Communication Process, Culture and Marketing Theory
Marketing, is self-evidently an exercise in communication with the client in which culture can
complicate the issue..... so what theory is there which can potentially help us understand what
is going on in the process in sufficient depth?
Whether I am teaching and trying to communicate with you or a website is attempting to
communicate with its intended client, there are some general principles which clearly apply.
Here I will bring together some of the theories which may be of use in looking at intercultural
matters in marketing practice.
1. The Basic Communication Process
The MESSAGE to be communicated
The ENCODING of this MESSAGE in an appropriate form (words, pictures etc)
The TRANSMISSION of the ENCODED MESSAGE via MEDIUM/MEDIA
The RECEPTION of the ENCODED MESSAGE
The DECODING of the ENCODED MESSAGE
REACTION and RESPONSE to MESSAGE
NB. ‘Noise’ represents any kind of intervening feature, distraction or effect that act upon
either the stages themselves or the linkages between them which keeps the intended delivery
from being ‘perfect / as envisaged.... for example, perhaps the right message has been
encoded in a brilliant advert and sent to the TV screen at peak viewing time... but I was
watching BBC instead (no adverts on BBC).
2. Everett Rogers’ Theory of Diffusion (and Adoption)
Although addressing the context of the diffusion of innovations, Rogers was one of the first
theorists to examine in detail how we hear about and buy in (or not) to products. He
suggested that there are in fact two distinct elements in this process:
Diffusion is the process through which knowledge of an innovation spreads among potential
consumers based on the social processes involved in communication within society.
Adoption is the sequence of stages through which an individual passes from first hearing of
an innovation to finally buying it, based on the individual process of considering, deciding
So, in terms of the marketing communication Process
(D = Diffusion / A = Adoption)
• Market profiling D
• Message definition D
• Message encoding D
• Medium selection D
• Transmission D
• Reception D/A
• Decoding and perception D/A
• Reaction A
• Consumption / Non- consumption A
• Reflection affirmation-seeking Retrenchment A
Cultural / intercultural issues can clearly feature in this process, for example:
• Market profiling: perhaps a non-national profiling the suitability of markets
without the benefit of pre-existing cultural experience might be dangerous?
• Message definition: perhaps those at a high level trying to link their knowledge of
the product to the market profile do not have enough cultural awareness to be
subtle and sophisticated.
• Message encoding: perhaps the PR agency has a product rather than market
orientation and makes the advert too complicated or too upmarket or uses humour
in a way that does not work in the market primarily concerned. Maybe they do not
like ‘clever’ adverts and prefer straight, informational ones to image campaigning.
Perhaps a broad-brush decision is taken in regard to medium use which does not
work everywhere. Viral marketing via mobile phone may well not work in some
• Transmission: perhaps using media in which this particular market does not have
• Reception: perhaps the actual transmission was mis-timed, not having taken
account of cultural dates and events and the intended recipient simply wasn’t
watching TV or does not buy the local newspaper.
• Decoding and perception: perhaps the viewer of the material sees the TV advert,
hears the words, but they do not mean to him what the sender thought they would.
• Reaction: perhaps the ‘pitch’ turns the intended client ‘off’ rather than ‘on’
• Consumption / Non- consumption. This may amount to offense and rejection
• Reflection affirmation-seeking Retrenchment. Rather than a positive,
virtuous circle, this could become ‘vicious’, with negative promotion resulting.
Culture can effectively be a significant determinant at each and every stage.
I broke this down a little further in work I did on the Diffusion and Adoption of new
technologies in Learning and Teaching. This may not seem relevant on the face of it, but
remember, there are different ‘cultures’ within the staff body (though not necessarily national
The title of the Powerpoint Slide below ‘Subjective Selection System’, seeks to show that, in
the end, the buy-in / adoption decision is a personal one.
Subjective Selection System
Interest Liking Advantage
Preference – efficiency
Decision – economy
Action Implementation – effectiveness
Evaluation – equity
Reflection Confirmation Complexity
In terms of the above, the left hand column is built around an extension of the basic
AIDA (Awareness/Interest/Desire/Action) model, adding in ‘Reflection’ upon the action
taken and an ‘Embedding’ of a confirmed position on the matter.
The middle column seeks to develop this rather ‘thin’ model, particularly in the breaking
down of ‘Interest and Desire’ into ‘Understanding Liking Preference’. Again, all
three of these terms may be contextualised or influenced by aspects of culture.
The right hand column suggests factors which the individual (or company) might well
take into account and weigh up and factor in to the decision to some degree. Once again,
many of these perceptions may well be culturally determined or influenced.
I have tried to put this altogether in a hypothetical illustration on the following page of
the diffusion of the message ‘Buy our car’ and a possible way in which an individual
Diffusion and Adoption Processes and Considerations
Process Element Illustration Considerations
Message Buy our car
Encoding Vorsprung D… T…
Medium Selection TV
DIFFUSION Transmission 19.30 ITV
Reception 20% of target Market
Decoding 10% of target Market
Understanding Unclear to 50% (5%) Comparative
Evaluation Good Engineering
Liking Yes Advantage
Preference Better than my Ford
Decision Consider next time
ADOPTION • Economy
Reflection As good as I hoped
Confirmation Made good decision
Commitment I’m an Audi guy
Advocacy You should…
Relationship I buy Audi products Complexity
For Diffusion and Adoption, see Rogers, E. The Diffusion of Innovations.
But what are the problems with the above in relation to culture:
Collective & Individual Issues in Diffusion and Adoption
Can one message be valid in a global marketplace? Decoding may result in a message
safely received: the wrong message.
Is an encoded message capable of simultaneous
translation by the recipients in different cultures? Adoption is an intensely personal
Different media require different cultural process.
approaches… message may need to be altered to
suit the media. Although we may be members of a
Do different cultures receive messages in the same sub-culture of influence, the adoption
way / via the same media? decision is singular and references
Different cultural sub-groups and individuals may personal values, beliefs, constraints
place different value on different media and external influences.
Diffusion is a social process as much as a technical
one and these vary by society.
Other Theories and Concepts of Potential Value
Igor Ansoff’s Growth Vector Matrix
This suggests that when companies grow (and they have to grow to survive, because without it
investors would put their money elsewhere), one of the key directions for growth is that of extension
and diversification of markets: essentially meaning going into ‘new’ areas where you do not have
prior experience or understanding. This often means to new cultures. It is unsafe to make
assumptions about such cultures..... Vauxhall (UK Opel) for example produced a car called the NOVA
(meaning ‘new’) , which like ‘Supernova’ sounds ultra modern and has the benefit of being short and
‘catchy’. Fine. Good decision.... until you come to sell it in Spain / Portugal... No Va = ‘Doesn’t
work’ / ‘Doesn’t go’. Now who is going to drive a car that means that!!!??? Clearly the further away
one moves from the current market, the greater the potential for misunderstanding, confusion when
one is engaging with other cultures and their different expectations, preferences, traditions,
communication systems and languages...
Looking at the RIGHT hand side of the above, it is apparent that things are changing all the time and
they change us: what we think, what we want, what communication devices we use etc.
Technological advances (the internet) have meant that low-cost airlines have filled the skies and we
book direct and online and expect low prices. In the past we used to choose a destination then get a
flight.... now people are choosing destinations because of the availability of low cost flights.
Communication technologies have changed...and the way we have come to use them has changed
the structure of the Tourism industry and marketing itself!