While language, material culture, aesthetics
and social organisation are outward manifestations of a
culture, it is a society's religious beliefs, attitudes
and values that dictate the behaviour of its members.
A religious system refers to the spiritual
side of a culture or its approach to the supernatural.
Western culture is accepted as having been largely influenced
by the Judeo-Christian traditions, while Eastern or Oriental
cultures have been strongly influenced by Buddhism, Confucianism,
Taoism and Hinduism. Although very few religions influence
business activities directly, the impact of religion on
human value systems and decision-making is significant.
Thus, religion exerts a considerable influence on people's
actions and outlook on life, as well as on the products
they buy. In certain part of the world, such as Latin America,
the influence of religion extends even beyond the individual
or family and is manifested in a whole community's deep
involvement in, and devotion to, the church.
A society's religious belief system is often
dependent on its stage of human or economic development.
Primitive tribesmen tend to be superstitious about life
in general while people in technologically advanced cultures
seem to have dismissed the notion of traditional religious
worship and practice in favour of a more scientific approach
to life and death.
To disregard the significance of religious
beliefs or superstitions evident in a potential export
market could result in expensive mistakes.
The failure to consider specialised aspects
of local religions has created a number of difficulties
for firms. Companies have encountered problems in Asia
when they incorporated a picture of a Buddha in their promotions.
Religious ties are strong in this area, and the use of
local religious symbols in advertising is strongly resented
- especially when words are deliberately or even accidentally
printed across the picture of a Buddha. One company was
nearly burned to the ground when it ignorantly tried such
a strategy. The seemingly minor incident led to a major
international political conflict remembered for years.
(Source : D.A. Ricks, Big business Blunders)
Attitudes are psychological states that predispose
people to behave in certain ways. Attitudes may relate,
for example, to work, wealth, achievement, change, the
role of women in the economy, etc.
Western cultures, for example, value individualism
and promote the importance of autonomy and personal achievement
needs. In contrast, in many eastern and developing countries,
there is a strong sense of collectivism and the importance
of social and security needs. For instance, the Hindu religion
imparts a type of work ethic that considers work central
to one's life but maintains that it must be performed as
a service to others, not for one's own personal achievement.
Stereotypes are sets of attitudes in which
one attributes qualities or characteristics to a person
on the basis of the group to which that person belongs.
An international businessperson's tendency to judge others
by his or her personal and cultural standards instead of
attempting to understand others in the context of their
unique historical, political, economic and social backgrounds
could, for example, be termed an undesirable attitude.
Values are judgements regarding what is valuable
or important in life, and they vary greatly from one culture
to another. People who are operating at a survival level
will value food, shelter and clothing. Those with high
security needs, on the other hand, may value job security,
status, money, etc. From its value system, a culture sets
norms, i.e. acceptable standards of behaviour.
Pepsodent reportedly tried to sell its toothpaste
in regions of south-east Asia through a promotion which
stressed that the toothpaste helped enhance white teeth.
In this area, where some local people deliberately chewed
betel nut in order to achieve the social prestige of darkly
stained teeth, such an ad was understandably less than
effective. The slogan "wonder where the yellow went"
was also viewed by many as a racial slur.
(Source : D.A. Ricks, Big business Blunders)
The concept of space is different wherever
one goes. In western corporate culture, the size and location
of an executive's office is usually determined by his level
of seniority in the company. The locality and size of an
Arab business executive's office, on the other hand, are
a poor indication of the person's importance.
Conversation distance between two people
is learned early in life - almost completely unconsciously.
A western business executive, conditioned to operating
within a certain amount of personal space, may feel uncomfortable
or alarmed at the closeness and physical contact displayed
in the Middle East or Latin America, for example.
Time also has a different meaning in each
country. Western cultures tend to perceive time in terms
of past, present and future. They are orientated towards
the future and in the process of preparing for it, they
save, waste, make up or spend time.
In South Africa, giving a person a deadline
is a way of indicating the degree of urgency or relative
importance of the work. In the Middle East, however, time
does not usually include schedules and timetables. The
time required to get something accomplished depends on
the relationship. With South Africans, the more important
an event is, the earlier it is planned, which is why last
minute invitations are often regarded as an insult. In
planning future events with Arab businesspersons, it is
often advisable to keep the lead time to a week or less,
because other factors may intervene and take precedence.
Some time ago, an American lost a major contract
in Greece because he did not appreciate the Greek concept
of time. The Greek executive could not understand the American's
insistence on setting time limits on the length of their
business meetings - he and his colleagues were prepared
to spend as much time in discussion as they felt was necessary.
The American also insisted that the senior managers involved
in the transaction be responsible only for working out
the general principles of the deal, with the actual details
being left to subordinates. Suspicious that this represented
a lack of commitment on the part of the American, the Greek
called off the deal.
Many factors continuously produce cultural
changes in a society - new technology, population shifts,
availability of scarce resources and changing values regarding
the role of education or women. Culture is thus dynamic,
and exporters, particularly those involved in international
travel and marketing, need to regularly assess what new
products and service needs have been created, who the potential
buyers and users are, and how best to reach them.