Getting Global: Culture

Getting in the global mindset can be difficult. Understanding how culture plays a role in business is imperative for the global marketer and international success.

What is culture?

One’s culture affects almost everything they do, from birth to death- and everything in between! What exactly, is culture? There could probably a whole dictionary full of different definitions, but here is the one I like the best:

Culture is: “The collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category from those of another” – Geert Hofstede, Dutch cultural anthropologist.

Culture is learned and shared, not something biologically programmed in our genes. As Hofstede says, culture is “the software of the mind.”

The origins of culture include geography, history, technology, and the political economy. Throughout history, these factors have influenced and formed the social institutions that exist around the world. Examples of social institutions include family, religion, school, media, government and corporations.

These conditions are highly interrelated, constantly changing, and vary depending on geographic location or country. Acculturation and socialization naturally occurs, which is the process of adopting behavior patterns based on one’s surroundings. These patterns are imitated and shared between groups of people and societies through time, thus creating the elements of culture: values, rituals, symbols, beliefs and thought processes.

What is the impact of culture on business and marketing?

The elements of culture have a profound affect on how we market our products and do business. Even though they may seem invisible at first glance, ignoring cultural differences can hurt the marketer’s company and career.

The best international marketers not only respect cultural differences, but they also understand the origins of these differences and integrate the lessons learned into their marketing strategy. Cultural Knowledge is necessary in global marketing. There are two types of knowledge: factual and interpretive. Factual is usually obvious and can be learned. Interpretive is more about acknowledging and accepting different cultural traits and patterns.

The most noted and useful way to understand how cultural values determine business practices and market conditions come from Geert Hofstede. He studied more than 90,000 people in 66 countries, and was able to to categorize differences into five primary dimensions: Individualism/Collective Index (IDV), Power Distance Index (PDI), Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) Masculinity/Feminity Index and Long Term Orientation (LTO). I highly recommend studying these dimensions to see where your country and business fit in. Visit his website here to gain a better understanding.

As a marketer, being culturally sensitive and tolerant of others is key. Culture is dynamic. Both planned and unplanned cultural change takes place through time. One culture may learn from another’s to solve societal problems, known as cultural borrowing. On the other hand, some cultures may have a strong resistance to change, which often results in conflict.

All of these conditions require special effort and attention when marketing in a foreign environment. Not only do they determine the 4 p’s (product, price, promotion, and place), but they also shape management styles, business practices, and professional behaviors.

Hofstede's 5 Cultural Dimensions

Hofstede's 5 Cultural Dimensions


Cateora, Philip R., Mary C. Gilly, and John L. Graham. International marketing. 14th ed. New York: Mcgraw-Hill Irwin, 2009. Print.

“Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions Resources.” Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2011. <;.

“Google Images.” Google. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2011. <;.

Kotabe, Masaaki, and Kristiaan Helsen. Global marketing management. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley, 1998. Print.


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