Cultural Environment: Concept, Elements of Culture (Language, Religion, Values and Attitude, Manners and Customs, Aesthetics and Education), HOFSTEDE’s Six Dimension of Culture, Cultural Values (Individualism v/s Collectivism)

22nd November 2021 0 By indiafreenotes

The Social/Cultural environment consists of the influence of religious, family, educational, and social systems in the marketing system. Marketers who intend to market their products overseas may be very sensitive to foreign cultures. While the differences between home country and those of foreign nations may seem small, marketers who ignore these differences risk failure in implementing marketing programmes. Failure to consider cultural differences is one of the primary reasons for marketing failures overseas.

This task is not as easy as it sounds as various features of a culture can create an illusion of similarity. Even a common language does not guarantee similarity of interpretation. For example, in the US customers purchase “cans” of various grocery products, but the Britishers purchase “tins”. A number of cultural differences can cause marketers problems in attempting to market their products overseas.

These include:

(a) Language

(b) Colour

(c) Customs and taboos

(d) Values

(e) Aesthetics

(f) Time

(g) Business norms

(h) Religion

(i) Social structures

Each is discussed in the following sections:

(a) Language:

The importance of language differences cannot be overemphasised, as there are almost 3,000 languages in the world. Language differences cause many problems for marketers in designing advertising campaigns and product labels. Language problems become even more serious once the people of a country speak several languages. For example, in Canada, labels must be in both English and French. In India, there are over 200 different dialects, and a similar situation exists in China.

(b) Colours:

Colours also have different meanings in different cultures. For example, in Egypt, the country’s national colour of green is considered unacceptable for packaging, because religious leaders once wore it. In Japan, black and white are colours of mourning and should not be used on a product’s package. Similarly, purple is unacceptable in Hispanic nations because it is associated with death.

(c) Values:

An individual’s values arise from his/her moral or religious beliefs and are learned through experiences. For example, in America people place a very high value on material well-being, and are much more likely to purchase status symbols than people in India.

Similarly, in India, the Hindu religion forbids the consumption of beef, and fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King would encounter tremendous difficulties without product modification. Americans spend large amounts of money on soap, deodorant, and mouthwash because of the value placed on personal cleanliness. In Italy, salespeople call on women only if their husbands are at home.

(d) Aesthetics:

The term aesthetics is used to refer to the concepts of beauty and good taste. The phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a very appropriate description for the differences in aesthetics that exist between cultures. For example, Americans believe that suntans are attractive, youthful, and healthy. However, the Japanese do not.

(e) Time:

Americans seem to be fanatical about time when compared to other cultures. Punctuality and deadlines are routine business practices in the US. However, salespeople who set definite appointments for sales calls in the Middle East and Latin America will have a lot of time on their hands, as business people from both of these cultures are far less bound by time constraints. To many of these cultures, setting a deadline such as “I have to know next week” is considered pushy and rude.

(f) Business Norms:

The norms of conducting business also vary from one country to the next.

Here are several examples of foreign business behaviour that differ from Indian business behaviour:

(1) In France, wholesalers do not like to promote products. They are mainly interested in supplying retailers with the products they need.

(2) In Russia, plans of any kind must be approved by a seemingly endless string of committees. As a result, business negotiations may take years.

(3) In Japan, businesspeople have mastered the tactic of silence in negotiations.

(g) Religious Beliefs:

A person’s religious beliefs can affect shopping patterns and products purchased in addition to his/her values. In the United States and other Christian nations, Christmas time is a major sales period. But for other religions, religious holidays do not serve as popular times for purchasing products. Women do not participate in household buying decisions in countries in which religion serves as opposition to women’s rights movements.

Every culture has a social structure, but some seem less widely defined than others. That is, it is more difficult to move upward in a social structure that is rigid. For example, in the US, the two-wage earner family has led to the development of a more affluent set of consumers. But in other cultures, it is considered unacceptable for women to work outside the home.

HOFSTEDE’s Six Dimension of Culture

Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is a framework for cross-cultural communication, developed by Geert Hofstede. It shows the effects of a society’s culture on the values of its members, and how these values relate to behaviour, using a structure derived from factor analysis.

Hofstede developed his original model as a result of using factor analysis to examine the results of a worldwide survey of employee values by IBM between 1967 and 1973. It has been refined since. The original theory proposed four dimensions along which cultural values could be analyzed individualism collectivism; uncertainty avoidance; power distance (strength of social hierarchy) and masculinity-femininity (task-orientation versus person-orientation). Independent research in Hong Kong led Hofstede to add a fifth dimension, long-term orientation, to cover aspects of values not discussed in the original paradigm. In 2010, Hofstede added a sixth dimension, indulgence versus self-restraint.

Hofstede’s work established a major research tradition in cross-cultural psychology and has also been drawn upon by researchers and consultants in many fields relating to international business and communication. The theory has been widely used in several fields as a paradigm for research, particularly in cross-cultural psychology, international management, and cross-cultural communication. It continues to be a major resource in cross-cultural fields. It has inspired a number of other major cross-cultural studies of values, as well as research on other aspects of culture, such as social beliefs.

Dimensions of national cultures

Power distance index (PDI): The power distance index is defined as “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally”. In this dimension, inequality and power is perceived from the followers, or the lower strata. A higher degree of the Index indicates that hierarchy is clearly established and executed in society, without doubt or reason. A lower degree of the Index signifies that people question authority and attempt to distribute power.

Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV): This index explores the “degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups”. Individualistic societies have loose ties that often only relate an individual to his/her immediate family. They emphasize the “I” versus the “we”. Its counterpart, collectivism, describes a society in which tightly-integrated relationships tie extended families and others into in-groups. These in-groups are laced with undoubted loyalty and support each other when a conflict arises with another in-group.

Uncertainty avoidance (UAI): The uncertainty avoidance index is defined as “a society’s tolerance for ambiguity”, in which people embrace or avert an event of something unexpected, unknown, or away from the status quo. Societies that score a high degree in this index opt for stiff codes of behavior, guidelines, laws, and generally rely on absolute truth, or the belief that one lone truth dictates everything and people know what it is. A lower degree in this index shows more acceptance of differing thoughts or ideas. Society tends to impose fewer regulations, ambiguity is more accustomed to, and the environment is more free-flowing.

Masculinity vs. femininity (MAS): In this dimension, masculinity is defined as “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success”. Its counterpart represents “a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life”. Women in the respective societies tend to display different values. In feminine societies, they share modest and caring views equally with men. In more masculine societies, women are somewhat assertive and competitive, but notably less than men. In other words, they still recognize a gap between male and female values. This dimension is frequently viewed as taboo in highly masculine societies.

Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation (LTO): This dimension associates the connection of the past with the current and future actions/challenges. A lower degree of this index (short-term) indicates that traditions are honored and kept, while steadfastness is valued. Societies with a high degree in this index (long-term) view adaptation and circumstantial, pragmatic problem-solving as a necessity. A poor country that is short-term oriented usually has little to no economic development, while long-term oriented countries continue to develop to a level of prosperity.

Indulgence vs. Restraint (IND): This dimension refers to the degree of freedom that societal norms give to citizens in fulfilling their human desires. Indulgence is defined as “a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun”. Its counterpart is defined as “a society that controls gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms”.

Organizational level

Within and across countries, individuals are also parts of organizations such as companies. Hofstede acknowledges that “the dimensions of national cultures are not relevant for comparing organizations within the same country”. In contrast with national cultures embedded in values, organizational cultures are embedded in practices.

From 1985 to 1987, Hofstede’s institute IRIC (Institute for Research on Intercultural Cooperation) has conducted a separate research project in order to study organizational culture. Including 20 organizational units in two countries (Denmark and the Netherlands), six different dimensions of practices, or communities of practice have been identified:

  • Process-Oriented vs. Results-Oriented
  • Employee-Oriented vs. Job-Oriented
  • Parochial vs. Professional
  • Open System vs. Closed System
  • Loose Control vs. Tight Control
  • Pragmatic vs. Normative

Cultural Values (Individualism v/s Collectivism)


Individualism is a value or political view which focuses on human independence and freedom. It is generally against external interferences regarding personal choices. Research on decision-making concluded that those with higher levels of individualism tend to be more rational than those with higher levels of collectivism. Societies with individualist cultures view people as autonomous and prioritize uniqueness. Individualism disagrees that religion and tradition can dictate individuals’ limitations. It contradicts the views of collectivism which gives prime importance to interdependence and conventionality. The term was reportedly first used as a pejorative term, largely in the sense of political individualism which theorizes that the government should merely take a defensive role by shielding the individual’s liberty to act as how he wants to as long as he also respects the other individual’s freedom.

It was observed that there is an increasing pattern of individualism across the globe and that it is likely associated with a similarly increasing socioeconomic development which is evidenced by higher household income, education levels, and proportion of white-collar occupations. However, it was noted that China is an exception to the pattern since their individualistic culture was found out to decrease despite their economic growth. This may be due to their complex socioeconomic history.


Collectivism is the principle or practice of prioritizing group cohesion over individual pursuits. It views long-term relationships as essential since it promotes group goals. The people in a collectivist society can easily sacrifice their individual benefits for the sake of the whole society’s progress. As a matter of fact, an individual with a collectivist attitude may even feel embarrassed if he or she is singled out to be commended. A study on decision-making reported that those with higher levels of collectivism tend to be more dependent and are less likely to betray members of the central ingroups. Collectivism is a cultural pattern commonly observed among traditional communities like those in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It is the opposite of individualism which is common in North America, Western Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.

Collectivism is also a political theory which is related with communism since it proposes that power should be placed in the hands of the citizens as a whole instead of in the hands of only several individuals such as those in the upper class. Hence, it is beneficial to construct a system which facilitates shared goals. However, this ideal is difficult to actualize as evidenced by the Soviet communism’s attempted collectivist society.