International Boundary

Figure 3.1 The influence of culture on the buyer-seller relationship. Source: author.

language for all official documents. This creates problems in completing appropriate documentation and clearly has cost and time implications for the exporting company.

It is important to realize that the link (Figure 3.1) between the selling firm and its international customer is not simply a linear relationship. The influence of culture can be identified at a number of levels. Thus, the relationship between buyer and seller is played out against the backcloth of both nations' culture. In addition, the corporate culture of both organizations, itself a mixture of each organization's way of doing things, and its relationship with the individuals within each organization, interacts to create the environment within which the exchange will take place. These cultural identities act as a prism refracting or distorting the one's view of the other. How well this is first, recognized and secondly, managed within each organization will strongly influence the success of the venture.

Viewed in this way culture cannot be ignored in any study of international marketing management. It provides a useful starting point to understanding the stage on which international business takes place. It is both a privilege and a luxury, as a student, to take a step back from one's own cultural perspective and attempt to appreciate its influence. In day-to-day business the time is often not there to fully appreciate its influence, and yet countless decisions are made automatically because of it. Fundamentally, cultural influences are a defining feature of our own humanity and provide a framework for our actions.

The purpose of this chapter is to begin by considering the definitions of culture which have been put forward before going on in the Section 'The foundations of our cultural understanding' to discuss the role of geography and our inner view of the world as the basis for cultural understanding. Following these introductory and scene setting sections, the relationship between culture and marketing will be dealt with using the typology introduced in Chapter 1, namely, understanding the customer, creating the product, communicating with the customer and delivering what was promised to the customer. Each of these aspects of the marketing cycle will be considered from a cultural perspective. The more practical aspects of culture and marketing will be raised in the Section 'Doing business with culture' where issues such as how culture affects management styles, training needs and cross-border alliances will be discussed.

Unsurprisingly there is no one universally accepted definition of culture. It remains a construct which is difficult to define. Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952) identified over 160 definitions of culture! Namenwirth and Weber (1987) from a sociologist's perspective, defined culture as a 'system of ideas' that provided a 'design for living'. Anthropologists Hall and Hall (1990) view culture as a system for creating, sending, storing and processing information. Hofstede (1994) defines culture as 'the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another'. Culture is learned, not inherited. We absorb it from our social environment. It has to be distinguished from human personality and human nature, although the boundaries between them are open to debate (Figure 3.2).

Human nature is what all humans have in common. It allows us to feel fear, anger, love, happiness and sadness, share with others through talking about our experience of the environment. What we do with these feelings is modified by culture. An individual's personality is their unique set of mental programming, partly inherited and partly learned. By learned, we mean it is modified by the personal experiences one has in life and by the influence of culture.

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