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Friday, November 15, 2013

Growing Global Brands-Understanding International Culture


artwork by Dr. Murad Abel
With pressed three piece suits and blazing red ties they look out over the ocean and wonder just how far they need to travel to sell products in lands yet untapped. It wasn’t long ago they built towers where their grandfathers once tilled tobacco, corn, and beans. The montblanc pens are not yet dry but the ideas have long been spent. Just beyond their reach, opportunities again bound but the paths are now covered in asphalt trails that lead back to where brick and mortar ends. Just beyond that wall is something new, a place to gain footing, a vine perhaps that is hardy enough to tow products world round.  Once again the good times could roar if shined shoes are scuffed in the knee deep fields of prosperity. 

 Executives seek once again to find new opportunities to grow their businesses and create expanding opportunities. The global marketplace requires new theoretical lenses that are much sharper than the theories of the past. Global product positioning offers new opportunities that require a more complex way of conducting business and marketing offerings. A single vantage point from a single field of study simply doesn’t consider the complex nature of marketing on multiple continents with different needs and cultures. 

Products are about self-identity. As a new generation is born into the Information Age their identity begins to transcend their individualized cultures. According to McKraken (1986), global brands create an identity, achievement perspective, and perception that symbolize values that are transferred into the way consumers view themselves.  Younger generations are much more aware of different cultures and have meshed their identities into a wider perspective.  They want to be successful, and find a wide array of products that help them further this identity.  They have opportunities to purchase from anywhere in the world and do so with a few key strokes. 

Those companies that can build global brands will find willing followers if their image and products align with the needs of consumers in different cultures around the world. Global brands can create images of superiority, quality, social responsibility and prestige that help them successfully draw in a younger and more enthusiastic crowd (Keller, 1998; Ozsomer & Altaras, 2008). These brands fit within their personal aspirations and represent their chosen paths in life. 

Research by Ozsomer and Altaras (2008) shows that the global marketplace requires more complex theoretical lenses to understand how to develop brand identity that will sell internationally. They believe that consumer culture theory, signaling theory, and associative memory theory have what it takes to develop a corporate image and products that will sell. Each of these theories helps decision-makers understand the varying complex nature of market production where multiple cultures are present. 

Consumer Culture Theory: Global consumers re-contextualize symbolic meaning encoded within marketing programs to develop their individual and collective identities (Holt, 2002). As global products become more apparent it naturally changes the perceptions of consumers. Their exposure to the images and messages encoded within marketing campaigns are adapted to help them create new identities that blend their past to their future.  They will buy that which confirms their aspirations of where they desire to go and the image they would like to portray to others.

Signaling Theory: Companies take actions that signal the value of their products. For example, offering a warrantee with a product will signal that its quality and value is high (Boulding & Kirmani, 1993). Signaling can occur within the company’s strategies, offerings, and actions that can lead to higher or lower credibility on the market. When a company’s credibility is damaged through improper actions their products and future viability are likely to suffer as well.  

Associative Memory Theory:  Consumer memory and how it identifies brands is an important indicator of how customers will view and remember brands.  Memory is seen as nodes of images or information that are connected to other nodes. Each node can be mapped to understand how consumers see products (Collins and Quillian 1972). Ensuring that the company’s image, the product’s images, and the marketing messages are in alignment will help ensure that the nodes connect together correctly.

Each person exists within the context of their culture but this culture is only a vantage point in understanding the rest of the world. As an interconnected generation rises to maturity, they have cultural underpinnings that transcend their local backgrounds. It is these cultural underpinnings, rooted in human nature, where companies can find their best opportunities to sell products. 

Those companies that seek greater global brand awareness will need to relate their products and images to the identity needs of this generation. Some are seeking fame, some wealth, and others recognition but all seek something in the global marketplace. They will choose their products based upon those self and collective identities that fulfill chosen way of relating to the world. 

The three theoretical models offer a different but interconnected way of viewing the products and services developed. Understanding how the company is perceived, the actions that signal value, and the way in which consumers interpret and connect brands is important for develop market oriented products and services.  As products and services are being engineered they should do so within the underlining values that are common to most cultures. 

Boulding, W. & Kirmani, A. (1993). A consumer-side experimental examination of signaling theory: do consumers perceive warranties as signals of quality? Journal of consumer reach, 20 (1). 

Holt, D. (2002). Why Do Brands Cause Trouble? A Dialectical Theory of Consumer Culture and Branding. Journal of Consumer Research, 29 (June), 70–90.

Keller, K. (1998). Strategic Brand Management. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Collins, A. and Quillian, M. (1972). How to Make a Language User,” in Organization of Memory, E. Tulving and W. Donaldson, eds. New York: Academic Press, 310–54.

McCraken, Grant (1986). Culture and Consumption: A Theoretical Account of the Structure and Movement of the Cultural Meaning of Consumer Goods,” Journal of Consumer Research, 13 (1), 71–84.

Ozsomer A. & Altaras, S. (2008). Global brand purchase likelihood: a critical synthesis and an integrated conceptual framework. Journal of International Marketing, 16 (4).

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