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The Impact of Culture on Consumer Behavior

 
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The global general integration of human relationships in economic, cultural, social, technological, political, and other spheres is significantly influenced by the cultural variance. Relationships to others, perception of the self, spiritual traditions, and ethical, cultural, political, social, economic, and behavioral patterns of humans are predetermined by their cultural specificity. Furthermore, cultural differences are manifested in various perceptions of problems and strategies to solve them. Therefore, “understanding the concept of culture and the consequences of cultural differences will make marketing and advertising people realize that one message can never reach one global audience because there is no single global culture of people with identical values”.

Populations of the United States of America and of the United Arab Emirates differ in their political systems, geographical locations, religious beliefs, historical circumstances, cultural identity, economic development, social orders, behavioral patterns, ways of life, and so forth. The differences in the environmental conditions, ethnicity, political development, religious beliefs, cultural heritage, and historical circumstances predetermined the differences in Americans and the United Arab Emirates’ people. Though White Americans still comprise the numerical majority of the US population, powerful inflows of immigrants from Latin America and Asia have created a new demographic context. Multiple ethnic groups have developed in the USA influencing cultural characteristics of the Americans. Generations of immigrants aspire to preserve and to develop their original cultural identity and ethnic consciousness. According to Davis & Engel (2011), the main ethnic minorities of the USA include African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, Caucasians, and Native Americans. These ethnic groups differ in socio-demographic and economic characteristics, such as their well-being, number of inhabitants, mentality, beliefs, customs, social and economic status, lifespan, origin, location, average age, intergroup relations, and levels of assimilation.

The United Arab Emirates is a multinational country that comprises of the seven emirates that include Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, and Fujairah, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Ajman. In accordance with the numerical data provided by Abed et al. (2008), Arab nationals total approximately to 20.1% while non-nationals comprise 79.9% of the population including Jordanians, Yemenis, Indians, Filipinos, Omanis, west Europeans, and other nations.

Although racial and ethnical diversity of the USA is growing, American cultural values are constantly changing. It is possible to identify particular cultural characteristics inherent in the Americans in general. The American is regarded as being the active consumers in the world. Being extremely individualistic, they believe that luxury products, clothing, devices, cars, and other goods emphasize unique or distinctive features of their owner’s personality. Achievements and successes in all spheres are very important. Americans’ drive for material comfort, youthfulness, fitness and health, progress, and efficiency and practicality, is identified by Peter & Olson (2009) as their main cultural characteristic. The value of youthfulness and fitness is expressed in numerous advertisements of anti-aging creams, additives, supplements, vitamins, fitness equipment, apparel, and goods and services associated with sport and tourism. Striving to increase the effectiveness of their businesses, the Americans develop the new technologies and implement innovations in goods and services. In addition, most American citizens treasure a lot being in complete control of their lives and environment.

Culture is a phenomenon that identifies everybody as an individual and as a society.  In some instances, it distinguishes a person from others and connects people together in today’s globalized world. Cultural values of consumers influence the way they perceive information, behave, buy goods and services, and make decisions. Cultural values are shared by groups of people; they can be united geographically or nationally. While trying to obtain a complete understanding of consumers’ cultural characteristics, international marketing should consider a wide spectrum of cultural values. Adapting the model developed by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, Adler and Gundersen (2008) identify the six basic cultural values that contribute to the specificity of the societal cultural orientations.

Different orientations in time specific to various cultures provide different standards of business ethics related to the duration and forms of negotiations, possibilities of delays, tenancy agreements, terms of employment, obligatory rituals, and other business activities (Adler, Gundersen, 2008). While North Americans are mainly future-oriented and focus on the immediate results of their actions, the Arabs from the UAE focus on the long-term consequences. The Americans tend to consider time to be inevitable, linear, and fixed. They perceive time as a road that extends into the future and is divided into specific sections (hours, days, weeks, and so forth). Time is perceived as a physical object; it is possible to plan, schedule, manage, spend, save and even buy time. The Americans focus on the present and the immediate future while planning and adapting time for the specific tasks; their main goal is to spend time in an efficient way so that they can improve the future.

The United Arab Emirates’ people regard time as less discrete and appropriate object for planning and scheduling. They consider their simultaneous involvement in several activities as being natural. People and relationships take precedence over schedules; activities are sometimes performed in accordance with their own tempo, irrespective of arrangements. Being well-prepared for discussions and business meetings, the Americans generally strive to reduce the duration of negotiations. Such an attitude to Emirates’ obligatory rituals can result in their discouragement. The United Arab Emirates’ people sometimes perceive the Americans’ persistence as hostile behavior. While Americans regard short time delays as violations of business ethics, in the UAE, they are considered to be the course of nature.

The Americans assume that an individual is the main element of the social structure of the entire society and all people are equal in relation to the existing laws and official regulations. They believe that every person has the right to privacy. They are confident that they can control the environment and make it serve them with the help of various modern technologies. The USA has established a representative democracy in its liberal form, which is characterized by pluralism, limited government, open government, independent judiciary, and active citizen participation in the civic life. The US political system provides the Americans with equal civil liberties and political rights, pluralistic tolerance, free elections, widespread education, and opportunities to realize their will directly or through representatives and make free political and economic decisions. Therefore, they believe that their country is a citadel of freedom, stability, and welfare.

Although the United Arab Emirates’ people also have resilient spirits of respect, love and duty to serve their country, their attitudes are mainly based on their religious beliefs. Islam is recognized as an official religion in the United Arab Emirates; though, the country and its citizens are tolerant of other religious beliefs. Islam is in the center of all sociocultural processes subordinating and supervising all institutions of the United Arab Emirates. Islam instructions penetrate the United Arab Emirates people’s life from their birth to death, in many respects defining their cultural identity and social behavior. Islam is one of the most ancient fundamental monotheistic religions, which originated in the Middle East and was propagated by the Prophet Muhammad ibn ‘Abdallah in Arabia in the 7th century A.D. Like other religions and philosophies, Islam is focused on its right to be the unique and exclusively fair way to Allah. Issues of social and economic justice form a fundamental part of the ethical beliefs in Islamic belief. In conformity with Muslims’ creeds, accumulation of wealth becomes a natural consequence of a person’s participation in monetary exchange, trade, and other financial operations. Spiritual and secular powers are seamless in Islam. Thus, beyond simple performance of cult ceremonies, Islam has become an influential driving force in the United Arab Emirates people’s lives involving economic, social, political, cultural, and consumer-related aspects.

In the USA, despite the country’s ethnical diversity, religious beliefs are important. American clergy has always been actively participating in public affairs; they have served the needs of the armed forces, organized meetings, managed schools, and even taken part in the daily sessions of the US Congress. According to the First Amendment, the government cannot interfere in the religious creeds and beliefs of the Americans; thus, every member of the US Congress or senator could represent interests of a religious group.

In accordance with Hofstede’s concept, such cultural dimensions as individualism and collectivism, power distance, masculinity and femininity, and uncertainty avoidance, make multiple impacts on the work-associated attitudes. The cultural dimension of power distance predefines different attitudes to subordination and supervision in organizations; that is observed while comparing Arab and American companies. For instance, American companies are characterized by low power distance regimes, which influence forms of activity and relations to others. Hierarchy is evaluated as temporary role-based inequality, which is necessary to facilitate management and increase its efficiency. 

Another manifestation of cultural dimensions can be revealed by comparing the levels of individualism and collectivism of the United Arab Emirates’ people and Americans. While North Americans are individualistic, the Arabs, mainly citizens of the United Arab Emirates, are collectivist; thus, these societies implement different actions and strategies to encourage and to supervise their members.

Being underestimated, consumer cultural differences in the United States of America and the United Arab Emirates “can affect the success of a company’s marketing strategies”. In order to avoid potential losses and succeed in performing international business operations, professionals involved in the contemporary international marketing should determine and utilize communication strategies of their organization, taking into consideration restrictions of international, regional, local, and national character. Thus, the significance of the cultural values in international marketing communications appears to be incontestable. Communication strategies of a company can run contrary to the moral principles, convictions, views, and beliefs of the local authorities and that of the general population. Professionals involved in the international marketing communications have to make integrated decisions with regard to the cultural differences, as well as specific political, social, demographic, criminal, and currency risks in the foreign countries.

Advertising is a major tool for advertising, which is implemented by marketing professionals and entrepreneurs to communicate specifically designed messages to their potential consumers and clients. The main goals of advertisements are to inform, persuade, and reminding potential consumers on availability of a wide range of product and services. In order  for marketers to attract more  customer, enhance their brand recognition and expand their market share and sales, the marketing experts needs to modify their forms and models of advertising in accordance with cultural characteristics of the target audience. It is essential to ensure that communication messages are free of obscene and offensive expressions, comparisons and images.

Today, the Internet has become an extremely influential communication channel. The more the website corresponds to the culturally familiar communication styles and cultural specificity of the target audience, the more trust in its content is established. Furthermore, advertised goods and services become more attractive. Therefore, website’s design should be culturally specific, considering such elements as spatial orientation, website layout, text length, color symbolism, navigation modes, and symbols and images specific to the cultural characteristics of potential consumers.

In order to succeed in the international arena and to increase profitability, McDonald’s has adapted its website to the culture of the United Arab Emirates. Cultural values, specific motives, and communication styles differ among the countries and are influenced by Hofestede’s cultural dimensions of masculinity and feminism, and Hall’s concept of low-context and high-context cultures. Expectations associated with the design of the website and consumers’ perceptions of offerings are also influenced by the cultural characteristics. While the American version of Happy Meals includes hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and chicken McNuggets, the United Arab Emirates’ children are provided with a wider choice. Beefburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken McNuggets, and chickenburgers are offered to them to correspond to their eating habits. The smile on the Emirates’ package is substituted with the colorful caption.

Survey and Interview Questions

In order to assess the influence of culture on the consumer behavior between the USA and UAE, a survey on both culture was conducted. The survey was also intended to determine the role played by culture in determining the marketing strategy. In addition, the survey was also intended to pinpoint the similarities in making the purchasing decision and consuming habits across these two cultures. The survey and the interview were conducted on a sample of 100 respondents, half representing the UAE culture and the other half representing the USA culture. The questions asked during the survey touched on major tenets of consumer behavior in relation to culture. This included the respondent view on marketing environment, culture and purchasing decisions and market review and purchasing styles. In addition, a pilot test was conducted to ensure clarity before the survey and data collection. Since the survey was composed to two significant cultures, the survey adopted a convenient sample method.

Results Findings

The study findings revealed that there was a significant difference between Arabs and Americans cultures. Respondents from United Emirates said that culture is a major element that affects consumers. With regard to purchasing habits, the results show that there was a significant difference when it comes to purchasing of products by both the Arabs and Americans.  Out of the fifty respondents representing United States culture, 36 believed that the environment economy as a result of influence on marketing of their country was excellent, 8 believed that united states environment economy was good while six of them responded by saying that the united states economy was fair. In terms of culture influence on marketing strategies, 41 of the respondents from united Arabs emirates said that culture heavily influences the marketing strategies adopted by marketers.

Marketers have to take into consideration the social norms, customs such as not using animals in advertisement and women to advertise male commodities. Six of United Arabs emirates respondents believed that culture and norms play a significant role in determining marketing strategies, but as a result of modernization such things have passed. This has affected the consumption behavior of consumers in United Arab Emirates countries. Three Arabs reported that culture does not influence marketing or consumer behaviors.  On the other hand, 30 respondents from United States America believed that culture, norms and cultural values do not affect the consummation behavior of consumers. 17 believed that culture affects consumer patterns of certain products and 3 believed that certain products consummation are affected by culture.

Discussion

This survey was designed to investigate the interrelationship between cultural differences and their impacts on the consumer behavior. After an in-depth analysis of cultural elements with strong effects on the consumer in both cultures, it is evident that a significant difference between the UAE and America cultures in evident when it comes to purchase of products. In UAE, cultural influence is a very sensitive issue because Arabs are culturally conservative. However, Arabs in UAE are been found to be liberal when purchasing products that do not adhere to the norms of their communities. In contrast, United States, the cultural beliefs especially religion based are totally separated. Therefore, purchasing socially or religiously forbidden product does not raise any fear of being anti-social. This presents two different scenarios to the marketer when marketing their product to these two different cultures.

On the United Arab Emirates’ website, fun and games are adapted to the cultural specificity of consumers; images of animals are not included. In Arab culture, different animals can symbolize phenomena and notions inaccessible to the Americans’ perception. In addition, figures of magic characters are absent on the website; in conformity with the Islamic beliefs, manifestations and personifications of such supernatural forces and characters as witches, wizards, vampires, or aliens can be evaluated as an attempt to equate them to Allah. Including such imagery, the website can violate ethical requirements of advertising and not reach the target audience of the United Arab Emirates’ consumers. Furthermore, the content and offerings can be translated into the native language (Arabic) of the target consumers, which make the content be visually appealing for the United Arab Emirates’ consumers. Incorporating culturally specific massages in the website design, company has succeeded in building trust in its website, providing consumers’ satisfaction, and developing e-loyalty in online business relationships.

In conclusion, the cultural diversity of consumers is increasing today due to the growing rates of cooperation between the different countries. International marketing has become more complicated than national models, because of the necessity to take into consideration cultural diversity of the target audience. Therefore, being undervalued, different cultural peculiarities specific to the populations from the different countries can result in insufficient business practices.

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