How can you expect customers to trust you, when you don’t understand who they are?

You might understand their demographics, but when thinking about international audiences, it is important to consider how they differ from local ones.

Hofstede developed a useful framework that identifies the key factors to consider when building trust in your ecommerce site:

Power Distance

Power distance – “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 in Europe or the US.

How does power distance impact on ecommerce trust?

If the target country has an elevated level of power distance, then you need to be taking steps to build trust with the person at the top of the hierarchy (e.g. parents, rather than children). Whereas if there is a low level of power distance, focusing efforts on the end user (e.g. children) is a more effective strategy.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

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

This clearly has a profound impact on trust. 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. If you don’t do this, you may end up trying to establish trust on an individual basis.

For example, one effective way of building trust in a collectivist society is through ecommerce reviews. In an individualistic target group, these reviews will have less of an impact, and may not be an effective use of time.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty Avoidance – “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”.

If your brand is all about rebellion, it will struggle to build trust online with audiences with high uncertainty avoidance.

The car market is a good example of companies understanding this difference. In Japan (a culture with a high level of uncertainty avoidance) marketing of cars often focuses around strength and security.

In the UK, those same cars are sold with the message of being different and free. The idea of getting away, and going wild is particularly important. This of the number of times you have seen 4x4s drive through rugged terrain.

Masculinity vs. Femininity

Masculinity – “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.”

Femininity – “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.

Arguably, if Oxfam ran a campaign with Nike’s slogan, donations would be down. Would this persuade you to support a worthy cause?

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. In the UK, we don’t trust this long-term attitude. Most people would be wondering “why do I have to lock my money in?”.

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.

If you are entering a market where long-term thinking is the norm, using tools such as long warranties, providing long term support, and putting an “established date” on your branding can be used to build trust.

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

Indulgence vs. restraint

Indulgence – “a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun.”

Restraint – “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, “sexy” adverts can be very successful in the UK and USA. In countries such as Oman and Dubai this type of marketing is frowned upon, it will not help you build trust.


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