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Global Marketing

Global Brand Adaptation and Culture – The Hofstede Model Dimensions

Different Campaigns need different levels of customization. You can very successfully create a campaign with just adaptations of the protagonists in your commercial.  This could be a case where you are dealing with simple, functional communication like this Apple ad below for instance.

Or you could be dealing with more complex perspectives – cultural traditions, different perceptions on the category, different ‘tastes’ and ‘appetites’, etc.

While some of the examples above were solved by modifying product or packaging, Global brands also need to customize or adapt their communication depending on deeper emotional insights.

The Hofstede Cultural Dimensions

This framework developed by Geert Hofstede highlights 6 dimensions of behaviour which are impacted by effects of a society’s culture. While there are multiple studies with values for each dimension in every country, the big plus that the framework brings is

  • 6 dimensions on which you can tailor campaigns – Campaigns specifically targeting a country, can be tailored with attributes that cue the dimension which the country scores high on.
  • A ready framework when having to differentiate two countries or cultures.
  • You could also think of these dimensions when having to focus on regions within large countries.
  • The rankings have been validated across many replications and is robust.

Here are a few countries’ dimensions and their scores. Only 5 dimensions are discussed here as the sixth one (Indulgence) is not complete across geographies. You can get all the scores for almost all countries here.

Hofstede Model - Dimensions by Country

Power Distance

This dimension brings out the perception amongst the less influential members of society – Do they accept (and expect?) power to be distributed UNEQUALLY?

Hofstede dimensions - Power Distance

To identify the level of Power Distance, look for places where

  • Formal roles and Hierarchies are highly respected – Teachers, Parents, Bosses, Employers.
  • Sub-ordinates expect to be told what to do (vs. being consulted or involved in a collaborative effort with supervisors).
  • Supervisors would not socialize with sub-ordinates in a casual setting.
  • Blue collar jobs are not respected.
  • Decision making is centralized in organisations (Government, Corporations, etc.)

What it means for you:

  • Privileges and status symbols drive consumption behaviour. There is an equally clear hierarchy in terms of products that are used by different strata of society.
  • Brands also need to communicate and appeal to social status.

Individualism

It is the degree to which individuals are integrated into society / organisations or groups. Is one’s identity based on the individual or is it based on the social system? Does the society encourage personal achievement, opinions and rights?

Hofstede dimensions - Individualism Collectivism

To identify the level of this dimension, look for

  • Obligations are defined by “ME” – personal opinions, self-education, personal goals, Independence.
  • Organisations would promote people based on achievement, results, etc. (instead of seniority or loyalty)
  • People would have a separate ‘private’ and a ‘work’ life.

What it means for you

  • In Collectivist markets – ‘Trust’ is key. Umbrella brands / Large Corporate brands and brand extensions would thrive here. However, in Individualistic cultures, brands that are sharply positioned to the category or a specific attribute is a requisite – ‘Shouldn’t the brand stand for something (have a point of view)?’
  • Brand Communication in Collectivist cultures also needs to create positive feelings of harmony, family and group consumption (vs. providing information or being seen as successful – which would resonate more with individualistic cultures)
  • In direct sales, you can quickly get to the point in Individualistic markets, while in Collectivist cultures you need to slowly build trust and a personal relationship.
  • Do remember that the classic ‘AIDA’ model – created from an individualistic, western markets perspective, may not  be relevant in some markets where the consumer is NOT actively seeking new information.

Global adaptations to print ads - Individualistic Collectivistic markets - Hofstede

Masculinity

Masculine cultures value performance, success, material possessions, self assertion, career, ambition, etc.

Hofstede dimensions - Masculinity

Look for 

  • High levels of competition and competitive behaviour. Society would most admire success and achievers.
  • Career forms an important part of a person’s life. Success here is more important than ‘work satisfaction’
  • Problems are solved through analysis (vs. intuition).
  • Clear definition of household work based on gender. Men would not be seen doing household work. Men would also hold all key roles in society.

What it means for you

  • Brands need to be seen as ‘winners / prestigious / performers’ etc. in masculine cultures, whereas they need to be seen as brands that ‘care / nurture / or give’ in feminist cultures.
  • People consume for show in masculine cultures, and for use in feminist cultures.
  • The ‘Larger’, ‘Faster’ or ‘Shinier’ the better chance of product success in masculine cultures.
  • Big bang launches are a must to get noticed.

Uncertainty Avoidance

As the name suggests, it is the extent to which the society will go to avoid dubious, unfamiliar situations. Is uncertainty seen as a threat? or as a way of life?

Hofstede dimensions - Uncertainty Avoidance

Look for the following to identify countries with high Uncertainty Avoidance:

  • Strict rules and regulations for every thing – that are followed.
  • Low / No appetite to risk taking. Failure is dishonorable.
  • People feel an inner need to keep themselves busy and work hard.
  • There is high suspicion on the young. Children are brought up under strict rules and discipline.
  • Intolerance toward different opinions, and there is a need to come to quick agreement and consensus.

What it means for you:

  • The brand needs to be seen as an expert and knowledgeable (in high UA countries) vs. it is ok to be a generalist (in low).
  • In countries with high UA, people are more interested in how your product works than the extent of results. People are Process Oriented vs. Result Oriented. Ensure product demonstrations / Ingredient explanations, etc are part of your communication strategy here.
  • In countries with low UA, results are more important than the process. You can also use humour in your communication strategy.

Long Term Orientation

These values capture the societies orientation of time. Does the society add more value to the future? or to the past & present?

Hofstede dimensions - Long Term Orientation

  • Societies with Long Term orientation have strong values toward perseverance, sustained efforts, frugality, savings and investment for the future.
  • In societies with Short Term orientation, people look for immediate results, immediate gratification and have tendencies to spend most of what they earn.
  • Leisure is important in STO countries.

What it means for you

  • There is low scope for products of indulgence in LTO countries.
  • Societies with short term orientation also lay emphasis on the past. They thus value brands with heritage value.

Hofstede Model – Few points to keep in mind… 

  • You would have to mix 2-3 dimensions before arriving at a strategy for your brand. For example:
    High Masculinity + High Individualism = Appeal to Success
    High Masculinity + High PDI = Appeal to Status
    High UA + High PDI = Importance of Personal Appearance
  • Like any other tool, the Hofstede values needs to be handled with care. The numbers behind the countries would change as the society changes with time. In the digital age, cultures and lifestyles are merging without the sharp differences that existed earlier.
  • Large countries would have a mix of scores (for example, differences would exist between Texas vs. California, or Bengal vs. Punjab, but you have a score for the country as a whole).
  • Sometimes values would be counter-intuitive. For example – Singapore has rules and fines for everything but features among the lowest countries in Uncertainty Avoidance? What is actually at work here is that Singapore is a tightly controlled city, though the ‘culture’ isn’t so.

Further Recommended Reading:

Culture’s Consequences, Geert Hofstede

Consumer Behavior and Culture, Marieke de Mooij

Cultures and Organisations, Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede and Michael Minkov

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