How psychological dimensions of culture influence consumer decision making
Updated: Jun 1
WEIRD Psychology, WEIRD Marketing?
"Although there are few experiences in history as truly global as COVID-19, we have seen from the differing reactions from governments and citizens around the world that there are significant differences in how we react to the situation. Cultural context affects us in a myriad of ways that go deeper than attitudes, beliefs and customs, influencing consumer behaviour in unexpected ways – yet it is not always addressed in marketing knowledge."
The goal of marketing is to change consumers’ behaviour in ways that is beneficial to the company and as such, is fundamentally based on psychology. Much of marketing theory is created in the USA – many popular textbooks are by American authors, and new ideas frequently originate there. In psychology, the story is similar: 96% of our knowledge of the human mind and behaviour are based on 12% of the world’s population of so-called WEIRD samples – Western, Educated people living in Industrialised, Rich and Democratic countries – and 2/3 of the 12% are Americans.
Over the past 30 years, research in cross-cultural psychology has gathered a mountain of evidence on how we differ on even such fundamental things as what we pay attention to and how we perceive colour. Even though marketing strategies might be localised to some extent, they are based on an implicit model of universal human decision making which is typically Western.
Culture has a profound influence on all aspects of human behaviour – it shapes our reality like a ‘blueprint’ that specifies an appropriate plan of action. Human decision making is influenced by ecology, economies, societal structures, language, social norms, pace of life as well as how we relate to others. As we navigate through the world from childhood onwards, we learn logical rules to solve recurring problems in our lives - and while our desired destination is often the same, the road we take might be different.
Many books have been written on how to negotiate or communicate across cultures, and it is not controversial to suggest people differ in their values, beliefs, and manners. Yet we tend to assume that the differences are mostly on the surface, and deep down our minds work the same way – in other words, there might be differences in the content of our minds, but the processes are similar.
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