huge impact on
communications --- images, words, and methods. Successful marketing has to
do more than merely translate the English-language materials into A foreign
language. Many times it must use an entirely different approach to the
- Become familiar with the culture you will be working with.
- Learn the dimensions of communication and the important values.
- Find out how your specific type of product or service is promoted in that culture.
- Hire or collaborate with people who understand the market you are targeting.
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If you need help doing this,
contact AbuLLard. He'll be glad to help!