This year we have seen our physical reality merge into what can be called our virtual world. We have seen diverse lifestyles and cultures come together.
As consumers, we have everything within a click or a tap away. There are no language or geography barriers; culturally, we have all grown into the definition of a digital consumer.
But does this mean that all consumers have turned into one digital prototype, living the same reality, accessing the same goods and services and brands? No, that is definitely not the case. As marketers, we know that no two consumers are identical.
What this does mean for brands is, now more than ever, there is the opportunity to launch any product or service and reach anyone across the globe.
At the same time, it creates a challenge. What kind of digital experience are you creating for consumers? Are you providing the best experience for their channel preference, complying with privacy regulations of their physical location, and optimizing the experience based on individual consumer data?
Before executing any digital strategies, marketers need to really know their customers. What does it truly mean to know your customer? Is it that you offer the right product or service to the right person at the right time, place and context? What triggers a purchase, subscription, or renewal of a subscription?
Of course, marketing platforms like Selligent Marketing Cloud capture consumer’s interests, preferences, and behavior in real-time, tying all data back to the individual in a 360-degree single customer view. It’s about people, not clicks; and a holistic, aggregated view of consumer data enables marketers to improve their customer understanding. But brands also need to understand the type of people their customers are, how people feel, learn, and what people do. As science would say effect, cognition, and behavior, or the Feel-Think-Do process.
The Feel-Think- Do process is a complex process and is influenced by many factors. At the core of it, one might think about a consumer culture which is shaped in a very holistic and comprehensive way.
Brands might think of culture as the differentiator when technology commoditizes everything.
Understanding culture is the new strategy
Culture influences how people make decisions and process information. More and more, we are seeing consumers choose brands whose values align with their own. A person may see Brand A’s product in-store, then be exposed to the same product on a Facebook ad and decide to purchase a more sustainable product B alternative on Instagram.
It is true that we have shifted to one culture – digital. A digital culture, where we are just a click, tap, comment, or like away from our next purchase, brand engagement, or endorsement.
But still, the motivations behind purchasing are very different for each consumer. One might look for self enhancement or self-esteem elevation. Whatever it may be, these buying motivations are important to understand, as they can greatly vary across cultures.
How does culture impact consumer behavior?
Before we can understand how to capture consumer attention, one needs to understand consumer behavior and what it means.
Consumer behavior is viewed as a process that includes the issues that influence the consumer before, during, and after a purchase. (Marieke de Mooi, 2019). Just by definition, you can see that culture greatly impacts consumer behavior.
What factors shape the consumer culture and how they play out?
Personality and Identity
Across cultures, people have different concepts of self, which influences buying motives. Personality and identity, for example, influence how people choose and relate to brands, and whether they want to be associated with them.
I previously mentioned self-esteem, which plays a role in how people relate to others in society. Culture impacts the way self-esteem is achieved. In the US, self-enhancement often leads to increased self-esteem, whereas in Asia self-improvement leads to self-esteem. Consequently, one would adopt a lifestyle to fulfill a mission in society. These cultural differences impact the way one allocates income and consumes goods and services.
Of course, there are also similarities amongst us. Many of us use Spotify to stream music and podcasts, consume our content on Netflix, order from Amazon Prime, furnish our houses with Ikea, enjoy a morning coffee from Starbucks, Costa, and fly with Ryanair or Lufthansa. What may differ is one’s decisions behind choosing these brands, and their experiences with them.
To some extent, brands today have acknowledged the fact that, as human beings, we have different ways of consuming content and services and each one of us is unique! Have they managed to acquire the intelligence to push a product to fit these?
People from different cultures choose to purchase goods and services based on a variety of personal motives.
Understanding what motivates a consumer to purchase from Brand A over Brand B is important for positioning a product or service in different markets.
Buying motives can include but are not limited to:
- Brand loyalty
- Brand preferences
- Brand image
- Importance of luxury goods
- Brand values (sustainable, philanthropic, etc.)
For example, in collectivist societies (e.g., Japan, Argentina, India), the choice of a luxury product is motivated by the need to conform and position oneself in the society, and a luxury brand provides this status. Adversely, in individualistic countries, a luxury brand is believed to communicate personality and uniqueness.
Emotion is the process of interaction between cognition and psychology. Emotions are the interplay of facial expressions, experiences, and psychological responses of a person.
Facial expressions are said to give out a great deal of information about the emotional state of a person. Nevertheless, we often forget that facial expressions also have their own cultural paradigm.
A clear example in our everyday life is the use of emojis when communicating online. Americans use emojis that vary the direction of the mouth; e.g. ; ) - whereas Japanese emojis (kaomoji) vary in the direction of the eyes and may not vary the mouth; e.g. i_i, (＾▽＾), (─‿‿─).
The ability to correctly use and interpret an emotional expression of customers is essential. In today’s digital world, it is even more important to bypass the screen barrier and be able to identify your consumer’s mood, need, and attitude toward your brand.
The way people process information, learn, and communicate shapes the cognitive processes of an individual. These processes are also impacted by one’s cultural context.
The way by which people acquire information varies between individualistic and collectivist cultures. Individualistic countries are active information seekers via friends and media before making a purchase decision, whereas in collectivist cultures, information is the result of interpersonal communications and decisions based on feelings and trust in the company.
The implication of this on brands is that even if a brand association is equally accessible across cultures, people will use the same piece of information differently. Decision making is also dependent on cultural biases. Sprols and Kendall developed an instrument to measure consumer decision-making styles, which identifies eight mental characteristics of consumer decision-making, namely:
- Perfectionism and high-quality consciousness
- Brand consciousness
- Novelty-fashion consciousness
- Recreational hedonistic shopping
- Price and “value for money” shopping
- Choice confusion
- Habitual brand loyalty
Applying this to different cultures has proved to show varying results. For example, Koreans show to be brand conscious and perfectionists, whereas Indians and Greek are defined as more price sensitive.
While cultural and individual traits and behaviors are difficult to grasp in a mass market, where consumers are so diverse, one needs true intelligence to understand consumer behavior and patterns.
Recently, the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has surged drastically. Almost any technology and application we use in our lives utilizes AI technology in one way or another.
The question Maria Carrelli, VP Global Product Marketing at Selligent, poses is whether we actually rely on AI built by people who still run on the engine of silos, stereotypes, and prejudices? Will the super intelligence of AI recognize our individual differences and apply the right logic and position a product that fits my unique personality?
Will AI really close the gap between the marketer, the service, and its target? I don’t know, maybe yes, maybe no. But we do have a valid reason to debate that current AI algorithms are not necessarily built by individuals who have deep familiarity and understanding of the multi-variant context of an individual.
Brands must actively work on responding to cultural values and applying well-informed AI algorithms. By responding to cultural values, the brands prove they know their consumers’ needs better. It is why brands must be ready to alter their strategy as per the market and its culture.
The right marketing platform can also play an important role. For instance, Selligent Marketing Cloud’s Cortex allows for human intelligence, augmented with our AI to keep marketers in control. Marketers can improve the customer experience by optimizing their content, audience, and journeys for each individual.
Leveraging consumer culture may lead to the next level of personal personalization, which can be the real deal-breaker for creating meaningful connections with consumers.
Consumers’ needs will remain different from culture to culture, despite the new digital red thread which stitches the globe together. The cultural roots are still too deep to be abolished and disrupted.