Business People Culture Thrive Digital

Most companies fail in the international exploits because the culture that they try and infiltrate is too different from their own. What if you were able to identify all the cultural differences and take steps to mitigate them? This would drastically increase your chances of international ecommerce success.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions are a framework that identifies the factors attributing to cultural differences which your business should consider when planning for online export:

Power Distance

Power distance is described as “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.”

For example, in Asian and far eastern families there is a high level of power distance, i.e. children accept the decision of the parent more than they would in say our society.

How does this idea of power distance affect marketing?

Carrying on the family example, consider the “pester power” of a child who has low power distance, rather than high power distance. The higher it is, the less “pester power” is going to be an influence on the purchasing decision of the parent.

Therefore, in countries with high power distance marketing (and products) should be aimed more at parents than children, and vice versa.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

Individualism vs. Collectivism is defined as the “degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.”

This clearly has a profound impact on marketing. If customers fit into clearly defined groups, then it is much easier to target them.

Cultures with a high level of individualism are harder to penetrate than others. Focus on those cultures with clearly defined groups that fit with your offering (or if those groups are important enough, develop an offering for them).

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty Avoidance is defined as “a society’s tolerance for ambiguity.” Cultures with a high level of uncertainty avoidance opt for guidelines, laws, rules and regulations etc. Those with a low level of uncertainly avoidance tend to be more rebellious and “free flowing”.

This idea can be mirrored in the messaging given to target audiences. For example, we would typically describe the UK as having a low level of uncertainty avoidance. If you look at car advertising, particularly that of 4x4s, the message is often that of freedom. The idea of getting away, and going wild is particularly important. In cultures with a high level of uncertainty avoidance, this messaging is often replaced by the idea of strength and security.

This is mirrored in alcohol marketing also, think of campaigns such as WKD’s “Have you got a WKD side?” and you can clearly see that the message is one of freedom.

Masculinity vs. Femininity

This is not about whether a culture is sexist or not, but rather whether it displays characteristics that are typically thought of as masculine or feminine.

Masculinity is defined as “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.” Femininity is defined as “a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.”

The market for sports would typically exhibit more masculine characteristics. Thus, marketing revolves around masculine messaging. Examples of this are Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan, or Adidas’ “Impossible Is Nothing”.

One market that is clearly feminine is that for charities. Consider Oxfam’s slogan of “Be Humanity”, or the Red Cross slogan “With humanity, towards peace”. This is clearly inclusive and caring.

Consider whether your target audience exhibit masculine or feminine characteristics.

Confucian Dynamism (Long-term vs. Short-term)

Confucian dynamism is a cultures attitude towards time. Does that culture think in the long-term, or the short-term?

In the UK (and generally in the western world) we have a short-term attitude towards most things. Our “buy now, pay later” attitude means that we rarely think more than a few years ahead.

Here is an example. If I offered you a risk-free interest rate of 7% per annum, you would probably bite my hand off. However, if I told you that you had to lock your money in for 10 years, it is likely that you would reconsider.

On the other hand, if I was in a culture with a long-term orientation, and I offered to double someone’s investment (risk free) within 10 years (which amounts to about 7% compound interest per annum), they would likely be very eager to take me up on the offer.

This exists within countries too. Think of the difference in time orientation between the millennials markets, and the markets of your grandparents or great-grandparents.

Confucian dynamism is an important idea when it comes to marketing. If you are selling to a culture that has a long-term outlook, they need to know that you are going to be there in years to come.

This can be done by advertising long warranties, providing long term support, putting an “established date” on your branding or any other methods that appeal to the long-term orientation of the market.

If they are short-term, then the message needs to be that of innovation, change and new products and services.

Indulgence vs. restraint

Indulgence is defined as “a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun.” Whereas restraint is defined as “a society that controls gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.”

This applies if you are selling a product that relies on an indulgent market, attempting to sell it in a restrained culture. For example, websites selling sex toys have been very successful in the UK and USA in recent years. It is unlikely that they will be able to mirror this success in countries such as Oman and Dubai.


Most companies by the time they have come to think about internationalising their ecommerce, have a firm grasp of digital marketing, SEO, web development, UX etc.

However, considering cultural factors, and using Hofstede’s model to understand your target market could mean the difference between success and failure in international markets.

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