Using Geert Hofstede's theories to improve your international business

Published: 18th October 2010
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"Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster." Prof. Geert Hofstede, Emeritus Professor, Maastricht University.

Aiming to set up your business in a new country? Culture is one important aspect to consider in your business feasibility study. In this respect, Geert Hofstede's theories are very useful.

Several marketing blunders have occurred in the past when businesses have tried to go international. This is because people think what is accepted in their home country, would be accepted anywhere else. This is a big mistake. The cultural aspect should not be overlooked. Let us have a look at some popular marketing blunders:

A toothpaste selling company tried to sell its product in Southeast Asia by emphasizing that it "whitens your teeth". Their strategy failed because they found out that the local natives chew betel nuts to blacken their teeth which they find attractive.

A perfume company advertised a pastoral scene with a man and his dog. It failed in Islamic countries as dogs are considered as unclean there.

A motor company tried to market its new car, the Matador, based on the image of bravery and strength. However, in Puerto Rico the name meant "killer" and was not popular on the perilous roads in the country.

A sales manager in Hong Kong tried to control employee's promptness at work. He insisted they come to work on time instead of 15 minutes late. They complied, but then left exactly on time instead of working into the evening as they previously had done. Much work was left unfinished until the manager relented and they returned to their usual time schedule.

All these issues aroused because of low research made about the culture of the other countries. Poor cross cultural awareness has many consequences; some are serious while others are humorous. It is primordial that in the global economy, cross cultural awareness is seen a necessary investment to avoid such blunders.

Geert Hofstede, Dutch social psychologist, gathered extensive data on various cultures in different countries. He then classified important cultural aspects that would help businesses:

1) Power Distance Index (PDI)
2) Individualism (IDV)
3) Masculinity (MAS)
4) Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)
5) Long-Term Orientation (LTO)

In brief, Geert Hofstede has classified some social and cultural dimensions that should be taken into consideration in these 5 points. Businessmen should be aware of the degree of equality between people in that particular society, whether individualism prevails over collectivism, whether the society is a male dominated one, whether people have low level of tolerance for uncertainty, whether there is willingness to commit in long-term business among many others.
Using this theory as a benchmark, marketers can now fully develop their market entry method, their objectives, mission and vision, their marketing and communication strategies, the proper use of language and visuals in advertising, the way to approach potential clients and partners among many others.

Geert Hofstede's theories indeed help you in your marketing endeavor!

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