Material culture relates to the way in which a society organises and views its economic activities. It includes the techniques and know-how used in the creation of goods and services, the manner in which the people of the society use their capabilities, and the resulting benefits. When one refers to an ‘industrialised’ or a ‘developing’ nation, one is really referring to a material culture.

The material culture of a particular market will affect the nature and extent of demand for a product. Whereas a luxury item, such as a sophisticated piece of computer hardware, may have a ready market in a country such as France, demand for it may be non-existent in a developing country which is hampered by inadequate facilities and/or foreign exchange shortages. The material culture of a country may also necessitate modifications to the product. Electrical appliances, for example, may have to be adapted to cater for differences in voltage levels. To illustrate this: the United States operates under a system of 110V in contrast to South Africa’s 220V. Alternatively, weights and measurements may have to be converted to those applicable in the importing country (again the US uses measures such as miles, gallons and pounds, whereas most other parts of the world use the metric system – kilometres, litres and kilograms).

Material culture can also have a significant effect on the proposed marketing and distribution strategies. While highways and rail transport are the principal means of moving goods within the United States, rivers and canals are used extensively in certain European countries. If the company is planning to develop a manufacturing operation in a foreign market, aspects such as the supply of raw materials, power, transportation and financing need to be investigated.