Monday, July 01, 2013

Cross-Cultural Consumer Behavior

What are the key cultural constructs or dimension?

The constructs of individualism and collectivism represent the 
most broadly used dimensions of cultural variability for cross-cultural comparison. In individualistic (IND) cultures, people tend to prefer independent relationships to others and to subordinate the goals of their ingroups to their own personal goals. In collectivistic (COL) cultures, in contrast, individuals tend to prefer interdependent relationships to others and to subordinate their personal goals to those of their ingroups. The key distinction involves the extent to which one defines the self in relation to others. The focus is on whether the self is defined as autonomous and unique or seen as inextricably and fundamentally embedded within a larger social network. This distinction has also been referred to as egocentric versus sociocentric selves (Shweder & Bourne,1982), or independence vs interdependence.

In sum, the distinctions between IND and COL societies, and independent and interdependent self-construals, are crucial to the cross-cultural understanding of consumer behavior. Indeed, whereas the 1980s were labeled the decade of individualism/collectivism in cross-cultural psychology, similar distinctions represent the dominant structural approach in cross-cultural consumer research in 1990s and 2000s. The studies to be reviewed in this chapter offer a wealth of evidence that these cultural classifications have fundamental implications for consumption-related outcomes.

Expanding the Set of Cultural Dimensions

The nature and meaning of IND and COL (or of independent and interdependent self-construals) appear to vary across cultural, institutional, gender, and ethnic lines. Although the breadth of the INDCOL constructs lends integrative strengths, further refinement of these categories holds the potential to enhance prediction of consumer behavior.

The Horizontal/Vertical Distinction: Which additional cultural categories offer value in the prediction of cross-cultural consumer behavior? Within the INDCOL framework, Triandis and his colleagues have recently introduced a further distinction between societies that are horizontal (valuing equality) and those that are vertical (emphasizing hierarchy). The horizontal/vertical distinction emerges from the observation that American or British individualism differs from, say, Norwegian or Danish individualism in much the same way that Japanese or Korean collectivism differs from the collectivism of the Israeli kibbutz. Specifically, in vertical individualist societies (U.S.,Great Britain, France), people tend to be concerned with improving their individual status and distinguishing themselves from others via competition. In contrast, in horizontal individualist societies (HI; e.g., Sweden, Norway, Australia), where people prefer to view themselves as equal to others in status, the focus is on expressing one’s uniqueness, capability, and self-reliance. In vertical collectivist societies (Japan, Korea, India), people focus on fulfilling obligations to others, and on enhancing the status of their ingroups in competition with outgroups, even when that entails sacrificing their own personal goals. In horizontal collectivist societies (like exemplified historically by the Israeli kibbutz), the focus is on sociability, benevolence, and interdependence with others in an egalitarian context.

When such distinctions are taken into account, however, it becomes apparent that the societies chosen to represent IND and COL cultural syndromes in consumer research have almost exclusively been vertically oriented. Specifically, the modal comparisons are between the United States (VI) and any of a number of Pacific Rim countries (VC). It may be argued, therefore, that much of what is known about consumer behavior in individualistic and collectivistic societies reflects vertical forms of these syndromes and may not generalize, for example, to comparisons between Sweden (HI) and Israel (HC) or other sets of horizontal cultures. As an example, conformity in product choice, as examined by Kim and Markus (1999), may be a tendency specific to VC cultures, in which deference to authority and to ingroup wishes is stressed. Much lower levels of conformity may be observed in HC cultures, which emphasize sociability but not deference. Thus, it may be inappropriate to ascribe differences in consumers’ conformity between Korea (VC) and the United States (VI) solely to the role of IND/COL or independence/interdependence, because such conformity might not be prevalent in horizontal societies. In particular, levels of product conformity in HC contexts might not exceed those in HI contexts.

Predicting new consumer psychology phenomena

Several recent studies examining the implications of this horizontal/vertical cultural distinction have provided evidence for its value as a predictor of new consumer psychology phenomena and as a basis for refining the understanding of known phenomena. For instance, G├╝rhan-Canli and Maheswaran (2000) demonstrated that the tendency to favor products from one’s own country over foreign products (a country-of-origin effect) emerged more strongly in Japan (a VC culture) than in the United States (a VI culture). This fits well with a conceptualization of collectivists as being oriented toward their ingroups. However, mediational analyses using individual consumers’ self-rated cultural values indicated that only the vertical dimension of IND and COL accounted for the country-of-origin effects in Japan. In other words, the collectivistic tendency to favor one’s own country’s products appeared to be driven by cultural values that stress hierarchy, competition, and deference to ingroup wishes, not by values that stress interdependence more generally.

In line with this, research suggests that advertising messages with themes that emphasize status, prestige, hierarchy, and distinction may be more prevalent and persuasive in vertical cultural contexts. Such advertisements also appear to be generally more persuasive for those with a vertical cultural orientation, and may be inappropriate for those with a horizontal one. Shavitt, Zhang, and Johnson (2006) asked U.S. respondents to write advertisements that they personally would find persuasive. The extent to which the ad appeals that they wrote emphasized status themes was positively correlated with respondents’ vertical cultural orientation (and negatively correlated with their horizontal cultural orientation). Moreover, content analyses of magazine advertisements in several countries suggested that status-oriented themes of hierarchy, luxury, prominence, and distinction were generally more prevalent in societies presumed to have vertical cultural profiles (Korea, Russia) than a horizontal cultural profile (Denmark).

Last but not least,the horizontal/vertical distinction provides a basis for refining our understanding of individualism/collectivism effects. Their studies showed that individualism/collectivism differences in socially desirable responding appear to be mediated at the individual level by horizontal (but not vertical) IND and COL values. These findings shed light on the motivational drivers linking culture with socially desirable response styles. The main point here is that these dimensions of cultural comparison have multiple implications for advertising and marketing processes. Attention to a broader set of cultural dimensions will not only expand the range of independent variables in our research, but will also prompt consideration of cultural consequences hitherto unexamined in cross-cultural studies (based on publication by Sharon Shavitt-University of Illinois & Angela Lee, Northwestern University).