How understanding culture affects the success of your business

The Chronicle

Michelle Nonkazimulo Ndiweni

IMAGINE in a Zimbabwean setting where looking an older person directly in the eye is ‘wrong’ and holding a married woman’s hand is out of this world, an enthusiastic, young and vibrant male sales representative greets a married couple joyfully at a clothing retail shop.

The young man asks politely what the couple would like to buy and they respond happily, informing him they are looking for a dinner dress for the lady. Excitedly, the sales representative walks the couple over to the section with the latest dinner dresses.

He picks his favourite, which he believes would suit the lady quite well. Looking her directly in the eyes, he attempts to push his sale by telling the lady how fabulous the dress would look on her. He picks another, and does the same. As if that’s not enough, he asks her to try it on, of which she does, and he goes all out animatedly shouting how gorgeous she looks.

He grabs her hand, brings her over to her husband, they stand in front of a mirror, and looking into her eyes using the reflection of the mirror, exclaims how amazing she looks. To his amazement, the husband starts exhibiting feelings of irritation. He wonders why and tries to cheer him up by telling him how fashionable the dress is and how amazing his wife looks.

Following his explanation, the man gets angry, orders the lady to remove the dress and they both leave the shop. What went wrong? Of course, some would argue that the man over-reacted and that his behaviour was unnecessary. Well, I have news for you…. such arguments stunt business growth. Here’s why.

Culture informs social norms in a big way. Certain behaviours are interpreted based on the cultural values and norms of a place or region. The customer interpreted the sales representative’s fond behaviour as disrespectful because in Zimbabwean culture, it is socially wrong to look an older person in the eye and to hold a married woman’s hand. Imagine how many times he looked her in the eye. The sales representative assumed he was following basic sales principles of instilling confidence and attempting to close a sale.

The customer overlooked the sales representative’s behavior far too much until he couldn’t put up with it and thus, a sale was lost. What do we learn from this? It is absolutely crucial to stand guided by the target market’s culture when engaging in marketing activities. Even an advert could be a flop and tarnish the image of the company, just because certain cultural norms were not adhered to. Your logo could repel customers simply because it’s interpreted negatively, culturally. Respect your target market’s culture and that will save you unnecessary costs of trying to redeem your company following negative feedback. As small and insignificant culture may be, taking into consideration that there are few chances you could land a sale because you adhered to your market’s culture, it is prudent that it is observed at all times. It’s probably one of those things whose effect is minute when done right but massive when done wrong. So, spare yourself the trouble and stand guided by the culture of your market.

Mrs. Michelle N. Ndiweni holds a Master of Science Degree in Marketing and is a Lecturer at a local University. She is a Marketing Consultant, Researcher and Trainer and may be contacted on the following profile on @MichelleNdiweni LinkedIn,

Article Source: The Chronicle

Enjoyed this post? Share it!