Cultural differences consumer behavior worldwide

In an earlier blog we addressed the distribution of personality types in most European countries. These differences are partially attributable to cultural differences between those countries. These cultural differences can also influence consumer behavior. The biggest challenge for an internationally oriented marketeer is choosing a suitable marketing strategy for each country you’re actively doing business in. Many times a marketing strategy that proved successful in one country, failed in another. This means a lot of wasted money, and – in the worst case scenario – could even damage your reputation and harm your brand. To fully understand how culture relates to consumer behavior, addressing some theories on culture is necessary. If you’re not interested in the underlying theories, and you just want to know what cultural differences there are in consumer behavior worldwide, you can scroll down to Cultural differences consumer behavior.

Individualism and collectivism

indivualism score worldTwo well-known concepts, that oppose each other, and are vital to any discussion on culture, are individualism and collectivism. Both of these terms describe the way people see themselves, in relation to others. In the figure on the right, you can see how every country on the world scores on individualism, from light-green to dark-green. Light-green means a low score on individualism, in other words, strongly collectivist. Dark-green countries are strongly individualist.

In individualism, as the name tells us, the individual has a central role. People are independent, and people put their self-interest above group-interest. Goals are formulated on a personal level. To describe the self, people like to use words like unique and autonomous. Examples of countries with an individualist culture are, among others: the US, Canada, Germany and Denmark.

In collectivism the group, and not the individual, plays a central role. People are interdependent, and people put their group-interest above self-interest. Goals are being formulated on a group-level. The self is viewed as being inseperable from one or more social networks. Examples of countries with a collectivist culture are, among others: China, Korea, Japan and Israel.

Horizontal and vertical

Apart from individualism/collectivism, there is another important dimension, namely the difference between horizontal and vertical cultural structure. In a “flat” horizontal cultural structure, people see each other as equals. In a “layered” vertical cultural structure on the other hand, people see themselves as part of a strong hierarchy, where others are viewed as lower, similar or higher in either social status, position, rank etc.

individualist vs collectivist horizontal vs vertical cultureNorway, for example, has a horizontal individualist culture, in which equality is essential, and where people appreciate uniqueness. This is different from a vertical individualist culture, like the US, where success and status, acquired through competition, play a vital role.

For collectivist cultures this distinction can also be made. Japan, for example, has a clear vertical collectivist culture, in which competition and obeying orders from higher command are very important. Israel, on the other hand, has a horizontal collectivist culture, without a strong hierarchy, where equality is important.

Focus on promotion or prevention?

Research has shown that being part of an individualist or collectivist culture also influences your goal orientation. There are two goal orientations, promotion-focused and prevention-focused.

People with a promotion-focus go after their desires. They focus on gaining a positive outcome, which is called a “gain-frame”.

People with a prevention-focus strive for certainty and security. They want to accomplish their tasks, without making any mistakes. They focus on preventing losses and negative outcomes. This is called a “loss-frame”.

Research has shown that people from individualist cultures have a stronger tendency to have a promotion-focus, while people from collectivist cultures have a stronger tendency to have a prevention-focus.

Cultural differences consumer behavior

Research has shown that people from individualist cultures have a preference for products and services that are associated with being successful and autonomous, as well as creating personal gain. People from collectivist cultures have a preference for products and services that prevent losses or negative outcomes. They just want to live in harmony, and make sure that their relations and friendships stay intact. They dutiful and loyally fulfill their social roles.

Consumers from individualist cultures have been found willing to pay more for an early delivery for their product or service, when the message is framed in a gain-frame. An example of this is: “Enjoy your product sooner with early delivery”. Consumers in collectivist cultures have been found willing to pay more for their product or service when the message is framed in a loss-frame. An example of this is: “Prevent delayed delivery for your product”.

In individualist cultures it has been found effective to focus on personal benefits and discounts, while in collectivist cultures using group discounts gets better results.

Cultural differences are the biggest for products that are being bought to use or enjoy with others, like the groceries or a family car. Products that are intended for personal use, like medicine, make-up or clothes, are best to be framed as personal and individual products in both individualist and collectivist cultures.

In individualist cultures, like in the US and most European countries, the hard sell tends to get the best results. In the hard sell you inform the consumer about a product with a direct approach, and you compare your product or brand to competing products or brands. In collectivist cultures, like Japan and many other Asian countries, it is best to use the soft sell. In the soft sell you’re very friendly and respectful towards your potential customer. You put a lot of time in creating a positive professional relationship and gaining trust. You can do this by joined activities, or using ambiance and aesthetics.

Finally, research has shown that advertisements with themes like status, prestige and hierarchy, are more effective in vertical cultures, than in horizontal cultures.

som and consumer behavior

som is constantly trying to influence consumer behavior, reach more customers and boost conversion rates. We would like to help you optimize your propositions by looking at cultural differences in your target group. Just like we take into account people’s different archetypes.

Please don’t hesitate. Feel free to contact us!