We’ve spent the first 4 weeks of class discussing the internal factors that affect consumer behavior. We learned about memory, how consumers organize information and attitudes. And we discussed how your values, personality and lifestyle can influence your behavior. For the next few weeks, we’re going to be discussing the EXTERNAL factors that affect us – factors like culture, reference groups, peers, your social class and your family. We’ll also learn how a consumer’s situation – the timing and conditions – affect how decisions are made.
This week, we’re going to discuss cultures and micro-cultures and their influence on consumer behavior.
Here’s the Consumer Value Framework we’ve been using throughout the course. You’ll see that the external influences – like the internal influences we’ve been discussing – all factor into how consumers define and seek value.
So what is culture? The textbook definition of culture is ‘the commonly held societal beliefs that define what is socially gratifying.’ The definition includes the idea of value, doesn’t it? Because of that, marketers use information about cultures to explain and to try to predict behavior.
Some examples are shown here… since the U.S. culture makes drinking wine illegal for those <18, marketers would not target this audience. Globally, wine consumption isn’t as regulated, so marketers could include family members in advertising and messaging. Certain types of food – like pork, are more acceptable to some cultures than others. Work culture – the familiarity between supervisors and employees – also varies across countries. And physical demonstrativeness – hugging or kissing -- has a different meaning in the U.S. than in many other regions. Marketers must take this intelligence into account when developing products, messaging, and marketing plans.
But culture is also helpful to consumers – it gives meaning to objects and determines what is valuable. The text pointed out that Japanese have small refrigerators compared to the U.S. – food is purchased and prepared fresh more frequently in Japan. Culture also gives meaning to activities – not every culture takes a daily shower – some don’t even have ready access to fresh water. And culture helps with expectations about communication – how much physical distance is comfortable, whether eye contact is acceptable, how you should address strangers.
Within cultures, there are norms – the rules for expected behaviors – and sanctions – the penalties associated with not following the norms. Although norms are fairly long-lasting, they can change over time… let’s look at some examples.
Within the United States, the use of credit cards – especially since the economic downturn – has been a changing norm. Similarly, attitudes toward saving have changed. Movie rating systems – PG (parental guidance), PG 13 (parental guidance for those under 13) – seem to have shifted too, with greater openness to violent and sexual situations for younger children’s viewing. Breastfeeding overall – and in public – has more widespread acceptance as a norm than 20 years ago. Viewpoints about immunizations are becoming mixed – with some parents advocating against some immunizations. The U.S. has begun to catch up with other cultures with regard to sustainability – including the use of bottled water.
So where does culture come from? It’s sourced from 2 areas – your physical environment and your traditions. The culture of the Northeastern U.S. is very different from the Southeast…. The heat of the S.E. tends to slow down the pace of the culture there… while the N.E. is more hurried. Cultural traditions – like the roles of men and women, beliefs about education and work – are shown in societal values – values that help determine what’s important to the culture and its members.
The Theory of Core Societal Values links culture with 5 characteristics. The first 3 are shown here. Cultures with high individualism are focused on self-achievement more than those focused on the collective, where loyalty to a group will affect behavior. The level of masculinity in a culture doesn’t refer to the roles of men or women, but more the types of attitudes valued by the culture – masculine attitudes are associated with assertiveness and control – feminine attitudes are linked to community and caring. We can look at messaging to ‘back into’ what these values are in a culture. Take a look at 2 very different commercials for cosmetics… can you tell how the 2 countries differ in the core values of individualism and masculinity? Power distance is the third societal value – this is the extent to which authority exists among different groups and the extent to which people accept those divisions. Lower power distance cultures are more likely to accept the use of first names, regardless of rank. Higher power distance cultures are more protective of status– with access to places and activities only available to those with the highest rank.
Uncertainty avoidance is pretty straightforward – it’s a cultural preference for the known vs comfort with risk. Societies that are risk averse will be less likely to try new products – marketers must work harder – doing more upfront research and more education – to help these consumers become comfortable and trusting about the value associated with a new product or service. Note, though, that even cultures that are comfortable with risk will begin to avoid uncertainty with high involvement decisions – like choosing a treatment center if you have cancer. Long-term orientation is also fairly self-explanatory – consumers will consider the long term affects of their relationship with a product and the marketer as they make their decision. The cosmetics commercial from Korea – that identified the ‘natural’ characteristics of its product – seemed to have a longer term orientation than the botox commercial from the U.S., which seemed to focus on the ‘here and now.’
Here’s a ‘scorecard’ of core values across country. The higher the score, the more prevalent that value is in the culture. The U.K and China are more masculine in culture than Brazil and Russia. Russia is by far the most risk averse culture. The US, Australia and UK are more individualistic than China or India. The net insight, not surprisingly, is that marketers must adjust their business plans by country. Easiest transitions are with cultures that are ‘close-in’ – either geographically or culturally.
Where do we get culture? We learn from our current environment…OR if we move to a new culture, we pick up cues from the new environment. If you think of the university as a culture, you likely noticed the etiquette, symbols, and relationships at Northwood – as you were considering enrollment and after your acceptance. Maybe you asked questions like “will I fit here?” “are these people like me?” or even “what do I need to do to succeed here.” Those are questions associated with acculturation.
Marketers offering products and services to other cultures need to be sensitive to the elements of that culture – the direction tag on the left is clearly in need of some modification for Western culture- to communicate more effectively. Accurate use of language – common terms – is often overlooked by marketers as they transition to new cultures
Here are additional examples of how cultural differences affect the perceived value of a product or service – marketers need to invest in research and cultural experts to ensure their programs are relevant and effective.
Elements that are affect our perception of our current culture include our family, our school, religious organizations and the media. Examples of how each influence affects behavior are shown in Exhibit 8.8. Take a look at the attached video – where college students talk about being acculturated into the U.S.
Every culture has multiple micro-cultures within it. A micro-culture is a smaller group within a culture that shares common values. Take a look at the example chart – how many of these micro-cultures to you belong to? We’ll have a discussion board and an assignment that examines this idea more deeply.
Just as cultures are important for marketers as they look for new product opportunities and decide on the type and content of messaging, micro-culture differences give marketers more segments to target – and more nuances to consider as they develop marketing plans. This chart shows the 9 regional micro-cultures North America. If you’re from Michigan, our regional microculture is the foundry. I went to school in Athens, GA – the heart of Dixie. And my company is headquartered in St. Louis – the Breadbasket of the U.S. – each of those regions had differences that were borne out in the foods, clothing, and even language of consumers.
Core societal values can vary by region, as shown in this exhibit – some of these values may be open to debate, depending on your experiences in the region.
Gender represents another micro-culture – the roles associated with gender will affect the products and communications directed toward each group. As you view the attached video, consider whether you agree / disagree with the findings presented here.
Age is another micro-culture – with generations having similar values and preferences…. But to some extent, age is perception… some days I feel like I’m 29, some days it seems like I have the feelings of a 13-year old – I can’t say that I feel my biological age most days – until I talk with someone who doesn’t know about the Vietnam War, or John F. Kennedy’s ‘ask not’ speech. Then I find myself seeking out someone who is my age so I can feel connected on those issues. What age are YOU?
Religious microcultures can affect daily life – with Western societies calling the weekend Saturday and Sunday, while Middle Eastern societies have Thursday and Friday as weekends. Religious beliefs can affect attitudes toward possessions – the type(s) of food and drink that are acceptable, how you spend money and how you dress.
Ethnic micro-cultures can influence culture overall. In the United States, we see ethnic micro-cultures affecting the foods available to us – think about the Hispanic influenced, Indian influenced, Asian influenced cuisines that are now more widely available and accepted. Similarly, ethnic micro-cultures have affected music, clothing styles, and language.
Social class is also a micro-culture – social classes are defined by shared lifestyles, interests, wealth, status, education and socioeconomic positions – they are typically defined by your occupation, possessions, values, and your personal performance. Let’s look at the Social Classes in the U.S.
This schematic defines 6 social classes. Most of the population falls in the bottom of this bubble – working class, working poor, and the poorest represent 55% of the U.S. population. For these consumers, incomes are $40,000 or less. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of human development that we talked about a few weeks ago – for these consumers, getting basic needs met – food, shelter, safety – are their priority. Now think about the messages – in advertising – in stores -- most prevalent in the U.S. Are marketers targeting this group? Some, maybe, but not many. Another 30% of the population falls in the middle class – earning $70,000 annually. About 15% of the population is considered upper-middle class, earning $150,000 annually. It seems like much of the media targets the middle and upper-middle class – where discretionary spending is more likely -- for these consumers have moved up Maslow’s hierarchy into levels that deal with acceptance and self-development. Finally, the top 1% of the population is called the ‘capitalist class’ – earning $2 million annually.
Street microcultures are a relatively new concept – reflecting consumers’ associations that reflect their interests.. Sports and music have been around for awhile, but we’ve seen the development of street cultures like goth, gamers, and virtual gamers more recently. Would Facebook be considered a street microculture?
Generational micro-cultures offer marketers a wealth of details to ‘link’ to with messaging. Millennials, born between 1976 and 1989 are called the Echo generation. They are also considered the “networked” generation. Key values required of marketers are to be honest, use humor, clear messaging, show product. Fickle – less brand loyal… want to keep on trend, be accepted by peers
Generation X, born between 1965 and 1975 are the group forming families, having children, buying homes and new cars. This generation tends to be late starters in adopting new ideas, likely to use credit, look for value
Younger boomers – born between 1956 and 1964 were considered yuppies (young urban professionals) a few years ago – now they’ve become muppies (mature urban professionals). This group generally delayed marriage / family, built incomes, powerful in number, seek quality / style and spend to get it, buy for children and grandchildren, loyal to brands, demand services
Older boomers – born between 1946 and 1955 are the economy – representing the greatest share of income, voting power, and political influence.
The Silent Generation -- born between during the Great Depression and World War II -- is growing… Many of this generation focus on their cognitive age – age you perceive yourself to be – manifests in feelings, actions and interests. Thrifty with money, wait for good value, prospects for luxury, travel, health care and financial services – messaging should be sensitive to age. Market segmentation very important – beyond age, income, employment, gender – to include healthy, activity level, discretionary time, engagement.
Finally, the oldest generation is the GI Generation, born prior to the Depression and WW II. But they were strongly affected by both. As the oldest generation, marketers must change messaging to meet needs for larger print, brighter colors, slower pacing. Timing is also important for marketers reaching this group – with advertising earlier in the day, more newspaper and AM radio listeners.
Watch this clip about ben and jerry’s – and note the microcultures the brand is targeting…
While we’ve focused on the cultural differences affecting consumer behavior, we can’t neglect attention to demographic trends as well. Countries facing declining birth rates – like several in Europe – will begin to see cultural shifts as the population ages. Countries – like several in the Middle East and Far East – that have seen increased consumer affluence – are experiencing ‘growing pains’ as the infrastructure and culture stretches to include the products and services that are now of interest to consumers with more buying power. Longer lifespans are affecting the culture in the U.S. – creating demands for different health care services, for example. And we discussed cultural diversity – as countries expand the presence of ethnicities, their culture will shift.
Here’s a chart that shows expected birthrates and life expectancy by country – a forecast for marketers to consider as they develop marketing programs. This week, assignments and discussion boards will focus on culture and micro-culture – I’d like you to interview someone from a different culture – key questions are included in the assignment. I’d also like you to write a short essay about at least 5 microcultures you belong to.. Check the class folder for guidelines and tips. We’ll have a discussion board about micro –cultures to help you begin identifying the groups you’re part of – and that you want to write about. Have a good week!