A recent survey showed that Chinese and American film reviewers had rather different responses to the same or similar films. Chinese comments were more subtle and kind towards mediocre productions, while American comments were more open and critical. Does this mean that Chinese audiences are more easily satisfied or is this simply a matter of different communication styles? Or perhaps Chinese audiences like different things than American audiences?
Some argue that this finding could be linked to the distinction between collectivistic and individualistic societies. For example, in a collectivistic culture there is more importance placed on group cohesion and harmony than individual actions and competition. Asian countries in particular reflect this collectivist attitude so they tend to prefer constructing messages in an ambiguous way. This helps them to avoid causing conflict in the group or losing face in case a specific request is ignored or denied.
Conversely, many countries in northern Europe and North America are more individualistic and therefore tend to focus more on the individual and personal achievement. Individualistic cultures tend to value sincerity and openness when communicating, while veering from the subject can be seen as an effort to hide something.
People from individualistic cultures therefore tend to be more open and honest when communicating their preferences, while people from collectivistic countries are more reserved in expressing their views because they are more concerned with maintaining harmony rather than saying exactly what they think. This could explain the different film ratings and comments by Chinese and Americans.
Understanding that different cultures have preferences for different working styles and business values shows the importance of being able to adjust your style when doing business in an international environment. Differences in views and how they get expressed can have significant implications for any organisation that is launching a product in a new market, working on a cross-cultural M&A or implementing a global matrix structure.
Cultural awareness and flexibility should therefore inform not only the business side of your company, but also the marketing research and planning. Sometimes marketing tools like a simple survey might provide you with misleading data if used in a culture where people are not used to or comfortable with expressing their opinions openly.
For instance, when dealing with collectivistic cultures, basing market predictions and strategies on findings from an online poll might give you the wrong perspective and hinder your desired results. cross cultural training courses can provide you with a set of cultural knowledge and tools that will help you make the right decisions and adapt your approach effectively when marketing a service or product in another culture.
Many organisations have successfully adapted their product to suit another market. Kraft, for instance, modified their Oreo cookie recipe to a less sweet formula to accommodate the Chinese taste. Similarly, Tesco’s new CEO Philip Clarke adapted Tesco stores in China to include live fish in big tanks so Chinese customers could pick what they want and be assured of its freshness. These small changes adapted to the expectations and cultural preferences of the market and resulted in a successful product.
Other organisations have been less successful adapting their approach or product to the cultural preferences and expectations of customers in another country. PepsiCola is one example of an organisation who failed to do their research and adapt their product accordingly. When they changed the colour of its vending machines and coolers from deep “Regal” blue to light “Ice” blue in Southeast Asia PepsiCola lost its majority share in the market to Coca Cola. What they failed to realise was that light blue is a colour associated with death and mourning in Southeast Asia so the change did not create the desired effect and in fact hurt their profit.
Failure to understand the culture you operating in can have serious implications on any business. Anyone who wants to ensure that their marketing planning, strategies implementation and business as a whole gets a real thumbs up needs to pay extreme attention to what their international customers expect and want.