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Consumer Behaviour and Culture: Implications for Marketing

As a result of globalisation, marketing research has been focusing a lot on the influence of culture on consumer behaviour. It has been concluded that culture is a determinant of consumer behaviour. For that reason, consumers’ cultural values play an important role in the formulation of international marketing strategies (Fisher et al., 2010). These values, which go beyond mere personal beliefs, may influence consumers’ perception about a business. Therefore, if companies want to succeed in international markets, they need to take cultural differences into account. Otherwise, they risk triggering negative reactions in the target market.

The Self-Congruity Theory and Consumer Behaviour

The self-congruity theory proposes that consumers choose products and brands with symbolic meanings, and which are congruent with their own beliefs and behaviours (Sirgy, 1982, 1985; Litvin and Kar, 2004). Consequently, cultural symbols and meanings take a central position. Simply put, when marketing abroad, a brand should ensure that all communications reflect the cultural values of the targeted consumers.

Moreover, self-congruity plays an essential role in perceived brand personality, as explained in this research paper:

Self-congruity is “the match between the product’s value-expressive attributes (product-user image, or the image associated with the expected user of a product) and the audience’s self-concept” (Johar & Sirgy, 1991, p. 24). Self-concept, according to self-congruity theory, influences consumer behavior in a way that results in the purchase of a product (Johar & Sirgy, 1989).

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For example, a certain brand of shoe may have a product-user image of the outgoing, youthful, and active user, and potential consumers may think of themselves as having the same qualities—they believe they are also outgoing, youthful, and active. This is a case where there is congruence between the product-user image and the actual self-image of the consumer.

Brand Personality

Brand personality is “the set of human characteristics associated with a brand” (Aaker, 1997, p. 347). In other words, consumers tend to think of brands in terms of human characteristics.

However, whereas human personality traits relate to a person’s attitudes, behaviour, beliefs, physical attributes, and demographic characteristics (Aaker, 1997), brand personality traits are formed solely through communication. There is usually nothing intrinsic to a brand that makes it one way or another. Instead, companies find ways, through marketing, to come across as, for example, young and innovative.

No brand wants to come across as disrespectful. Or patronising. Or any other negative attributes. And it’s precisely then when cultural literacy comes in handy. In other words, by understanding the set of shared knowledge and implicit theories about the world, including beliefs, values, attitudes and other constructs (Hong et al., 2000, Sharma, 2010), companies can build trust in their consumers. Why is building trust useful? Well, because it translates into more sales.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory and Consumer Behaviour

The Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory, developed by Dutch management researcher Geert Hofstede in 1980, is a framework to understand the dimensions in which cultures vary in respect to one another.

Hofstede’s instrument proves useful for exploring the cross-cultural differences in consumer behaviour. He identified six categories that define culture:

  1. Power Distance Index
  2. Collectivism vs. Individualism
  3. Uncertainty Avoidance Index
  4. Femininity vs. Masculinity
  5. Short-Term vs. Long-Term Orientation
  6. Restraint vs. Indulgence

Because there’s a lot to say about Heftede’s model, we will address it in detail in our next blog post. Stay tuned!

Localisation to the Rescue

If consumers buy from brands they perceive to be congruent with their personal and cultural beliefs, and brands shape their personality through communication and rhetoric, the conclusion is that localisation is the main tool for impacting customer behaviour across cultural divides.

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