Internationalisation - Cultural Issues and Buying Behaviour (Part 2)

Published by DIFME on 23-Mar-2020

Cultural Issues and Buying Behaviour (Part 2)

Internationalisation - Cultural Issues

To be able to grasp the ins and outs of different country markets, it is crucial to get thorough understanding of cultural differences. Culture consist of many components that interrelate with each other. These include:

Language as communication medium has two parts: the spoken (vocal sounds or written symbols that people use to communicate to each other) and the so – called silent language (non verbal communication mechanisms that people use to get a message across). A given gesture can have different meanings across cultures. This BBC article dated back to 2009 suggests that people from different cultures read facial expressions differently.

The research carried out by a team from Glasgow University, East Asian observers found it more difficult to distinguish some facial expressions.

The work published in Current Biology journal challenges the idea facial expressions are universally understood. In the study, East Asians were more likely than Westerners to read the expression for "fear" as "surprise", and "disgust" as "anger".

The researchers say the confusion arises because people from different cultural groups observe different parts of the face when interpreting expression. East Asian participants tended to focus on the eyes of the other person, while Western subjects took in the whole face, including the eyes and the mouth. Co-author, Dr Rachael Jack, from the University of Glasgow, said: "Interestingly, although the eye region is ambiguous, subjects tended to bias their judgements towards less socially-threatening emotions - surprise rather than fear, for example.

"This perhaps highlights cultural differences when it comes to the social acceptability of emotions."

The team showed 13 Western Caucasians and 13 East Asians a set of standardised images depicting the seven main facial expressions: happy, sad, neutral, angry, disgusted, fearful and surprised. They used eye movement trackers to monitor where the participants were looking when interpreting the expressions. A computer program given the same information from the eyes as the East Asian observers was similarly unable to distinguish between the emotions of disgust and anger, and fear and surprise.

The paper states that the Eastern participants used a culturally specific decoding strategy that was inadequate to reliably distinguish the universal facial expressions of fear and disgust. It concluded that information from the eyes is often ambiguous and confusing in these expressions, with consequences for cross-cultural communication and globalisation.

The researchers also point out that this difference in perception is reflected in the differences between Eastern and Western emoticons - the typographical characters used to convey emotions in e-mails.

The Eastern emoticons are not only the right way up but focus on the eyes, whilst in the West the mouth is important.

“Happy” :-) (^_^)
“Sad” :-( (;_;) or T_T
“Surprise” :-o (o.o)

Source BBC

Lost in Translation

Global business is tough to manage. One part that needs careful consideration is the localisation of marketing, promotional, and brand-related content. This is because different regions use different languages, and have different cultural references and social conventions. Enterprises doing business in multilingual societies need to decided what languages to use for product labels or advertising copy.

Have a look at this site to understand the impact of not evaluating this criteria properly.

To deal with language issues, it would be better for enterprises to rely on local communication agencies.

Social interactions

This relates the manner in which members of society relate with each other. In most Western countries, the family unit refers to nuclear family, being the parents and the children, while in developing countries the extended family (wider group of only remotely family members). The way families are structured has important ramifications, i.e. in most Western countries, the family unit refers to nuclear family, being the parents and the children, while in developing countries the extended family (wider group of only remotely family members). Role expectations in the family also differ across cultures. Identifying the key influencers within given culture is often critical for a targeting strategy to succeed. Countries also vary in terms of the scope of the decision – making authority.

Colours refers to the ideas and perceptions that culture uploads in terms of beauty and good taste. Cultures differ sharply in terms of their preferences.

In Western cultures, white symbolizes purity, elegance, peace, and cleanliness; brides traditionally wear white dresses at their weddings. But in China, Korea, and some other Asian countries white represents death, mourning, and bad luck, and is traditionally worn at funerals. In Peru, white is associated with angels, good health, and time.

Green has traditionally been forbidden in Indonesia, whereas in Mexico it’s a national colour that stands for independence. In the Middle East green represents fertility, luck, and wealth, and it’s considered the traditional colour of Islam. In Eastern cultures green symbolizes youth, fertility, and new life, but it can also mean infidelity. In fact, in China, green hats are taboo for men because it signals that their wives have committed adultery!

Have a look at this site.

National Culture

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others”.

The six dimensions of national culture are based on extensive research done by Professor Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov and their research teams.

The application of this research is used worldwide in both academic and professional management settings.

Have a look at these countries which relate to the DIFME partners -Can you relate to this in your personal experience?




The Netherlands




You can also see a comparison

Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, The Netherlands

Germany, Italy, Malta, The Netherlands

The Hofstede model of national culture consists of six dimensions. The cultural dimensions represent independent preferences for one state of affairs over another that distinguish countries (rather than individuals) from each other.

The country scores on the dimensions are relative, in that we are all human and simultaneously we are all unique. In other words, culture can only be used meaningfully by comparison. The model consists of the following dimensions:


This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people.

People in societies exhibiting a large degree of Power Distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low Power Distance, people strive to equalise the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.


The high side of this dimension, called Individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families.

Its opposite, Collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we.”


The Masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, Femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented.

In the business context Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also related to as “tough versus tender” cultures.


The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen?

Countries exhibiting strong UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour, and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.


Every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and the future. Societies prioritize these two existential goals differently.

Societies who score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion.

Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future.

In the business context, this dimension is referred to as “(short-term) normative versus (long-term) pragmatic” (PRA). In the academic environment, the terminology Monumentalism versus Flexhumility is sometimes also used.


Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun. Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.