Culture and consumer behavior

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

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Culture is “the complex whole that includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by humans as members of society” (Hawkins, Best & Coney, 2003, p. 42). Culture is a concept that is crucial to the understanding of human behavior in all contexts, including consumerism. It includes both abstract ideas such as values and ethics, as well as material objects and services that are produced and consumed by a society. More importantly, with regard to the study of consumer behavior, culture determines the meaning that each of these entities holds for the members of its group. Therefore, consumption choices cannot be fully understood without considering the cultural context within which they occur.

Cultural values are “widely held beliefs that affirm what is desirable” (Hawkins, Best & Coney, 2003, p. 43). They represent the general ideas of what is considered good and bad from which the more specific and prescriptive rules – i.e., norms – are derived.

Cultural values can be classified as affecting one of three types of relationships – other, environment or self.

  • Other-orientated value – reflect a society’s view of the appropriate relationship between individuals and groups (Hawkins, Best & Coney, 2003, p. 45).

This orientation stands in contrast to the self-oriented values and includes specific aspects such as individual/collectivistic, diversity/uniformity, limited/extended family, youth/age, competition/cooperation and masculine/feminine. Each of these categories defines a continuum of perspectives that relate to how people construct their relationships with and views of one another.

  • Environmental-oriented value – prescribe a society’s relationship to its economic, technical and physical environment (Hawkins, Best & Coney, 2003, p. 45).

This orientation includes the specific aspects of cleanliness, tradition/change, risk-taking/security, problem-solving/fatalistic, admire/overcome nature, and performance/status. This cluster of values relates to the ways in which individuals conceptualize and interact with their surroundings.

  • Self-oriented value – reflect the objectives and approaches to life that the individual members of society find desirable (Hawkins, Best & Coney, 2003, p. 45). This orientation includes the specific aspects of religious/secular, sensual gratification/abstinence, postponed/immediate gratification, material/non-material, hard work/leisure and active/passive. This set of perspectives is associated with the preferences of individual personalities.

Each of these values and associated aspects has significant implications for the way products and services will be perceived and utilized and thus, the relative effectiveness of differing approaches in marketing campaigns.

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Culture sets boundaries on behaviors. It represents a general framework within which individuals and smaller groups can exhibit a variety of behaviors and customs. With regard to consumer behavior, the consumer’s culture determines the generally accepted overall priorities that the individuals attach to different activities, products and services – i.e., a product or service that provides benefits consistent with those accepted or desired by members of a culture at any point in time has a much better chance of acceptance in the marketplace than one that conflicts with the values of the culture. In a sense, culture provides the boundaries or endpoints of the continuum of behaviors, within which individuals operate at various levels or points along this range. It provides loose prescriptions with room for individual differences (Hawkins, Best & Coney, 2003).

However, culture is not static. It is continually evolving and synthesizing old ideas with new ones. Thus, the relationship between consumer behavior and culture is reciprocal. On the one hand products and services that resonate with the priorities of a culture at any given time have a greater chance of being accepted by consumers. On the other hand, the introduction of new and innovative products and services influences the evolution of cultural ideals.

Reference

Hawkins, D. I., Best, R. J. & Coney, K. A. (2003). Consumer Behavior Building Marketing Strategy (9th ed.). NewYork: McGraw Hill.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY
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