Can we Ignore Culture in Marketing?

Culture operates at various levels- from the individual, to team, to organization, to national, to international level and therefore underpins all human activities including business. The common cliché that we hear is that with globalization the world has become smaller and boundaries have disappeared especially in business. However, it is not as simple as it is projected to be. Working on a global paradigm means we have to deal with people who have their own identities and preferences or what we can term as their cultural baggage. This consists of variables that we cannot predict or control.

There are many definitions of culture which range from topical, historical, behavioral, normative, functional, mental, structural to symbolic (Bodley, 1994). For business purpose let us use the behavioral definition-“Culture is shared, learned human behavior; a way of life.” Since business deals with a number of stakeholders to achieve its purpose of earning profit, business cannot ignore diversity or cultural differences. A business organization is like a miniature society reflecting different value systems, behavior, norms, language, symbols etc. Therefore, a sensitization of the employees towards these differences is important for creating consensus on corporate culture. The oft quoted unity in diversity can be achieved only when we accept, appreciate and learn from the diversity. Business operates in society by catering to a need or creating a need and both require a deep understanding of the culture of the people who would be their customers. From product design to marketing one cannot ignore the sense and sensibilities of the people. Success of marketing will depend upon how well we can play the mind game with our customer. Emotion is the secret choice maker and is very closely connected to the cultural background of the person. Hence one has to work like a detective shifting through clues and minutely observing behavior to arrive at a marketing campaign for a product. If we do not take into account the intangible and subliminal impact of culture on people we may have to wade through enormous cost resulting from mis-communication, misunderstanding and blunders. We must remember that culture is integrated and works in a matrix. If you disturb one component the reaction will show up in another component therefore one needs to understand the context of various cultural traits to be able to design a good marketing strategy.

Finally one must remember that culture is dynamic, it impacts people and people impact culture. Therefore there is a constant give and take that happens between cultures but this diffusion of culture is usually very selective depending on various internal and external factors. Any marketing strategy has to keep this in mind because what information was true today may not remain so tomorrow. If the dynamics are not taken into account then one may fail in spite of the best strategy because culture does not remain static. Though globalization has connected the world it has not created a homogeneous world and probably this is best for us all as it keeps the mystery and beauty both alive!

Author: Dr. Madhumita Chatterji

Madhumita_Chatterji M.A., MBA, PhD, Programme on History Politics and Society- University of Oxford, U.K.

Professor and Dean, IFIM B School;  Guest Faculty at Corvinus University,  Budapest, Hungary;  Mentor for the HR initiatives of Middlesex University,  U.K.

Published 2 books and number of research papers in national and  international journals.

Areas of interest- OB, Cross Cultural Management,  Business Ethics & CSR



  1. Really great article ma’am, i would love to know in what way we should study the culture of a region in order to develop a marketing strategy that can also help us to understand the subliminal effect on them?

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